About 3 1/2 years ago (Dec 2009) I wrote a series of posts on literacy. It talked about some of my beliefs and what was going on related to literacy in our school. I thought it might be nice to reflect on what has been going on in our “literacy world” since then. I wonder how much has changed in the past 42 months?
As far as our beliefs, nothing. We were in the beginning stages of rampping up our literacy efforts back then. We were making sure it was at the center of our conversations. We had to start with conversations before we really got stated. However, this was a CRUCIAL first step. We need to make sure our secondary teachers are comfortable with literacy and realize it is all teachers jobs, not just the ELA teachers. We had to talk at length about how it is OK to have kids reading in your class. As a former high school teacher I can relate to those who think kids should read at home and that is that. However, we know many of our kids are not reading at home. There are so many reasons why they are not – that could be a book or at least a series of blog posts. So, we can control the time they are in school so we need to get them reading.
I talked in my previous posts that the books The Book Whisperer and Readicide were fundamental game changers for me. I was looking for a quick fix – these two authors taught me there is no such thing. It is about reading books, reading books, and reading anything else that can be read. We needed to get books in the hands of our kids. We needed to turn kids into readers by showing them we are all readers – some of us have just not found what types of books we like yet. I talked about some of the things we did in those previous posts so I will not rehash them here.
We have a school wide literacy plan. This will be our third year of the plan. Before the plan was born, we created a literacy leadership team. This consisted mostly of teachers and our admin. staff. We did not want to direct the group, but we needed to make sure they knew we thought it was important. The group met and did great work. We decided to focus our professional development efforts on literacy the next year. These sessions were led by our great teachers. We grew a lot that year. We also started our school wide literacy plan. Here are the basic tenets as they stand now (it has morphed over the three years):
All students read at least 20 minutes daily – they read from a self selected novel. They get to choose, totally up to them. The point is we need to give them time to read what they want. Who onlyt wants to read what you are assigned in school? Not me and not many struggling readers out there!
Students read a content based article in each class at least once every two weeks. Every class – math, electives, everything. We value reading so why would we not read in every class? We continue to talk about reading all the time. In hallways, book trailers on our news program,all the time.
We try to publish great student writing on our student showcase. We need to work harder on being more consistent with this.
We started year 1 of the plan with a school wide strategy. We really did this to ensure fidelity of implementation. It was a great way to start but we no longer have a school wide strategy. Most, if not all, of our teachers are comfortable doing this on their own. I would also be remiss to mention our instructional coach at this point. She worked so long and hard that summer finding articles that went with the standards of each and every subject area. Trust her, it is not easy to find articles on the potato famine or a multitude of other obscure topics!
As I said, the plan has been modified over the years but these are the basic tenets of the plan.
We have also made a concerted effort to increase the size of our classroom libraries. I am proud to say we have made leaps in this area. I wish we would have kept track of all the books we have purchased over the last 3-4 years. As a school we decided literacy is our focus and we directed as many resources as possible to these efforts. This summer we gave away almost 1,000 copies of Wonder by R.J. Palacio to all of our students. Most of this was funded with grant money (our great IC also gets credit for a lot of this $$)! We have given 30 kids 12 books each over the past two summers. We started 30 more this year. We are doing action research on summer learning slide. We will get our first set of results back this fall.
We do so much more with literacy. We had two solid years of PD on literacy strategies. We have a school wide plan firmly in place. We talk about reading with our kids all the time. We started a class called the Literacy Club. Our media specialist does a million and a half things to promote reading. We do a 25 book challenge with our faculty/staff each year where they post how many books they have read. Last year we created mini posters (really a piece of printer paper) of what we were currently and put it on our doors – all of us – teachers, clerical, admin, etc…!
We hear comments from our kids and our teachers about how they can see a difference in how much our kids read. A teacher new to our school put it best last year – he said in my other school if we did silent reading it was like crowd control. Here, however, the kids are reading and hate it when it is time to stop.
More so than test scores, building readers should be the focus of school. If we can get kids hooked on reading, wow! When we started down this road several years ago I was looking for a qucik fix. I quickly learned to drop that idea. It is about building a culture of reading. It takes hard work and time. It takes letting others take the lead in certain areas. It is about sticking to a vision. Do we still have room to grow? Of course times 3!!! However, I am very, very proud of all that we have accomplished in regards to literacy at our school.