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Saturday 16 March 2024

Reading Role Models

With Tasmania Reads week starting today, this timely post from Anna Davidson explores the importance of creating a reading culture in the school and the critical role adults have in modelling, and supporting students to model, engaged reading practices. Full of practical ideas for schools, as well as food for thought for home reading.

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the wonderful work of Margaret Merga, school library research champion who does so much to advocate for the work of school libraries.

Margaret’s latest offering, Creating a Reading Culture in Primary and Secondary Schools: A Practical Guide, is an absolute treasure. As I read it over the summer, I found it to be a very affirming read; it contains many great ideas that lots of us are already implementing in our library spaces. However, one of the best elements of Merga’s book is the bite-size gems of research that can be used to introduce staff and students to new initiatives.

Inspired by Merga’s latest offering, in 2024 our library will be focusing on the theme, ‘Reading Role Models’. The library team met at the start of the year to brainstorm ideas, big and small, for engaging the whole community in reading. Throughout the year, we will choose a couple of ‘big ticket’ ideas as well as trying out as many low effort-high impact ideas as possible. For this post, I will share two of our focus points and the associated actions.

Leaders are Readers

One initiative we have launched, but is yet to be in full swing, is working with the Year 5 students using the catchphrase, ‘Leaders are Readers’. 

Across the year, Year 5 leaders will be involved in leadership roles such as:

  • Promoting books during morning assemblies (currently, Year 5 students are engaged in writing 30s elevator pitches for their favourite books)
  • Acting as Book Chat Mentors for Year 3 students, sharing Book Chat tips and tricks as well as leading discussions
  • Running Story Time in the Bush sessions for our upcoming Tasmania Reads celebrations
  • Leading younger students through the fabulous Story Walks at Margate and Snug.

Over time, we also hope to engage the Year 12 leaders and staff leaders in this initiative.

Engaging Staff in Reading

Merga emphasises the importance of teacher engagement in developing a positive reading culture, sharing this research gem …

Before teachers can intrinsically motivate their students to become avid readers, they need to, themselves, experience reading enjoyment’ (Tovey, 2022, p. 286, in Merga, 2023, p. 45)

However, we all know how stretched classroom teachers are with an overcrowded curriculum and increased individual learning needs in their classrooms. A key role of school library staff is to support classroom teachers to engage in reading, both with their students and on a more personal level. 

Class Read Alouds

A goal for us this year was to have every class reading a class novel. The Merga gem we used to introduce this was this mind-blowing statistic …

Research in the UK involved 20 English teachers reading ‘two whole challenging novels at a faster pace than usual in 12 weeks with their average and poorer readers ages 12-13.’ Students ‘made 8.5 months mean progress on standardised tests of reading comprehension, but poorer readers made a surprising 16 months progress’, leading the authors to conclude that ‘simply reading challenging, complex novels aloud and at a fast pace in each lesson repositioned “poorer readers” as “good” readers, giving them a more engaged uninterrupted reading experience over a sustained period.’ (Westbrook et al., 2019, p. 60, in Merga, 2023, p. 61).

The library staff provided ideas for great (contemporary, not a classic that children may have already been exposed to) class read alouds, created an ‘Our Class is Reading …’ poster, stuck them up outside each classroom and waited to see what happened. This is what you now see as you walk around the school hallways.

Encouraging Staff to Read for their own Pleasure – Book Clubs, Silent Reading Parties and Staffroom Libraries

We also encourage staff to make time to read. Ron Ritchhart says that if we want schools to be cultures of thinking for students, they must also be cultures of thinking for staff. The same is true for reading. If we want staff to engage in reading, therefore being positive reading role models for students, we need to make reading easy, accessible and celebrated. You may have seen this fabulous article over the summer holidays, Reading fiction may have more benefits than you realise, particularly in the workplace, which helps progress our cause.

Our staff book club is going strong after its initial inception during the 2023 Tasmania Reads celebrations. We meet twice a term, with no set book, just a theme that people can choose to stick to or not. A lovely and unexpected outcome of this initiative is the conversations it has led to; students now see staff chatting about what they are reading and swapping books in the hallway, which further adds to the creation of a positive reading community.

Our upcoming Tasmania Reads celebrations will also see the implementation of two new initiatives to get staff reading; an after school staff silent reading party in the library (drinks and nibbles provided!) and the installation of a ‘little library’ in the staffroom, making reading more accessible for time-poor teachers.

What ideas do you have for engaging school staff in reading?

Anna Davidson
Teacher Librarian - Junior School
The Hutchins School

1 comment:

  1. Lovely article, Anna, and I'm absolutely chuffed to see that one class is reading Clara!