The Reading Experience

By Jan Silvano, Head Librarian

Stories and books…they conjure up memories as varied and personal as each individual’s experience. As parents, we may want to share our own love of reading with our child and are dismayed if he doesn’t take to it the way we did as children. We are so thrilled when that initial spark of independent reading ignites that we try to force abridged versions of Moby Dick on her. We express exasperation when he checks out the Alex Ovechkin biography yet again or she brings home Puppies and How to Care for Them for the third week in a row.

We are well intentioned! We want to encourage a love of reading in our child and are horrified to be met with resistance or downright defiance. What is meant to be an enjoyable source of common interest becomes a frustrating battleground of bargaining and negotiating: “If you read for 15 minutes, you can have the iPad back!”

There is a saying, “Single causality is simplistic,” and in the current climate of bits, bytes, tweets, polarized opinions, branding, and quick fixes, parents are hungry for “the one” easy solution. Alas, it is sad to say there is no “one” answer to the question, “How can I ensure that my child will ‘be a reader?’”

Educational research gives us these strategies. Make sure your child sees you reading. Have a variety of reading materials in the home that are easily accessible and available in a variety of formats. Talk about what you are reading with your child. If you have to read for work, describe the different kinds of reading you do as a grown-up. Discuss your own childhood reading experiences. Were you “a reader?” Maybe you weren’t. Maybe it was not an option you chose among the myriad of options competing for your time and attention – options that have increased enormously in the past 10, 15, or 20 years. Welcome to our own students’ experience!

The educational research is pretty unanimous when it comes to allowing your child to choose the books that interest him. He has to discover for himself the stories, subjects, and authors that motivate him, that nurture him, that help him develop his own sense of self. She will go through different phases, be drawn to a particular series, only read non-fiction, gobble up everything by a particular author, re-read favorites. It’s up to us, as parents and educators, to provide the forum for “courageous conversations,” to be available, and to support our children as they grow into evaluators and critical thinkers, navigating their way through the experience of the written word. That is our work.

Everyone reads for different reasons: to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of a community, to be seen to be reading. At Langley, all students have access to the school library. It is enlightening to witness the children as they make their book choices at each developmental level. Already by three and four years old, peer influence on the reading selections is in evidence. Non-readers, emerging readers, deep readers, struggling readers. Each child has a sense of what book she wants to choose when she comes into the library. It is the librarians’ job to guide, inspire, cajole, suggest, urge, badger, recommend, promote, and sometimes require depending on the curricular goal – but ultimately, peer influence wins out.

All is not lost. Children also sometimes want “the” book their dad read, or their aunt recommended, or their mom LOVES, or Mrs. Gustin says is a “must-read before you die,” or the biggest book, or the book of the movie/video game. Remember, a library is the place where a comprehensive collection exists to encourage independent free reading, with no strings attached, and the reading choices are made according to the interests of the reader.

Be assured: our Langley kids do read. They are excited and nourished by books, they love to read, and the annual Book Fair, December 9 and 10 in the Pat Bush Library, is one of the most popular and anticipated community events of the school year. Spend time with your young readers, be present with them (no screen between you), and read with them – at the Book Fair, at the school library, and at your public library.

The Importance of Summer Reading

By Amy Jones, Director of Resource

As I recently said to a rising sixth-grader, summer reading isn’t something that teachers devised to torture students – it’s advice from practitioners, coaches if you will, who know what it takes to keep the mind in shape. Most teachers would argue that reading also nurtures the imagination and even the soul.

The brain is a muscle that needs exercise. No one would expect an athlete or musician to train without practice. Musicians play their instruments or train their voices daily; athletes practice at least a few times a week along with playing games.  Without frequent use, skills wither and die. The same holds true with reading. One doesn’t become a stronger reader without reading.

Langley’s summer reading program is designed for students to practice the skill of reading over the summer. Instead of drills, however, students get to “play” each and every day. They are the first string; they’re starring. Each rising first- through eighth-grader should be reading almost daily. Primary School students have a Summer Enrichment Calendar that provides daily activities, many of which are literary in nature. At this age, parents or other adults should read to their children daily.

For older students, particularly those who are moving from the learning-to-read stage to the reading-to-learn-and-enjoy phase, choice of text is the name of the game as it serves to provide more pleasure and motivation for the reader. Students should be reading texts that interest them and are comfortable, not too difficult; reading at a child’s comfort and skill level builds fluency and confidence and is essential for growth. Reading text that is too hard defeats the reader and does not strengthen skills. If you see your child not making progress with a book, give him or her permission to abandon the book; it may be too hard, or just not engaging. Ultimately, reading should provide new knowledge, pleasure, or both!

Thanks for supporting our efforts to encourage your child to exercise his or her reading brain! Ask to see your child’s Reading Time Log and list of completed books. We’ll be looking for these in September, with your signature!

For more information about Langley’s summer reading program, current parents may click here to log in to CampusNet.

Raising the Level of Classroom Literacy

By Jessica Robinson, Grade 3 Teacher

As a team, Langley’s third-grade teachers recently attended a conference led by Mary Ehrenworth entitled, “Writing About Reading: Reading Notebooks and Projects, Raising the Level of Classroom LiteracyLiterary Essays, and Text-Based Arguments.” The conference challenged us to question how we are currently enhancing our students’ learning and how we can continue to raise the level of reading and literacy in the classroom. Close reading, how to prepare insightful written responses, and how to raise the level of reading were the topics of the day.

As our world continues to demand more, we often find ourselves asking, “How can we prepare students for an unknown future?” “How can we motivate students to participate in higher-level thinking?” “How can we encourage students to refer back to the text to support their ideas?” This conference gave us tools to answer all of those questions through our teaching. The conference emphasized the importance of providing students with the tools to read a text closely and also highlighted that while the text is of vital importance, so are the students’ thoughts about the text. The emphasis was placed on students using their schema to take an in-depth look at the text and to look at reading in a way that they never have before.

The idea that each person responds to a text in a uniquely different way because of his or her background knowledge is a strong motivation for students. Too often students are looking for the “right” answer, which limits their ability to delve deeper into a text. Mary Ehrenworth stressed that every student creates a different meaning from the text. Although the text remains the same, by looking through various lenses and focusing on different aspects of a text, our thinking in relation to that text changes and deepens. It is through this close reading and re-reading, and through the open discussion and the crafting of meaningful responses to the text, that we guide students toward transference, independence, and higher-level thinking.

The way students respond to reading was something that really hit home for the third-grade team. One key point was that reading response journals needs to become similar to reading diaries. Students need to take ownership for both their reading and their thoughts about the reading that they do. This type of independence and transference does not just happen through traditional written responses, but rather when we allow students to explore different media. Through this type of work, we ask more of our students. We are asking them not only to reflect on their reading in words, but also to also use pictures, designs, and symbols to express their thoughts about their reading. In addition to making responding to reading fun, students are digging deeper, which provides opportunities to explore multiple avenues for expression and creativity.

The last and perhaps most important piece of information that the conference reminded us was that reading volume matters! Reading, reading, and more reading will raise the level of intellectual reading. Mary Ehrenworth highlighted something we all know: reading will improve our reading. She explained that we want to move students to find a love for reading and the way to get there is for parents and teachers to have high expectations for them. She explained that research shows that in order for students to maintain their current reading competency, it is vital to push them to read a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

In the end, we are asking more of our students. We are not simply asking them to read. Instead, we are asking them to immerse themselves in reading and respond creatively to it because the pay-offs are well worth the effort.

The third-grade team and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such an eye-opening conference which continues to impact how we teach. By creating an atmosphere which supports the professional development of its teachers, Langley encourages us to grow along with our students.