As a teacher, I am always telling my students the importance of reading. We talk about this all year. It starts right on the first day of school! We create charts talking about all of the things that we can do when we read. Reading is important so you can read signs, fill out job applications, go on adventures, learn new information, etc. You need to know how to read to solve math problems, figure out science, social studies, etc. Reading helps you write. Those who read succeed.
I always try to have some time in the day for the students to read books of their choice for enjoyment. Usually on the first day they go exploring in our classroom library and pick a few books. We talk about fake reading versus real reading. Then we go anywhere in the room and start reading. I also make sure that I model a love of reading. I always have a book that I am reading. Sometimes it is an adult book I am reading, other times a new book that I got through a Scholastic order, it might be a professional development book, etc. I have even had kids give me books that they have read and think I will enjoy. I always make sure that I read them, because that helps model the importance of reading. There are some days where a few of my students share books that they are reading, etc. This year, I am trying to figure out how I can have the kids fill out book summaries and put them around the room. That way others can read them and decide if it is a book they might try to read. Again, the key is in modeling. I love reading anyways, so this is not a problem for me :-).
Our school is very lucky to be involved in a program called Duffy Books in Homes USA. I highly suggest that you google this. Basically it is a program that values reading and wants children to have books at home to start their own home library. We have carts of books at our school. First, we have our Duffy Passport program. The children receive passports. For the younger grades, once they read 10 books, they bring it in and can pick a free book off the cart. Then, they get a new passport and start again. In the older grades, we go by chapters. Again, once they fill it out, they can get a free book. My students have to read every night and write about what they read. However, this counts toward their Duffy Passport. I always tell them that every two weeks they should be choosing a free book. It works for some, and for others it does not. But it is a great way for children to go and choose a book that they would like to read. This year we have partnered with Scholastic which is great. We have some great books that the kids are interested in reading. For example, we have the I survived series, Junie B. Jones, Amelia Bedelia, Horrible Harry, Cam Jansen, Magic Tree House, etc. We also have many nonfiction books from the Who Would Win series, National Geographic series, etc. As always, we always do order some Minecraft, Pokemon, Lego, and Princess books. We just want to get the children excited about reading! When we order, we always think about what the kids in the school are reading. This year, we have been able to order some great books.
The second way that we use Duffy Books in our school is through our “Free Book Give Aways”. These happen 2 – 3 times a year and last a few weeks. They take place in our school library. Our school librarian will set out all of the Duffy Books that we have. We have TONS people. She uses every table, brings in bookshelves, carts, etc. Then, when the children have library they are allowed to choose two free books. Usually we will do this for two weeks. That means they get 4 books. We try to do it just before Winter break so the kids can read over vacation. We also do it at the end of the year so the children have books over the summer. The kids love it! They look forward to walking by the library and seeing the Duffy sign. That is their clue that it is going to be a Duffy Give Away week. Usually just before, I have my class talk about some of the books they have been reading, or I bring in books from the library and read a few to them to get them interested. After they return from library we spend a good 15 minutes just reading our books. Then we share them so that maybe next week they will choose one of the books to read and add to their home library. Again, I want to promote a love of reading.
The third way that we use Duffy Books in our school is through an after school program called Fit to Read. This program happens twice a year – the fall and spring. The children really do enjoy it. After school we take them outside and play with them. We might play kickball, castle ball, they can play on our playground, we have sidewalk chalk, etc. While they are outside, someone is inside setting up a snack. After about 20 minutes of outside time they come in and grab a snack. While they are eating their snack we do a mini lesson. These are just quick strategies to help them improve reading. For example, I did a mini lesson once on using prediction. I started with a book and we looked at the cover and made predictions. As I was reading it, we decided if we had to change our prediction, add to it, etc. We always go back to how reading is thinking. Of course, the key is NOT to finish the whole book you are using in the mini lesson. You want to leave the kids hanging. There is a reason. After the quick 10 minute mini lesson they are done with their snack. We have the kids broken up into groups. They go with their adult and go to another room in the school. In each of the rooms we have baskets of Duffy Books. So, they read for the next 30 minutes. This is NOT a time to teach reading. We do not want it to become skill and drill. That being said, if a student is having trouble and asks you for help, we obviously help them. But, again, we want to promote a love for reading. One year, I had a lot of struggling readers in my group. It was not a problem. We read a Magic Tree House book together. We took turns reading the pages. Sometimes I read most of it, and they just read a paragraph, etc. We want them to feel successful and to love reading. Also, they do not have to read a Duffy Book. They can bring in a book from home, a book they took out of the library, etc. As long as they are reading, it is great! Then, at the end of the season, on the last day we have a pizza party and spread out all of the books. The kids can choose 2 – 3 books and keep them. Again, the kids are excited!
We have also been lucky enough to be able to get some Kindles though grants. Therefore, we pick a group that gets to use the Kindles at least once during Fit to Read. It is amazing how when they are given a book to read on an electric device, they are even more motivated. Of course, we also have educational games that we have downloaded as well. We are lucky to have 2 Kindle Carts. These can be signed out by other teachers throughout the school day so that all children benefit.
Now, you all know that some kids do not have a lot of books at home and really want them. I had two this year. They were not doing their homework. They always said, I don’t have any books at home. Now, I know that they have some Duffy Books from the Give Away. However, I still allow them to go over and pick out some books. Honestly, my friend and I, we don’t care. We just want them to read. I had another student this year – reading was his outlet. He has a lot of emotional problems. When he was about to “go off the deep end” I would say go read. He would and you would see him calm down. Many times I sent him over to get a Duffy Book. This made him much calmer. Plus, he was reading! It was a win win situation!
Anyway, back to today. My friend and I decided we really wanted to push this program more. We talked to the person in charge of the Summer Recreation program near our school. Well, we originally were going to do a whole week, but we just could not fit it in. We had professional Development training on Monday that we could not miss. She had things coming up, and I had to get things ready, so we did not do the whole week. However, we went down today and visited the kids It was nice to see them. I saw former students of mine. Two, I knew who they were but they had changed so much. Of course they have gone on to the “big school” now-haha. They made sure that I knew that – haha. Anyway, we loaded up my car with crates of books. When we got to our local park we spread them out over the picnic tables. The kids came over and we did some book talks. As we were talking about the different books that we brought, you could see some of them becoming excited. Now those that are still in the elementary school, they could guess right away why we were there and they were excited! So after doing our book talks and talking about the important of reading, asking them if they were reading over the summer, etc. it was time for them to “have at it”. We just stepped back and let them go. They did – haha. Originally we said pick about 2 books. For some, that was easy. For others, it was difficult. We walked around to help them pick books based on what they were interested in. Many of the kids were just so excited we just said “take extras it is okay”. They could not decide on which 2 to choose. Let’s put it this way, when we went back to my car, we went back with empty crates. We decided that it was just fine. The research shows that just having books at home increases the likeliness that they will read. So, we were happy. We were also excited to see the kids go over to the counselors and the counselors read books with them. YEAH! This made us even more happy. It is always nice to see students excited about reading. A few parents were there as well and asked if they could pick books to read to their little or older children at home. Of course we said! Like I said, we went back with no books. But that is a good thing!
I highly suggest that you check out the program Duffy Books in Homes USA. Maybe it is something your school wants to try. I am not going to lie, you do have to do some fundraising. You will get a grant, but you are expected to match that grant. That has been extremely difficult for us. We always come close. This year we held a run that was very successful. However, we were stressing out about it – haha. Going to ask for sponsors and donations is not my thing! I have perfected the selling speech though – haha. And honestly, it was a fun day while having the run. Again, we had many kids run and after they ran, of course they were able to get free books to read. For the adults and the longer distances we had medals – woo. We were very surprised with how much we raised, so we most likely will do it again next year. We have also had to ask companies and groups to sponsor the program throughout the year. We have some fundraising ideas up our sleeves that we are in the process of talking about. However, if you can, I suggest you look into the program. It is a wonderful program. Remember, those who read succeed!