This year, I partnered with the English Department Chair at my school, Kevin Finn, to launch a schoolwide reading initiative.
Kevin and I noticed headlines everywhere we looked:
- “Why Aren’t We Reading Anymore? Americans are Losing Interest in Books?“
- “Is Literacy Declining? If it is, it’s because we academics aren’t doing our job.“
- “Americans Reading Fewer Books Than in the Past“
- “Op-Ed: My high school students don’t read anymore. I think I know why“
- “A Third of Teenagers Don’t Read Books for Pleasure Anymore“
- “WHY WE DON’T READ, REVISITED“
- “24 percent of American adults haven’t read a book in the past year—here’s why“
- “Don’t People Enjoy Reading Anymore? Leisure reading is on a serious decline. Is that grounds for serious concern?”
These headlines prompted us to delve deep into the data. We began to discover that both national and statewide data were confirming the alarming headlines. The latest studies from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed a 4-point decline in reading scores for 13-year-olds.
The Tennessee data was also concerning as, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee, “44,000 students, or 60% of third graders statewide, did not demonstrate proficiency on the initial TCAP English language arts test.” This data was significant for our school, Webb, as the school admits students from 27 cities and towns in Tennessee. Kevin analyzed Webb’s reading data from the ACT, PSAT, and SATs. At this point, we decided to present a reading initiative to the faculty during pre-service meetings.
Collaboration and Participation
The faculty was enthusiastic and enjoyed the presentation, followed by a “book tasting” activity. The only thing left was to roll out the initiative to the students. Kevin helped students understand the importance of reading in an all-school assembly and addressed the question, “So what?” Here are some of the top benefits he discussed:
- Increased sleep quality (and maybe quantity).
- 30 minutes of reading equals 30 minutes of yoga.
- Readers live nearly two years longer!
I then explained the concept behind the second law of library science, “Every Reader Their Book,” and invited students to come to the library to pick out a book to “read for fun!”
Reading by the Foot
With this, the “Reading by the Foot” initiative was launched. Starting on Tuesday, September 19th (roughly two advisory sessions per month after that), students would have the opportunity to read during advisory. Our advisory program consists of mixed-grade groups of 10-15 students supported by a faculty or staff advisor for two weekly sessions. A few parameters were in place: students must read a print book or dedicated e-reader, it should be something they WANT to read, not something they are supposed to read, and EVERYONE should read for the entire session.
Before the big launch, we had several days of advisory teams and even the entire middle school stopping in the library to check out books. This is a work in progress. Aside from using circulation data, we would like to create some measures for documenting our reading activities. I attended sessions at AASL in Tampa to see how other school librarians track reading challenges. Some conference workshops included using free software like Google’s Looker Studio and purchasing products like BeanStack. We have not settled on a measure, but stay tuned; I am sure we will.
By The Way – My school’s mascot is The Webb Feet!
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.