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BUILDING A CULTURE OF INDEPENDENT READING THROUGH LITERACY CLUBS.

Today's teachers are required to spend most of their English/Language Arts time in teacher-directed instruction with required text, which is primarily informational. Little, if any, time is allocated to self-selected independent reading (Garan & DeVoogd, 2008). In addition, some teachers do not understand the importance of independent reading and lack the knowledge about quality children's literature (Akins, et al., 2018). Sanden (2014) and Lee (2011) maintain that students should be afforded opportunities to read independently in books that interest them to build reading stamina, achievement, and motivation. Interestingly, leisure reading in the United States has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004, an all-time low with the sharpest declines for men (Ingraham, 2018). To ensure successful independent reading, Reutzel and Juth (2014) assert that teachers need to have students select books. However, many students may need the teacher to provide guidance and mentoring in how to select appropriate books. In this article, we describe three successful literacy clubs that incorporate independent reading into the school day. Specifically, we outline how these reading opportunities are organized and provide recommendations on how teachers can begin similar reading programs. The programs described have resulted in positive attitudes toward reading, higher student engagement, and increased reading achievement among club members.

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The Lunch Bunch

The lunch bunch pairs university pre-service teachers with small groups of elementary aged students for an informal book club during the elementary students' lunch period. The purpose of the club is to read for pleasure, not to reinforce skills. The lunch bunch program focuses on average students who typically do not receive tutoring or enrichment opportunities. The books read by the students are chosen from the Sunshine State Young Readers Award Books and both the elementary student and university pre-service teacher get to keep a copy of the book. Allowing elementary students and pre-service teachers to keep the books they are reading gives young students a sense of ownership and helps pre-service teachers build their collection of children's books. Each lunch bunch group consists of two university students and four to five elementary students. The university students pick the children up in the lunchroom right after the children go through the lunch line and then they all go to a classroom or the library to eat, read, and talk about the book. While the elementary students eat their lunches, the university students typically read a chapter to the students, which they then talk about. The discussions center on what the elementary students like about the story, what they don't like about the story, as well as predictions about what might happen next in the story. Some groups have student volunteers read while others just talk about specific details of the book. The beauty of the lunch bunch club is that there is no set structure or expectation for skill building. Groups have the freedom to read and discuss the books based on what the elementary students want to do. Before the next weekly meeting, the elementary students are asked to read the new few chapters

To receive feedback from lunch bunch students, an informal survey was administered at the end of each semester; the lunch bunch has been successful for three semesters so far. Of the 58 students surveyed, 95% reported they would like to return to the lunch bunch the following semester. Of the students who would like to return, 97% said they wanted to return because it was "fun". Other reasons students want to continue in the club was to spend time with friends, not having to eat in the lunch room, and having the university students spend time with them. Another pattern identified in the student responses was the importance of student choice. Interestingly, most students from a second school site who didn't have the opportunity to select their books (due to time constraints) commented that they would have liked a better book or stated they would have liked to pick their own book. In the original school, students are given a list of the Sunshine State Young Readers Award Books and each group picks a book from the list. Giving the students some choice is important. This supports Reutzel's and Juth's (2014) conclusion that teachers need to have students select books.

In essence, the lunch bunch is a literature circle. We have supported many different types of literature circles over the years and have found that teachers and schools who use them produce stronger readers. Literature circles can meet before school, during lunch, or after school depending teachers' schedules and students' needs (i.e., selecting books for childhood issues or confidence building). However, the most important part of the lunch bunch is to allow students to informally talk about their books and share their thoughts with each other.

The Boys' Book Club

An example of a targeted book club is the boys' book club. This boy's book club was created because the teacher had several minority male students in class who were labeled at-risk in reading. Further, the boys were disinterested and apathetic to reading and all scored low on the previous year's state assessment. The teacher's ultimate goal of the book club was to instill a love and excitement for reading in these at-risk readers. Knowing that there is a positive correlation between students who read voraciously and test scores, the teacher also wanted to increase their reading scores by increasing their volume of reading.

The first group was comprised of three African-American, two Hispanic and two white males. One of the white males was a high-performing gifted student who got wind of the club and begged to join. The other boys were amenable to including him so he joined in and it ended up being a very positive inclusion. The original intent of the club was to keep it at around 5-6 students so there would be plenty of opportunity for discussion. Reading engagement was certainly a problem due to a lack of literature appealing to these at-risk boys.

The first book read was chosen by the teacher. Desiring to reach these boys with a book that would appeal to them and feature a positive minority as a leading figure in the book, the teacher choose to kick the club off with the book The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. In this story, Rufus Mayflower, a six grade African-American male, creates a business making toothpaste turning him into a millionaire through his intelligent business savvy.

During the first session, the boys suggested potential names such as "The Interesting Book Club", "Boys Rule Books", "Ds Reads" and ultimately choosing "Miss Ds Readers for Boys". The teacher asked the boys, "When you join a book club, a book club is a commitment. What do you think a commitment means?" One student responded, "I think it means that you have to be committed to the book--don't skip through it." Another added, "I think it means that it's not a joke, it's a privilege to earn, don't skip pages, work at understanding the book". Another student stated, "You ask questions". This provided a buy in to "how" the boys should be reading their books as most of these boys typically did not read with commitment. The teacher's hope was that the social aspect of the "book club" would be an impetus for reading with commitment. One of the students suggested that it would help pass tests as well. The teacher responded, "This book club is not about passing tests, it's about enjoying a book together and talking about it. Now, when you talk about books, that's going to make your comprehension better because you are talking about it with other people, right? So it can raise your tests scores too!"

The boy's book club meets approximately three times per week during lunch time; after going through the lunch line the club has about twenty to twenty-five minutes for discussion. Each book club session is arranged around the boys discussing the story with the teacher reading aloud excerpts to facilitate the discussion. Posing key questions that encouraged the boys to talk about the text and allowing the boys to pose their own questions was also a part of each session. The boys had no trouble discussing the text, although sometimes they had to be directed back to the text to compare their thinking to the actual text. While they were talking, they were also eating their lunch. Therefore, the teacher reading the excerpts gave them an opportunity to eat while listening during those segments of time. Subsequent books were chosen by the boys from an array of choices for which the teacher had multiple copies.

There were many positives that were experienced from the boy's book club. The boys showed improvement on their reading scores both at the classroom level and on their state testing. Several students showed significant improvements on their standardized test scores by increasing at least one level. This book club also gave the boys an opportunity to have a voice in the context of literacy, which was not normally seen in the classroom setting. The boys were typically more apathetic in a whole group reading setting and did not show all that they could do in terms of discussion and comprehension. This may be possibly attributed to being overpowered by students who were higher readers and due to literature selections they are not interested in reading. Participating in the book club also impacted their independent reading as all the boys increased the volume and rate of reading. Since this class participated in Scholastic's Reading Counts, the teacher saw an increase in the amount of points the boys were earning from reading and passing RC tests. It is clear that allowing at-risk boys an opportunity to develop their reading through the social aspect of a book club is an excellent means of turning boys on to reading. The high engagement and sheer enjoyment of reading experienced during the book club will be a positive memory they will always have with them. We must allow opportunities for all students to interact with reading in this positive ways, but it is crucial for at-risk minority boys.

The DaVinci Club

The DaVinci Club is an after school program that emphasizes literacy and STEAM in a way that promotes the love of reading, math, science, engineering, technology, and the arts. Students choose books from a wide selection of literature, are encouraged to discuss these books with their peers, and freely explore a variety of artistic pursuits based on their selected books. The club meets twice a week for ninety minutes and targets approximately 20 students in fourth and fifth grades at a Title 1 school. The club serves a diverse group of economically disadvantaged and culturally diverse students including English Language Learners.

Students spend the first twenty-five minutes in small groups discussing their personal literature choices. Elements of fiction and non-fiction are discussed such as theme, authors' purpose, problem/solution, setting, main idea/details, and reader reaction. These discussions often prompt students to read books that their peers shared during the discussion. The remainder of the club time is dedicated to expressing student literature choices through an array of options such as writing, drama, music, and visual arts (painting, drawing, collage, sculpture). Students write a plan for their project which includes why they want to do the project, what materials they will need, research required, and a timeline for the project. Regarding the projects, a student commented that "Projects can be anything from a Model Magic sculpture of an object in a fictional book, to a PowerPoint based on a non-fictional book. Really, we can do whatever we imagine, as long as the idea is realistic with our materials." Upon completion, students evaluate their final products. Student art projects are displayed at school as well as local art festivals, the public library, hospital, and local museums. When asked about the club, one student stated, "I enjoy DaVinci Club because it encourages creativity along with literature and education. Many educators try to make kids tolerate learning in different ways, but as an elementary school student, I can conclude most of these tactics don't end up working. However, I can honestly say, that DaVinci Club is the best learning experience I have ever been a part of."

The DaVinci Club members consistently produce an increase in reading scores on standardized tests, as well as an increase in Reading Counts points. When a book is completed, students take a 10-question quiz using the Scholastic Reading Counts application. If students earn at least a 70%, they pass the quiz and earn points. The DaVinci Club 4th grade students earned an average of 68 more points on Reading Counts from 2016 to 2017 and the 5th graders had an average gain of 86 points. These gains suggest that the students are reading more books or more complicated books, as the difficulty of the book is worth more points. One student in particular went from having 2 reading count points at the end of the 2016 school year to scoring 72 points by the end of the 2018 club. Further, 71% of the students who participated in the club showed growth on the State Standardized test (FSA) as determined by the Florida Department of Education criteria. Sixty-seven percent of the DaVinci Club 4th graders showed reading gains on the FSA, whereas only 52% of the non-participating 4th graders made gains. Seventy-seven percent of the DaVinci Club 5th graders made reading gains, whereas non-participating 5th graders average growth was 49%. This data suggests that not only are the students reading more, but these skills are also increasing their reading ability. In recent student interviews, students overwhelmingly praise how much fun they have as a member of the Da Vinci Club, how they enjoy the projects, and love having personal choice.

Suggestions for Teachers

In an era of testing and skill and drill, these literacy programs work to bring back the joy and love of reading. To build stamina, time during the school day must be allocated to independent reading. This independent reading time should also include some type of accountability measure, such as reading logs or teacher conferences. In addition, opportunities should be provided for students to talk about their books with other students and teachers in the school, which means reading for fun and not for skill building. Further, teachers should model their own enthusiasm and love of reading by reading aloud, discussing books with students, and recommending titles or authors students may enjoy. When structuring reading time, the teacher should read as well and talk about the book. Teachers should begin building a classroom library at various grade levels on many topics so all students have the chance to read books that interest them. It is important for children to see positive reading models at school, which begins with teachers. Teachers can create a culture and climate of reading by carving out pleasure reading time during the day. Each of the programs described in this article allows children to experience the joy of reading. The time spent is well worth the outcome.

MERCEDES TICHENOR

Stetson University

KATHY PIECHURA

Stetson University

ROBIN DIEDRICHS

Volusia County Schools

ELIZABETH HEINS

Stetson University

References

Akins, M., Tichenor, M., Heins, E., & Piechura, K. (2018). Teachers' knowledge of children's literature: What genres do teachers read? Reading Improvement, 55(2), 63-68.

Block, S. (2018). The Da Vinci Club 2018. Youtube Video. https://youtu.be/Qj07flmyqT4

Garan, E. M. & DeVoogd, G. (2008). The benefits of sustained silent reading: Scientific research and common sense converge. The Reading Teacher, 62(4), 336-344.

Ingraham, C. (2018, June 29). Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-low. Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2019, from http://www.washigntonposot.comtimelow.

Lee, B. Y. (2011). Assessing book knowledge through independent reading in the earliest years: Practical strategies and implications for teachers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39, 285-290.

Reutzel, D. R. & Juth, S. (2014). Supporting the development of silent reading fluency: An evidence-based framework for the intermediate grades. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(1), 27-46.

Sanden, S. (2014). Out of the shadow of SSR: Real teachers' classroom independent reading practices. Language Arts, 91(3), 161-175.
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Author:Tichenor, Mercedes; Piechura, Kathy; Diedrichs, Robin; Heins, Elizabeth
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2020
Words:2698
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