Are You a Reader?

Are you a reader?

Most people assume that teachers and librarians love books and reading, but, surprisingly, that isn’t always the case. My colleague, Teri Lesesne, and I decided to take advantage of the teachers and librarians we had in front of us during workshops to find out how they would answer this question. Unfortunately, the results weren’t encouraging. Here are some of the most startling:

  • 47% admit to only reading 1-2 books a month
  • 67% said they don’t read graphic novels
  • 65% said they don’t listen to audio books

Some of you might be saying, “So what?” Well, with between 5,000 and 6,000 children’s and young adult books published each year, how can teachers and librarians be expected to be knowledgeable about books and properly recommend reading material to students when they only read, approximately, 24 books a year?

Analyzing Your Reading Life

One way Dr. Lesesne and I get our MLS students thinking about their reading lives is to assign a Reading Autobiography. We ask them to think about how they interacted with books during various times of their lives. By understanding what made them like and dislike reading, they will be more aware of what and what not to do with students. Students are able to choose how to present their autobiographies. Some write them like a normal paper, while others record videos. Sometimes we get Padlets or Smores and sometimes we get Sketchnotes. Here is my Reading Autobiography.

(Check out my last KQ blog post to get a Reading Autobiography template for yourself. You can white out the words and write different milestones if you want to use it with students.)

The Reading Autobiography is something that’s been around for a long time. Originally, I believe it came from Dr. Robert Carlsen. You can read about what he learned in his book, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books. It’s available as a full-text download on the ERIC database and you can also find used copies on Amazon.

What Makes a Reader

Here are just a few things that Dr. Carlsen learned about the people who identified as readers. They all wrote about the following things:

  • Having reading role models in school
  • Having time set aside for reading
  • Being permitted to choose their own reading material
  • Having educators show interest in what they read
  • Access to books in and outside school

What To Do To Help Kids Become Readers

Taking the information we learned from Dr. Carlsen, we can see some of the things we need to do to help our students become readers. Teachers and librarians need to become reading role models. We need to be reading where the kids can see and having conversations with the kids and other educators in the building about books. Reading needs to be something that is considered a pleasurable activity. Reading is social. Kids want to talk about what they are reading. Give them the time and place to do that.

Schools/Classrooms need to set aside time for kids to read. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that they are going to get reading time when they are at home so the only way to make sure they get time is to allow it during the school day. Reading during class isn’t a waste of time. When reading improves so do test scores. There is research to prove that so get some of it ready to hand over to your administrators or parents if anyone questions why you are reading instead of drilling and killing them with worksheets. But, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) once a week isn’t good enough. Kids need daily reading time.

Choice is a huge factor when it comes to creating readers. Nothing kills the love of reading like forcing them to take a test after every book or only letting them choose from a selection of books within a designated range. Kids need to be allowed to read in multiple formats. Graphic novels and audio books count as reading and teachers and librarians need to get on board with that if they aren’t already. Also, bringing in magazines on special interests are a good way to pull in reluctant readers. We need to find what works and that means providing different things for different kids.

The last area I’m going to cover in this post is access. Students need access to books in and out of school. Granted, there isn’t much we can do to make sure the students own books at home, but we can make sure they are allowed to check out a sufficient number of books to take home. We also need to make sure we establish relationships with public libraries and educate parents about the benefits of visiting the public library on a regular basis. One scenario that I see too often and breaks my heart is this:

A school library is functioning on a fixed schedule and sees classes once a week or even once every two weeks. The students are allowed to check out a couple of books (if they don’t have anything overdue or lost/damaged) during the library visit. Then, those students don’t come back for anything new to read until their next library visit. This includes the little ones who read multiple books a night–hopefully. Kids need the option of getting new reading material every day. If we don’t provide that option they’ll find something else to occupy their time and soon reading won’t even be something they consider doing as a pleasure activity.

Providing access to a sufficient number and a good variety of books/materials requires a monetary commitment from the school administration. Libraries can’t be expected to maintain quality collections without adding new items each year. 

So What?

I’m sure you can see that by being readers we are better able to encourage our students to be readers. By being readers we can act as role models to our students. By being familiar with graphic novels and audio books we can ensure our students have a variety of formats that might meet their needs better than a traditional book. By being readers we can have conversations about books with our students in order to provide the interaction they crave. By being readers we give students permission to love reading. Isn’t that what we want to happen?



Author: Karin Perry

Associate Professor of Library Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. The author of SCI FI ON THE FLY: A READER’S GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS and SKETCHNOTING IN SCHOOL. She spends her time reading children’s, young adult, graphic novels, and adult romance. She commutes between Oklahoma and Texas every week and listens to a lot of audio books. In addition to reading, Karin doodles and sketchnotes using mostly the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. She’s been married for 23 years and lives on 29 acres with her husband, Longhorn cattle, three stray tomcats, and one spunky Chihuahua named Pennie.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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3 replies

  1. Good post! I’m always amazed by how many school librarians I’ve met, especially in high schools, who don’t read much YA literature. In my previous job, in a middle school, my library aide would sit at the desk during slow periods and read titles from our collection, which I thought was wonderful.

  2. I try! But there are only so many hours in a day. I do have to admit that I don’t read graphic novels…simply for the reason that I prefer painting my own picture of the characters, setting, etc. in my head. It’s one of the most used sections of my high school library so I try to get the students’ opinions of new series to order. I do occasionally enjoy a good audio book, but mostly want to hold the book in my hands to read. (If and when I find the time!)

  3. I agree with Stephanie that if a teacher or librarian reads at least two YA books a month (they still deserve to read their own self-selected books) is about all you can ask from busy working educators, especially those with children. No, we can’t possibly read all the books, but we can learn ABOUT more books than we can possibly read by keeping up with your and Teri’s recommendations, following Donalyn Miller, reading book reviews, and just asking our kids what they are enjoying.
    As a middle school librarian, I always felt I wasn’t reading enough, but I read as much as I could, and I fostered relationships with student readers to find out which books were popular.

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