Promoting Reading during Virtual Learning

Like many school districts across the country, my district started the year with students learning from home. While the other librarians and I wanted to support students and teachers in any way we could, we decided that our top priority would be getting books into students’ hands. We are fortunate to have beautiful library facilities with well-stocked shelves, so normally much of our reading promotion takes place in our library spaces. Knowing we would have to do things differently for a while, we looked for ideas and programs that would encourage students to read.

When my colleagues shared stories and pictures with me for our September newsletter, almost all of the stories they sent me were related to reading promotion. While most of the activities they implemented weren’t original, they were well-received by students, parents, and teachers. I am sharing some of them as they might be useful to other school librarians looking for ideas.

Curbside Pickup. Thousands of school librarians across the United States have offered curbside pickup during the last six months. The fact that it has become a common practice does not mean librarians should not pat themselves on the back for offering this service. Curbside pickup is a lot of work but completely worth it because it provides students with books.

In our district, each librarian devised a procedure for requesting books and set up a schedule for pickup. Our district social workers helped tremendously by arranging the delivery of books to students who couldn’t come to school to pick up their requests.

Students were excited about checking out library books, and their parents were pleased to see their enthusiasm for reading.

Previewing Books and Genres Online. My elementary colleagues have been creative in the way they’ve conducted their fixed classes in the virtual environment. For instance, Jenny Starling, the librarian at Babler Elementary School, collaborated with the fifth-grade teachers in her building on a lesson about literary genres. Since the students couldn’t browse the books in the library collection, Jenny used Book Creator to create “ebooks” and made sure multiple genres were represented. Students read the back of the books, the book flaps, and listened to the first chapter of the books to get a feel for each genre. Then, students created short video recordings in which they shared their thoughts. Following the activity, many students requested books via curbside checkout.

Virtual Book Tastings. The seven middle school librarians in my district have been collaborating on virtual book tastings. Each month they create an interactive slide show highlighting different literary genres. Each slide contains several popular books of the same genre. When students click on a book cover, they are taken to a book trailer for the book or audio of a narrator reading the first chapter. This month’s selections include scary books, classics, and other “oldies but goodies.”

Language arts teachers are using the activity in their classes, and students are requesting the featured titles via curbside checkout. The virtual book tastings are so popular that the middle school librarians plan to collaborate on them all year, even when students return to in-person learning.

First Chapter Fridays. Lafayette High School librarians Nichole Ballard-Long and Jane Lingafelter had wanted to try First Chapters Fridays for a while, and virtual learning seemed like the perfect time to try it. They e-mailed their language arts teachers and offered to join their Zoom classes to introduce a book and the author and read aloud the first chapter–a quick 7-10 minute visit to entice readers with a good story. Moreover, they explained that the activity can showcase a genre, an author, or a writing style while supporting a classroom culture of language, both written and spoken.

The teachers liked the idea! During the first four weeks the activity was offered, the librarians visited fifty-one Zoom classes. They often tailored their book selection to the teachers’ curricular objectives, reading the first chapters of titles such as The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, and Muchacho by LouAnne Johnson.

Observing Banned Books Week. At Marquette High School, librarians Brittany Sharitz, Debbie Gaugush, and Melissa Twombly observed Banned Books Week by engaging with their school community through various online platforms. First, they invited teachers and staff to the library to read banned books and shared pictures via social media. Second, they sponsored a trivia contest, sharing a daily trivia question with students and encouraging them to e-mail the answer to a librarian. Finally, they created a Bitmoji library with clickable links that featured banned and challenged books as well as well information about why we observe Banned Books Week. Students were surprised to learn that many of the banned titles are ones they’ve read or are familiar with.

Prioritizing our professional roles and responsibilities during this challenging time has helped us do our jobs well and better serve our students and teachers. By focusing on reading promotion, we highlighted our deep commitment to our important mission of encouraging students to read while showing our stakeholders how we can serve our communities in innovative ways.

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Author: Margaret Sullivan

Margaret Sullivan is a librarian at Rockwood Summit High School and also serves as the Lead Librarian for the Rockwood School District. A past president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, Margaret’s professional interests include advocacy, teacher collaboration, professional development, equity, and YA literature. You can connect with her on Twitter @mm_sullivan.



Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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