School administrators spend their days pulled in many directions. To be an effective administrator, you must be an academic leader versed in curriculum and pedagogy. You must create a positive school climate and delve into morale, behavioral management, and professional development of your teachers. You might even need to take care of the physical building. As the school year moves toward spring, it is easy to get lost in the world of standardized testing and the sprint to year-end events. In March, you have an opportunity to leverage Read Across America Day and National Reading Month to address the academic climate and needs of the children and adults in your building.
In addition to providing ideas for fun events and engaging activities for students in your school, Read Across America can help your students improve their reading performance and develop a love for reading. Some positive outcomes include
These outcomes can be targeted individually or in combination to make a difference for your students this month.
Students often discover reading as an exciting and fulfilling experience through self-selected reading. During National Reading Month, classroom teachers and librarians can renew self-selected reading initiatives by helping students choose the right books while also providing time to read. This is the perfect season to start a reading program, as many of the reading skills for the year have been taught and can now be applied to independently chosen material. When a student is matched to a book in a favorite genre or topic and on the appropriate reading level, a love for reading takes off!
We already know the literacy skills that basal readers, standardized tests, and the rote test-prep worksheets focus on. These key academic skills―identifying main ideas, making inferences, citing textual evidence — are important and must be taught in some of the traditional ways, but they gain greater power when students learn the skills within their own authentic reading.
The mechanism for scheduling these lessons can be differentiated depending on the skill level of your students. From guided reading groups with leveled readers to readers workshops with completely self-selected text, to independent homework assignments — anything can work if students apply these skills to read a book they like. The key is to make the enjoyment of the reading itself more important than the skill. Additionally, you can provide teachers with engaging supplemental materials and lessons beyond the core curriculum for this special month by providing access to content banks containing custom learning materials.
Inject school spirit into National Reading Month by launching into the month with activities that announce the month’s purpose, promote school-wide events that will take place, and build students’ excitement. Be sure to culminate the month with a fun activity that acknowledges student achievements and pushes them to continue their joy of reading in the future.
In between special events teachers can keep the same sense of excitement going. Dress-up-as-a-character days, read-alouds, book fairs, or short passages read during announcements are just a few of the endless possibilities. For the best effect, make sure that the fun is built into (instead of replacing) a learning experience.
Special months or events are perfect opportunities to invite the entire school community to join in an initiative. Family members, board of education members, the mayor and community leaders, military veterans, and many others are likely to want to visit the school and take part. Guest reading and book fair volunteers are standards, but other creative ideas are encouraged. Many adults in the community likely have a memory of a treasured children’s book and will want to share their love of that book with a new generation of students.
Why read? When students understand why they are being asked to complete an activity, they are more likely to be invested in the activity and try hard to succeed. Educators have to draw out the reasons for reading and use those reasons to motivate students. Some students will be motivated to disappear into a fantasy or science fiction world and wonder about things only possible in their imagination. Some will find solace in reading about flawed characters with whom they identify, or heroes and heroines they aspire to be. Whatever the motivation, the why has to transcend passing a test or getting ready for the next grade.
For most folks, it is the ability to transport themselves to times and places they can never actually go, such as floating along the ancient Nile, trekking through the Yorkshire dales, or living in the world of Greek mythology. It is possible to lead a much richer life in your imagination than in reality. Reading has an inspirational power–the power to unlock tangible dreams in the “real world,” too. These ideals can drive the initiatives of National Reading Month.
Academic games and contests of all types can provide an additional measure of extrinsic motivation for those who need it. A number of opportunities exist to create positive, spirited contests: for example, a school-wide “Can we read 1,000 books this month?” challenge, or a smaller classroom contest such as “For each genre we read this month, we add a minute of time to our spring party.” A great example of a reading project is a partnership with a company that donated 100 books to charity for every 100 books the class read. There was enormous pride in how many students got books in their hands because of this project! The key to positive contests is to have everyone in the group working toward a goal together, rather than having one individual try to defeat others.
Nanda Krish is Executive Chairman of Wisewire, a learning experience design company that develops smart technology solutions and easy to use standards aligned content for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Mr. Krish is also a General Partner at Start Smart Labs, a silicon valley big data business incubator for startups that are developing data intensive applications for the US enterprise market.