Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five Ways to Build Lifelong Readers

Guest post by Maddie Witter

The new Common Core State Standards list skills to prepare American young people on the path toward the college and careers of their choice.  Yet as students are on their journey to and through college, and ultimately through life, I also hope they are lifelong learners with an insatiable thirst for knowledge driven by their unique passions.  It’s that self-driven desire for knowledge that will empower students to grow and reach their potential beyond the reach of our classrooms.  Building love of learning is a top priority in my classroom.

Where do lifelong learners often turn to get their knowledge? Books!  Below are five ways you can help build lifelong readers.

Market Your Books
Lifelong readers love to go to the bookstore.  Consider your favorite neighborhood bookstore. How do they display their books? Design your physical space mimicking how the bookstore sets up their space.  

  • Display new releases on a table covers facing out.  Book covers are gorgeous and should be celebrated!
  • In Reading Without Limits, I share how to set up a mini cafĂ© in the corner of your classroom so kids can flip through pages while drinking hot cocoa.  
  • Check out how massive e-bookstores sell their books.  At the time this post was written, one e-bookstore promoted recent Newbery Medal recipients, Black History month books, and romantic books for Valentine’s Day.  Be similarly intentional with books you spotlight.  Set up themed displays in the front of your room, rotating in new themes once a month.

Give Kids Lots of Time to Read
If you want your kids to become lifelong readers, then they need time to build the habit.  Set up opportunities so your kids get to read for long periods of time.  Incrementally build how long they can sustain their reading with stamina boosting activities.

Make Your Love of Books Contagious
My twitter feed exploded when the Newbery 2013 Medal announced that The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate won.  For days, book loving teachers around the world were ecstatic.  One teacher shared that as her class watched the announcement live on television, they jumped up in applause.  Isn’t that awesome?  How can teachers inspire such reading mania? If you are excited about a book, so excited that you can’t wait to share it with your kids, chances are your enthusiasm will rub off on your students.   
  • Find favorite authors and send them gratitude tweets about their books.  Encourage kids to follow suit.  
  • Create book timelines of your favorite books from infancy through adulthood.  Slowly introduce your class to excerpts from the books during daily read-alouds.
I’m so inspired by all the teachers out there sharing their love for books with other kids and teachers.  Some of my favorites that you should check out include The Nerdy Book Club and Mr. Schu Reads.   

Harness Peer Pressure  
Lifelong readers reach out to their peers.  Create a culture in your classroom where kids, teachers, and families share their favorite new titles.
  • Ask different students to set up a recommendation shelf each month.  For instance, Dion can set up a shelf of his favorite series, genres, and even books he liked when he was younger.  Give him lots of space so he can showcase!   
  • Websites like www.goodreads.com are a virtual resource for students to not only recommend books to their peers, but also reach out to larger social networks about their books.  Also, check out the Innovative Educator’s review of Book Glutton, another virtual resource that connects readers.
  • Set up an interactive bulletin board that displays new books that each student is reading that week. I call it the Bookcase Update Wall.  Contact teachers and families who want to take part.  Students love to see their parents and siblings contributing!

Launch Playlists
Lifelong learners seek out knowledge.  One way that you can build curious mindsets around books is through text playlists.  A text playlist is a collection of books, articles, paintings, poems, and movies that all explore a topic or motif.  Students generate playlists based on their own passions.  Students cultivate playlists with their own curiosity, teacher, and peer feedback.  For instance, a child who loved The Hunger Games can create a post apocalyptic playlist that includes the movie Running Man, the short story “All Summer in One Day” by Ray Bradbury, the nonfiction book Collapse by Jared Diamond, the book series “Among” by Margaret Peterson Haddix, and the painting “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Albrecht Durer.  Student interest drives the playlist.  Create lessons that encourage connections between the texts. Playlists are a great inspiration for departments looking for interdisciplinary projects.  I share a sample lesson plan that teaches kids how to set up playlists on Reading Without Limits.
As we teach students the skills necessary for the colleges and careers of their choice, let’s also remember to nurture love of learning.  

Maddie Witter (Melbourne, Australia) is a founding teacher of KIPP Infinity Charter School, one of the top performing middle schools in New York City and is the author of Reading Without Limits.  Maddie is currently building lifelong reading habits with incarcerated youth in Australia.  Visit Maddie at www.reading-without-limits.com.

KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, began in 1994. As of fall 2012, there are 125 public charter schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia helping nearly 41,000 students from underserved communities climb the mountain to and through college.

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