Literacy Advocate 2.17.2020

One of the greatest things about taking a run on a brisk, sunny winter morning is that I can think. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a literacy advocate. I’ve had several conversations recently with students, colleagues, and others that have left me more committed than ever to be a literacy advocate.

I am constantly asked, How do I find time to have my students read independent reading texts they select? My short answer is, You have to make the time. You have to think about what your goal as a teacher is and make sure your curriculum aligns with this. I admit I have not always been this adamant. In my first few years of teaching, I did what the curriculum required, what my team members were doing, what I thought we should be doing. And then – and I remember this acutely – I was sitting in my desk during my fourth year of teaching, now in a sixth grade classroom, and I thought, Wait, I’m tasked with helping my students improve their reading. And yet we’re not really reading. Sure, we’re reading class novels and some excerpts to teach particular skills. And I am telling my students to read in the evenings. But we are not really reading. And from that moment I made a commitment: My students were going to read. I did some research on independent reading and incorporated an independent reading program the following year. With great success. With students’ buy-in and increased motivation to read. (And, by the way, with increased reading test scores). So, I challenge you to think: Are your students reading, and I mean really reading, in your classroom? 

This next vignette was one of the stories that inspired me to start this section of my blog. I was supervising when I met the school librarian, which is always an exciting moment!  I was actually so happy to observe my student teacher’s lesson in the library because it gave me a chance to see the new and great titles that were displayed. After my observation, I talked a bit to the librarian, who is only at the school a few days a week because of the district’s budget. She splits her week between two middle school libraries. This is a major problem but not the most serious problem I uncovered that day.

To my great shock, the librarian shared with me that she had to close the library sometimes to go serve in-school suspension [ISS] duty. Now, I know that teachers and other school personnel are required to have duties in some districts; however, I can think of nothing worse than having middle school students associate their school’s librarian with ISS and have times during the day that their school library is not open. If anything, I support more access to the school library in middle school. Surely there has to be another duty the librarian can do that would align more with the mission of school librarians. What message is being sent when the library (the place of absolute opportunity in the school) is closed so that ISS (a place I have always found deeply problematic) can take place? It is no big surprise to me that in this school only six students signed up for the book club offered. If we are going to analyze our classroom practice around literacy, we have to also consider the culture of reading within the schools in which we teach. 

So now more than ever, I am committed to helping the future teachers with whom I work see the importance of analyzing critically the culture of reading established within the classrooms they visit and eventually work in and the schools in which they find themselves.

And so I ask, how are we going to work together to be literacy advocates, people who engage in practices that create a culture of reading in our classrooms, schools, and communities?  

I would love to hear examples of successful practices that have created a culture of reading in your classroom, school, and community! 

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