What Evidence Do They Have That Reading Is Important?


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We say reading is important to us. But how will they know? How will our students know that we mean what we say?

I am still haunted by an experience I had several years ago when I was a literacy coach. I was having a one-on-one conference with a student who didn’t have a good-fit book. After she struggled through a portion, I asked, “What are you thinking about this book now that you’ve sampled a bit?”
She replied, “It’s too hard.”
“I agree,” I answered. “I think you’ll be ready for this book in a couple of months, but for today, it is just a bit out of reach. Would you like help finding a good fit, or can you find one on your own?”
“I’d like help.”
“Okay. I would love to help you find a book.”
We stood up and I looked around. Where were the books? I followed, perplexed, as she walked to a closet. You heard me right: the closet—where students were supposed to hang up their coats. When she opened the door, I discovered books in dish tubs stacked on top of one another six and seven tubs high.

What do kids really hear if we tell them reading is important but all the books are in the closet?

Fortunately, many teachers are as passionate about reading as I am, and they walk their talk every day.

Just before entering Meridian Elementary in Kent, Washington, you’ll notice the little lending library. It is the first of many visuals that prove that their community doesn’t just say reading is important; they live it. 

At Greene County Elementary in Iowa, one of these Wild Reader posters is hanging outside of every classroom door. I love that teachers share what they are reading now and what they can’t wait to read next. If this is an idea you'd like to run with in your own school, we made a version that matches the language we use in our classrooms. 

To celebrate the birthdays of his students, Dr. Steven Lamkin, a principal in Maryland, allows his students to select a birthday book. 

After being inspired by Steven Layne, every adult at my first school displayed the book they were currently excited about on a small easel. I made a laminated sign for each easel with personalized pictures that reflected each person’s passion. Whether students were with the principal, the cook, the nurse, the custodian, or their classroom teacher, they couldn’t help but feel they had entered a community of readers and were invited to join in.

And all over the world, teachers have begged, borrowed, saved, and spent to collect classroom libraries that inspire a whole new generation of readers. When you walk into a room like this one, where the books are proudly on display, you can’t help but know that we don’t just say reading is important; we live and breathe it every day. 

As you look around your own school and ask the question “How will they know?,” we hope you will find pieces of evidence like these and others, so students will not only know but will want to join us in the community of lifelong readers. 

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