Same as It Ever Was - National Council of Teachers of English
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Same as It Ever Was

This post was written by member Peg Grafwallner.

I recently found a note that went home with 12-year-old me in 1972 that lamented the low reading scores in our school district and pinpointed areas of student weakness that could be addressed to reverse the trend. Reading over that note I marveled at the fact that in many schools and districts the same messages are being sent home today.

A key difference between today and 45 years ago is that we know a lot more about how kids actually learn to read, but in too many instances our practices haven’t caught up with what we know. Student choice, access to lots of different kinds of materials, engagement in vibrant communities of readers, these are the things that work and many teachers know this, but it’s hard to find the resources, the agency, and the support to bring them to life.

Let’s not wait another day, week, month or year to help increase our students’ reading. Let’s spend the remainder of the year collecting books, magazines, comic books, puzzles and other reading material to surround our students in all types of literacy opportunities.

Here are 10 ways you can start:

  1. Create your own classroom library. Ask your colleagues and friends for books, magazines and comics. Go to your neighborhood library and request young adult books and magazines that can be donated to your library.
  2. Call local businesses and request their workplace communications. Ask local business for their employee newsletters or company communications. Businesses will appreciate the chance to advertise and market their products.
  3. Write letters to your local textbook representatives. Call your school district office and ask for the names of the textbook representatives for your area. Write letters to the reps explaining you are building a classroom library. They might be willing to send you a book or two.
  4. Meet with your school librarian/media specialist. Plan an opportunity for students to learn about books through Book Trailers for All ( Students can watch brief videos on engaging books. Ask your librarian to help you design a “Book Introduction” workshop. Set up tables with books; put out a platter of cookies. This is a celebration of books!
  5. Meet with your principal. Explain to your principal the value of choice reading time as best practice in literacy. In addition, share with her your vision for offering more opportunities for reading informational text. Invite her to read with your students.
  6. Send a letter home to parents. Explain to parents your students will be reading choice books and authentic informational text during every class. Let parents know you would appreciate it if they could listen to their children read at home.
  7. Student created word wall. In the front of the classroom, hang up poster paper. As students encounter new words in their reading, ask them to write the word on the poster paper along with the definition. Show them the value of language by offering opportunities to use them in their everyday conversations.
  8. Make crossword puzzles available. Ask your local school board for a donation of crossword puzzles for your students to practice vocabulary. Use crossword puzzles for bell-ringers or warm-ups. Give students the time to talk about words and to extend their language skills.
  9. Presentation Fridays. Every Friday, encourage students to read aloud at least one page from a children’s book; Suess, The Berenstain Bears, or Diary of a Whimpy Kid. Give students a chance to practice their fluency with a book that most, if not all, of your students can read with confidence.
  10. Invite your colleagues and community members to read with your students. The only way students become better readers is to develop their reading talents. Ask students to show off their reading skills to other teachers and community business leaders. Encourage students to share their original poems or raps. Embolden students to read excerpts from the books they have read.

Don’t wait to begin a reading program. Don’t let years go by thinking our students’ reading will just magically improve. Forty-five years later and we are still lamenting reading scores.

Make the change. Today.

Peg Grafwallner is an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large, urban high school. Peg draws on her nearly 25 years of experience and expertise to focus on coaching, engagement and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry. Contact Peg at or at twitter @peggrafwallner.