Getting Books in the Hands of Readers by Katie Sluiter
But there is a step between the access and the time to read that tends to get glossed over. A well-curated classroom library is not a field of dreams--just by providing books does not mean students will read them. Teachers also need to become adept at pairing readers with books.
Too many times, students are brought to a library (if they are lucky) and/or told, “go ahead--pick whatever you want to read!” without any guidance. Those who are already reluctant readers will, at best, wander aimlessly choosing a random book. At worst, students will just not choose anything. When I was a newish high school teacher, I tried having the students pick what they wanted to read. It failed.
The past five years that I have been at the middle school level, I have worked on some real strategies to get books in the hands of all my students. I think of books as potential new friends, and encourage my students to “meet” them in a variety of ways.
Promoted by reading gurus everywhere, frequent book talks are the most regular way I get titles in front of my students. In fact, the first thing I do on the first day of school is book talk one of the books I read over the summer that I loved (this year I will be book talking Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson).
Because we have 60-minute class periods, I don’t have the time to book talk each day, however I devote 10 minutes every Tuesday to Book Talk Tuesday. I usually feature at least three books. As the school year goes on, I start to hand over Book Talk Tuesday to students.
I also take students to our school media center once a marking period as a whole class (they can visit the media center individually when they want) so our fantastically awesome media center specialist can do book talks with them. She is a voracious reader of Young Adult Literature, and has a wider selection than I do in my room. It also gives me time to wander and chat with kids about what they are reading--or not reading.
During the first week of school, I set my room up like a speed-dating cafe. Students are put in groups of 4 at tables. Each table has 4 books from my classroom library. Each student has 16 speed date forms that ask them to rate the book in front of them on First Impressions (the cover art, etc), Flirting (summary and blurbs from other authors, etc.), and Getting to Know You (opening it and reading a selection).
From there they circle “yes”, “no”, or “maybe” for if they would like to take the book out. They get two minutes per book. At the end, they sort their forms into three piles. Then I have the write all the titles that received a “yes” into their Reading Notebooks on the page for “What I Want To Read,” and tell them they can also put in the maybe’s if they choose.
My 8th graders LOVE doing this so much, I am considering starting second semester this way too since kids can get in a reading rut halfway through the school year.
We transform our Media Center into a Cafe: we dim the lights, project a fireplace on the big screen, play some quiet jazz, and set each table with a tablecloth, place mats, tea lights (the electric kind because middle schoolers will burn it all down otherwise), a table tent with instructions, copies of the book that will be “tasted” at that table, and of course, bakery treats.
Because we combine classes for this event, each teacher has an apron on. As students come in, one teacher will group the students for each table, and one will guide each group to their first table. Each table has a different menu that features the book for that table. Similar to my book speed-dating, Students get Taste Test Forms for each of the books that include First Impressions (title, cover, appearance), Menu Description (summary of the book, number of pages, etc.), and Taste Test (looking through the actual book). Students give the book “stars” for each category.
Also like speed-dating, students then use their forms to give their first, second, and third choice for which books they would like to read for literature circles.
Every year I have students who will finish a book and say, “what should I read next” despite my best efforts to turn them into planners. For those kids, I either hand them a personally made recommendation list, or I pull books from my library and set a stack in front of them and say, “look at these for your next adventure.”
Books are part of each and every day in my classroom. Even on the last day of school, I make student curated “Summer Rec” lists available as they walk out the door reminding them that their public library is free and close by.
If you want students to read they need choice, access, and time, but they also need a teacher who loves reading enough to talk about it constantly. Now let’s get books into the hands of students!
To donate to Mrs. Sluiter’s classroom library, check out her Classroom Library Wish List created by student requests.
Until next week.