Getting Books into the Hands of Our Children – A Most Worthwhile & Effective Reading Practice (Part 1 of 3)
Before talking about studies supporting the efficacy of wide reading (I’m saving that topic for the 3rd blog post), I want to remind readers that one of my strongly held beliefs is that one of the characteristics of an effective literacy program is that the program should help to create lifelong readers. In the real world, the reading scores of students do not matter as much as the habits of mind that those students bring to their various life endeavors. Students who learn how think, how to evaluate ideas, can apply those life-skills/strategies in many ways. They can apply those skills/strategies to future jobs. That includes jobs that haven’t been invented yet. In my opinion, one of the most important habits of mind we can help our students to develop is the habit of reading widely over a wide variety of reading material for a wide variety of purposes. Most importantly, this is something we want them to want for themselves. I’m using a quote now that I’ve used several times before. The quote is from Missouri’s favorite son, Mark Twain. He said, “Those who won’t read, are no better off than those can’t read.” Creating lifelong readers should be job one of every literacy teacher. It should be goal one of any literacy program. One way to create lifelong readers is to get books into the hands of our children.
Much of my teaching career was spent in Title I buildings. In those buildings, students often lacked access to books. I want to tell you about some very successful things that are being done in my state and in my local area to change that situation. Partly I do this as a sense of pride, pride in what various organizations are currently doing. Partly I do this out of hope, hope that reading these stories might encourage other people in other places to also take on the task of getting books into the hands of our children. And partly I do this as an invitation to those of you from other areas who are already doing similar things to share with the readers of this blog things that are happening in your region.
Let’s begin by talking about a local project formerly known as the Read and Feed project and currently known as the R.E.A.D. project. It began as a result of the 2016 International Literacy Association (formerly International Reading Association) holding their convention in St. Louis. Large numbers of brand new trade-books left over at the convention were made available to the state/local ILA organizations for distribution. This was done in accordance with the standing rules and procedures of ILA. These kinds of book distributions have become an ongoing feature of recent ILA conventions. Our state and local ILA groups volunteered to take on the project. The project was to get the books distributed to students in Title 1 qualified schools. An article from the Missouri Reader, Spring 2014 gives the details of the first year of that project.
LINK = https://joom.ag/SMZQ (Go to page 42)
As you read the article please notice the thank you from the Director of Elementary Education of the Ferguson-Florissant school district. Books went to the summer Title 1 program in Ferguson-Florissant in the summers of 2016, and 2017. This was just one of several sites we helped. For instance, the Spanish books in this collection ended up at Confluence Academy, a charter school in St. Louis city with a very large population of Spanish speaking students. They were given out at a parent/student breakfast. Our ILA volunteers and Confluence staff provided explanations to the students and parents of the benefits of wide reading. Thanks to the Confluence staff, this was done in Spanish as well as English. This is a perfect example of getting books children really wanted to read into the hands of children whose access to such books was very limited. It also stresses the importance we place on including parents in that process.
During the second year of the project, we found a new source for getting books to distribute. We were able to get school library books from local districts. These were books that were slated for removal from school libraries. Before these books were thrown away or recycled our volunteers culled through them finding appropriate “gently used” books. This enabled us to do additional book giveaways. This project is scheduled to wrap up soon. In the end there will be over 20,000 books in the hands of students in “high needs” buildings. But were these used books worth giving away?
The answer is yes. With some work and cleaning up they were more than ready for a second life. We learned to become “book doctors” through the tutelage of Elise Tierney who directs the Ready to Learn organization in St. Louis. We learned how to go through books, sorting trash from treasure. We learned to clean and remove old tags et. al. At the end we had books that were quite usable.
How did we meet Elise and her group? You’ll find out about her organization and their work next week. I’ll also be talking about the work of another St. Louis group, St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature. I think you will find that their reading initiative is an amazing endeavor.
Want to get a preview of Elise’s group and what they do? Visit http://readytolearnstl.org/
Want to get a preview of the St. Louis Black Author’s group and their work? Visit http://stlblackauthors.com/
In the meantime,
Happy Reading and Writing