Building a Culture of Literacy at the Secondary Level – Share a Story, Shape a Future 2012

I have an obsession with reading.  Some might say that is an unhealthy obsession (my husband is reminding me that our house is a fire hazard), but I disagree.  I can’t imagine my life without reading, so I make it my mission to share that love with the students at my high school.

This year I’ve been working with one of my colleagues, the wonderful Michelle, to build a culture of literacy at our STEM-based schools.  While we are blessed to teach such gifted students, they can sometimes look at reading as a waste of time because they are drawn to math and science instead.  Together, we’ve been working to draw them back to reading and we are definitely seeing results! So what are we doing to build a culture of literacy among high school students?

  • Surround the students with books!

You can never, ever, ever have too many books.  And surrounding students with books will show them that you value books and literacy.  Eventually, they will wander over to the shelves and pick up a few books.  They will page through them.  They will start to read.  And they will find a book they enjoy.

One corner of my classroom library, back in September, before it became messy.

My school does not have a school library.  We are located on a college campus so we have access to their library, which is outstanding, but it’s outside of our building so I often miss the “easy access” of a school library.  I know a lot of teachers are in a similar situation because budgets being slashed so often equals losing the school librarian.  But you can still surround students with books!  Scholastic, library book sales, used book stores, and of course, #ARCsFloatOn can all help teachers build up a classroom library.

And remember, classroom libraries aren’t the only way to surround students with books.  Michelle recently started a book nook at her school, with parents donating books to a set of shelves in a busy area of the hallway.  This way, any student can borrow a book or browse the titles.  I love it and can’t wait to steal her idea!

  • Booktalks

Talk to your students about books and they will start reading.  Booktalks can be almost any advertisement for a book that you can come up with.  The most common booktalk is just standing in front of the students and telling them about a book, like a movie trailer but orally.  You can also show book trailers in class.  I like to post book trailers on our class Facebook page and in the past I have posted them on our Edmodo page, too.  You can also booktalk using posters, flyers in the bathroom, tweets, or any other method of communication.  The important part is sharing books in and out of the classroom!

  • Be a YA evangelist!

Yup, I am telling you to shout about YA from the rooftops!  I certainly do!  I’ve handed YA books to plenty of my colleagues.  Why?  Because it’s important for my students to see other teachers reading.  It’s one thing for them to see their English teacher reading- they expect that.  But it’s a whole different experience for them to see the Biology teacher reading a book they have also enjoyed.  Seeing their content area teachers reading YA has started a lot of conversations between students and teachers at my school.  How do I do it?  Easy!  My colleagues know that I read a lot so they started asking me for recommendations.  Soon I was handing out books like The Book Thief, Bumped, The Fault in Our Stars, and Revolution.

  • Book clubs

Earlier this year, Michelle and I were watching from the sidelines as our students grew more and more excited about the Hunger Games movie. We realized we wanted to capitalize on that excitement and use to grow a love of reading at our schools.  We decided to start a Hunger Games (re)Read Book Club.  The students were invited to re-read each book of the series, focusing on a single book each month, leading up to the movie.  We publicized the book club and started a discussion on our district Goodreads group.  So far, it’s been a huge success!  The students are reading and rereading the books, coming together to talk about them online and once per month in person.  Michelle and I recently co-wrote an article about our experiment for NJCTE’s journal and I will be sure to link to it when it is available.  But you can start a book club for any book!  Choose something popular and gather a group of students.  We meet at lunch once a month and we also carry on conversations online.  You could use Goodreads, Facebook, Edmodo, Moodle, or any other discussion board/software.  Mold the book club to fit you and your students!

  • Social reading
Kids love to talk.  For that matter, so do adults.  What better way to encourage reading than to let them talk about books?  Take some class time to allow your students to talk to each about the books they are reading.  Or if you don’t have the class time to spare, use online spaces and social media to talk about books.  Every Friday I post #fridayreads on my class Facebook page and a few students respond each week.  Even students who don’t respond get a taste of what their classmates are reading as the post pops up in their newsfeed.  You can do the same on Edmodo.
Look at the amazing Paul Hankins and his RAWINK Online!  His students are talking about reading and writing and interacting with YA authors.  Paul is my literacy hero, so be sure to check out his kids and his page.
There are so many ways to talk about reading with your students.  Give it a try and watch the books walk out of your room!

These are just a few of the ways that I try to build a culture of literacy among my high school students.  So far, I am seeing results.  More students are carrying around books, they are discussing them with each other, and they are making recommendations to their peers.  And all of these ideas can easily be implemented in any high school, middle school, or even college!  But I’d love to hear your ideas….what are you doing to build a culture of literacy at your school?

7 Responses

  1. I love your ideas. I, too, have a classroom library – which I stocked initially when Bookcloseouts had their big YA sale last August. I got a lot of books – over 150 – very cheaply, which was good since I was paying for them myself. I love having a classroom library because there is nothing more powerful than putting the book in a student’s hands. I also have magazines, newspapers (including our school paper) etc. I am always on the hunt for stuff – but I am soon going to run out of room. I keep telling my principal I need a wall of bookshelves; surely he’ll give in to my badgering sooner or later!

    Something else our school did last year was to make up these laminated 8 x 10 posters for each teacher’s room. They are personalized and say “Mrs. McDonald is currently reading…” then we can write in whatever we are reading. They are posted prominently on doors and walls. As part of our SIP, we’re focusing on cross-curricular literacy and we wanted students to see that Math teachers and Science teachers etc read, too.

    Our classes are only 60 minutes and I hate the ten minute reading thing because just when the kids are settling into the rhythm, it’s time to move on. So I do 30 minutes SSR Tues and Thursday. Then we book talk and the kids are always excited to share what they are reading.

    Strangely, this is how I always imagined teaching to be…and as I have only recently returned to the classroom after a l-o-n-g hiatus, I am thrilled to see that so much of what I have always believed to be the job of a teacher (particularly an English teacher) is actually proven effective.

    Sorry for the long ramble.

  2. Great ideas! I had my students blog about one of their favorite books of the year last week. Now I’m hearing requests for those titles as they read and commented on each others’ posts. I also find that any book I display on top of the shelf or along the chalktrays gets picked up quickly, too.

  3. That is so fun that the kids are spotting their “other teachers” reading! How cool that they get to take the lead because they’ve already read something.

    Oh, to be in high school again!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah.

  4. Wow. Such excellent suggestions! I think sometimes people focus so much on getting small children reading, that they forget that reading is something that needs to be encouraged in secondary school as well. I think it’s especially important when kids have so much on their plates with homework and extra curricular activities. I’ve had people comment on my blog that their kids used to love reading, but have little to no time for reading for enjoyment now that they’re in high school. I’m glad to see some teachers are working hard to turn this around!

  5. You are my literacy hero!! 🙂 Keep up the amazing work that you do. Your students and colleagues are (oh so) appreciative!

  6. […] Building a Reading Culture in the Secondary Classroom by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone […]

  7. […]… This post at the Reading Zone blog outlines a few ideas to get students reading at the secondary level.  The most basic one is surrounding the students with books, not only in the library but in classrooms and even in the hallways.  The author also suggests other ideas such as book talks, book clubs, and encouraging teachers to read YA books and talk about them with their students either in person or using social media. […]

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