The starting point for teaching reading is always our own lives as readers—tuning in to our processes as proficient readers, and then tapping that knowledge to help the children in our care develop new skills and strategies.
One of the most important things I strive to do as a literacy coach is build self-awareness in my colleagues of their reading. We all lead busy lives, and it’s not easy to slow down and note the books or texts that bring us pleasure, how we’ve grown and changed as readers, and how we are part of different communities of readers (at home and in school). Here are some simple strategies I use to build the community of readers among the adults in our building.
The book swap baskets in the literacy resource room are a place where teachers can exchange novels, collections of poetry, or nonfiction texts they have enjoyed recently with colleagues. Over the past few years, the book swap baskets have become very popular.
Teachers mention books they have read for fun informally as they browse the resources for children in the room or when we meet for study groups. There is also an area near the book swap baskets where teachers can post recommendations. Here is a list of titles recommended recently by my colleagues.
- The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
- The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman
Shared Novel or Memoir
This year our entire staff is reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I chose this book for many reasons. The first is that it is beautifully written. You can’t help but be drawn in to the author’s story of her horrendous childhood with neglectful parents (who remain in some ways sympathetic characters, despite the abuse). The book also fosters discussion of childhood poverty. Our school has a majority of children receiving free and reduced-price lunch, and we don’t talk enough about the effects of poverty on learning. Finally, the book is a wonderful tool for discussion of reading strategies.
We typically read a small amount of the text at a staff meeting before we get into the usual faculty meeting agenda. I provide a graphic organizer, which helps everyone think through the comprehension strategies they are using as they read The Glass Castle. This leads naturally into a discussion of comprehension strategies with students.
Family Literacy Breakfasts
Each year we invite two children’s book authors to talk at a breakfast for families. Every member of the school community—from janitorial staff to students’ parents—is invited to attend. What makes the breakfast extra special is that a copy of the book is provided to each family or staff member who attends (one per family). I use Parent Involvement funds to pay for the books, and plan far in advance. This year our featured authors were Allen Sockabasin and Robert Pottle. Everyone received a copy of Thanks to the Animals and Maine: The Way Life Is: A Year of Wicked Good Poetry. Next year Jennifer Armstrong will join us for poetry. Students will receive her book The Poet’s Basket. Ralph Fletcher will join us next spring and read from his book Fig Pudding.
You can see a discussion of connections between our reading processes as adults and how we teach reading to students in this four-minute video from a new-teacher study-group meeting:
These shared texts and experiences all build our appreciation for our reading lives and how we are a community of readers. From one-time events to the ongoing book swap, we are talking about books and reading for pleasure naturally all year long.