Nourishing a Culture of Reading

What is the most important skill you learn at school? Is it the social skills: taking turns, sharing and asking questions? Or perhaps numeric skills: how to add and subtract and discovering more complicated solutions to math problems? What about reading?

Reading impacts everything we do in our lives – DAILY

When I was the Elementary Principal at the International School Bangkok, we made it a point to tackle reading. We researched the latest theories on reading, we taught our teachers how to teach reading, we taught our parent community how to support their children in learning how to read and we focused on sharing our passion for reading with the kids – nourishing in them a love of reading.

The results were remarkable. We created a culture of reading. Everyone read – everyday.

As the principal, I too made every effort to share my love of reading and modeled for my students its value. By the end of the second year, our library had checked out more than 100,000 books for a student population of 700, an average of more than 140 books per person!

When I arrived at Lakefield College School, it was a big change. High school students have many subjects and extra and co-curricular activities competing for their time, on top of social demands. I also noticed the remarkable amount of time our students (and most young people today) spent on their iPhones, Galaxies and Androids. While our students were reading in their classes and supported by passionate teachers, they were not choosing to read during unstructured time.

Why does reading matter?

Research shows us that reading is the number one transferable skill to all academic and learning areas. Reading, for pleasure, is both an escape and a porthole to imagination and creativity, one of the key 21st Century Learning traits.  It expands the brain like no other cognitive excercise and even helps to build empathy – an important characteristic aligned with the school’s values. See Scholastic’s website for an interesting summary on the topic. There are also interesting  studies looking at the value of reading books (print text) and how this may lead to a deeper engagement with the content being read. (See Can Students “Go Deep” with Digital Reading or Student to e-textbooks: no thanks!).

How do you establish a culture of reading in a high school?

At LCS nourishing a culture of reading is an important goal for us and a work in progress.   Thanks to the passionate leadership of Dave Krocker, Curriculum Leader: Humanities and our English team, a shift is starting to happen. From read-alouds in Chapel, to dedicated reading time during Grove Time, to providing multiple text options for students in English class and launching school-wide reading challenges, we are slowly seeing a shift toward our culture of reading.

Another way students and staff share their favourite reads: the LCS Featured Readers section of the library.

It began two summers ago with a revamped summer reading program that elicited great response. Based on a “voice and choice” model, the program moved away from teachers prescribing one title, to students picking their own. At the same time, the “LCS Staff Picks” list was born: encouraging staff to share their personal passion for reading, and favourite book titles, with students. Students (and parents) have responded very positively to the program. Many students use this link (soon to be expanded to include picks from the broader community), and other recommended lists, throughout the academic year to find books they connect with.  The “voice and choice” model is also used in many classes. The freedom to follow their own passion and interests has helped more reticent readers to have powerful reading experiences.

This past Mid-Term Break David Krocker initiated our first ever “reading challenge,” which saw over 26 participants reading over 30 minutes a day every day during the break. Teaching Fellow Nichola Bendle is leading this December’s Holiday Break Reading Challenge (to read for 30 minutes a day, for 16 days – December 20 until January 4). With 120 readers (students, staff and parents) already signed up, the momentum is growing!

As a school that values so highly teaching and learning through relationships – we can’t help but be excited by the impromptu connections and conversations that occur between students and staff around the topic of books – sharing what we read and why we love it!

We still have a long way to go. Competing with technology is hard. Our kids are wired differently today than they were in the past. We need to continue to make reading important and attractive. We need to show students that reading is the most important skill they will pick up at school.