Meeting Our Students’ Reading Needs in the Midst of a Pandemic

There is nothing more satisfying than reaching my goal for how many books I can read in a summer. In fact, I pride myself on how many books I can get through in a summer, setting the goal realistically but higher each year. I have read 16, 20, 26 books in various summers, vastly decimating my to-be-read pile in a matter of weeks. This year? I read 7 books. For many people, that is considered an accomplishment, but for me, it’s a disappointment. This summer, reading anything was a struggle. I simply couldn’t get myself to sit and read, despite having plenty of really great titles in my to-be-read pile. My brain just wasn’t in it, and I have no idea why. Throughout the pandemic, many teachers, librarians, and other adults shared on social media about their reading struggles in the last year, and I expect this has happened to students of all ages as well.

I bring all of this up because if an avid reader like me struggled through books this summer, I think about our students who might also have had difficulties with reading this summer, or even the prior school year. Many students also might have experienced sickness or death in their families, food or housing insecurity, and taking care of siblings more often than before. As librarians, how do we make a positive impact on students’ reading lives despite the chaos happening around them?

The Effect of Students’ Reading Experiences

In order to determine strategies for maximum impact, I think about the various ways reading–or lack thereof–might contribute to school success and the relationships students have with each other and adults around them. I think about those teachers who assign not only whole class novels, but also independent reading projects to students, and the student whose grade suffers because like me, they just don’t have the right mindset to read anything of a decent length right now. I think about the lack of access students might have had to books or time to read during the pandemic and haven’t read anything at all, affecting their reading ability of assignments and comprehension of project directions. On the other hand, I think about all those students whose escape from reality has been nestled in the pages and pages of books they have read this summer, and those students whose only contact to kids of their own age–perhaps due to quarantine–have been found in books, graphic novels, or voices in audiobooks. How might their social skills have been impacted by their involvement in a plethora of reading?

As a librarian, I also wonder about book-related interactions I have with students. For those kiddos who don’t have the headspace to read and are resistant to even the most enticing book talk, how might their behavior change when their class visits the library and every kid is required by the teacher to check out a book? I also think about the students who have read the same books over and over and are super excited to get their hands on something new. How can I support the students who haven’t picked up a book in a year and a half–at least–and might need some major assistance with how to enjoy reading again? Librarians have a tough job this year, addressing all of these needs while recognizing that student engagement and behavior in the library might be all over the place.

Ideas to Help Your Community

  • Promote tried-and-true books you love and also those that enjoy high circulation.
  • Include short, more accessible texts and formats in your displays and book talks, including short story collections, graphic novels, and audiobooks. 
  • Work on developing relationships with students to tailor book recommendations to their specific needs.
  • Be open, acknowledging your own reading struggles (if that’s you), and talk with students about what sustains you in those periods of reading drought.
  • Focus on additional reasons students might want to visit your library that don’t have to do with books, such as passive programming, contests, maker activities, etc.
  • Encourage students to read what they want, including familiar favorites that they enjoyed reading when they were younger, without retribution or judgment from others.
  • Perhaps share with other staff members about potential student reading struggles due to the pandemic and offer to help with book selection and project assignments.

Going Forward

I have every confidence I am going to get back to the days of reading a dozen books or more during the summer; it just wasn’t this year. I know that about myself, but I wonder about students who might have any combination of challenges with reading; will they see their slump as a permanent occurrence, or will they, too, bounce back? With an open, encouraging librarian, along with the support of their teachers, I’d like to think that students will come out of this pandemic stronger readers than ever. Resilience, however, often depends on a person’s support system. Let’s make it a goal this year more than ever to meet our readers wherever they are–dormant, apathetic, struggling, and eager–and use our library’s resources to help them continue on their reading journey.

Author: Rachel Grover

Rachel Grover is a middle school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She has published articles on ways to make school libraries accessible for Knowledge Quest and on genrefying the library collection for School Library Connection. She also has developed workshops for beginning librarians for School Library Connection. Rachel was an elementary school teacher for two years before beginning life as a middle-school English teacher in 2009. In 2014, she joined Libraryland, finding a dream job she didn’t even know was her dream! When she is not working, she loves reading, tinkering with technology, traveling, taking photographs, and sleeping in. Her passions include genrefication, makerspaces, technology, collaboration with teachers across the curriculum, and making school libraries equitable and accessible for all learners.

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

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1 reply

  1. Great reminders, Rachel! I especially like your suggestion to prominently display & offer shorter works to help students find the right “fit” for their reading abilities & needs right now. I’m imagining, for my middle school kids, not only short books, but picture books that might have some deeper meanings, as well as anthologies that are easy to skip around in. Whatever it takes to engage students in reading at what might be a particularly difficult moment for us all!

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