Providing access to books both inside and outside the classroom should be a top priority for schools, according to literacy expert Sharon Callen.
Libraries and access to a variety of books will ensure students can successfully develop their reading and writing skills in a rich print environment.
However, schools need to be accountable and responsible for providing these opportunities to all student demographics and communities, even if it’s outside the classroom.
On Episode 84 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, Sharon talked about how to better engage students and open up access points to books.
The main goals of language education
Sharon revealed that the key intention for literacy teachers is to empower students with a wide choice of reading.
“One of the major goals of language education should be to encourage free reading, reading of choice, reading with accuracy, reading that is right for us, and reading that can empower us. But we are the ones that need to make sure it happens,” Sharon said.
“Every child, every day should have an opportunity to read books that he or she chooses to read, to read accurately, to read something they understand, to be able to write about something personally meaningful, to be able to talk with peers about their reading and writing, and to have a fluent adult read aloud to them.” (Every Child, Every Day research)
The best access points for books
Sharon explained that bringing books into a classroom is only half the job done. Once they are clearly visible and accessible to students, they will truly have an impact.
“Many of us have said that we know the importance of students having books to read. We get that. We understand it, and sometimes we bring those books to our students. But it isn’t just a matter of bringing them to them. We need to have our children engage with them,” she said.
“So put them in a place where they were going to be read, where there is absolute access to them. Not popped away on shelves somewhere where nobody can access them, but placed strategically so that they can be read.
“So what does the research tell us? Firstly, more access to books at home results in more reading, better classroom libraries result in more reading, and better school libraries result in more reading. So right there are three places where access to books equals more reading. And even our public libraries out there – if our students are engaged and know they have access to this, then that also results in more reading.”
The importance of schools providing libraries
It’s imperative for schools build up their own libraries, especially to cater for children who may not have other access points.
“For children who don’t have as much access to books outside of school, in that situation educators really needs to put themselves at the forefront of thinking about their students have less access at home. So the more access that can be provided at school, the stronger that will be,” Sharon said.
“We do know that schools can counter the effects of poverty through access to books. And whilst it’s true that children of poverty will have less access to books outside of school, let’s not make that true at school. And if we have two groups of children who may be in poverty, the group who’s provided with more access to books will show more literacy development.”
The importance of providing out-of-school access
The responsibility of providing access to books doesn’t end at the school’s exit doors.
“If our students don’t have access to a public library because they’re not being taken to one outside of school, having schools organise trips to libraries or really increasing the school library or classroom libraries is so important,” Sharon said.
“I know many community libraries here in Australia will do bulk borrows for school libraries if we can’t get to those public libraries or those community libraries. And I know many rural communities who make regular visits to the public library or to the community library with their students. So those relationships are really important.
“So, let’s keep that in our minds as schools. No matter what our school demographic is, let’s have eyes on our children and their access to books outside of school, and really ensure what we are providing at school through classroom libraries, school libraries, and access to our community libraries.”
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