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How to support literacy in the classroom, part 1

Giving students choices promotes engagement and excitement in reading

Today, 25 million children in the United States are not proficient readers. While this is, indeed, a crisis, it’s one that I firmly believe we can solve. Reading is the fundamental building block required for life’s journey. From being college ready to launching a successful career or even managing personal finances, every child must first learn to read.

Reading opens doors to a whole world of possibilities. It prepares kids to take advantage of limitless opportunities and gives them the confidence to strive. Today, reading has stiff competition for our children’s attention, from instant access to all forms of media to more time spent on social platforms. The first step in helping children on a path to literacy and future success is to focus on ways to excite and engage them in the joy and satisfaction of reading.

The importance of book ownership and the ability of children to have a choice in the books they select are directly tied to reading motivation, confidence, and performance. In fact, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) commissioned an independent meta-analysis in 2010 that found that giving children access to print materials is associated with positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes. The report concluded that access to print improves children’s reading performance, is instrumental to helping children learn the basics of reading, increases reading frequency and length, and improves attitudes toward reading and learning.

At RIF, our model for impact is to provide choice and access to books along with engagement opportunities for these children and the educators, parents, and caregivers that nurture them. When kids are empowered to select their own books, it increases the likelihood they’ll actually read the book. The simple truth is that if children have access to books and literacy resources and the option to choose the books they want to read, they are more engaged. For example, if a student is passionate about wildlife and could select reading materials grounded in science and nature, this choice might spark an interest or ignite a passion that shapes the child’s future path. And, because they are learning to read, that passion can turn into reality.

(Next page: How to support literacy in the classroom)

How to make sure children have reading material
Ensuring that every child has access to books, both physical and online, is what should galvanize all education-focused organizations. RIF is committed to meeting children where they are, with tools and resources that make reading fun while delivering measurable outcomes. As we “march” into National Reading Month, I hope you will join us in our goal to ensure that every child has the tools they need to read and succeed. We are encouraging children nationwide to read at least one book during this month and count it on our website.

This web page also includes an array of support materials that educators, community partners, and others can use to build events or promotions in schools, childcare centers, community centers, libraries, or other venues. Available resources for download include a poster, flyer, activity sheet, bookmark, certificate, social posts, newsletter copy, and a letter to parents.

3 ways to support literacy in the classroom

1. Poll your students on which topic areas really interest them. Group like-minded students into reading groups and help them find books that appeal to their topic areas on resources such as DOGObooks for Teachers.

2. Partner with a local educator to develop reading lists and book groups in their areas of expertise with a focus on activities that illustrate topics covered in the books. For instance, if a student is interested in science, plan a virtual field trip that focuses on topic areas of interest.

3. Mine the talent in your own community! Local scientists, artists, playwrights, engineers, library scientists, or other professionals can come in and speak to your class or do a virtual Q&A about their interests and the role of reading in their career.

When kids develop strong reading skills, they aren’t the only ones who benefit: We all do. Readers are better prepared and far more likely to thrive and to contribute positively to their families, the economy, and society at large.

[Editor’s note: Look for part 2 of this series on March 8, when we hear from an education expert on the role of literacy in helping students become informed, engaged, and successful citizens.]


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