Posts Tagged ‘reading programs’

The joy of learning and the joy of reading are two topics I am deeply passionate about.

So when I heard that Professor Stephen Krashen, a world leader on the topic of literacy, was touring Australia last week, I was very keen to attend one of his presentations.   With some disappointment though  I realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend either of his two Melbourne presentations.   Buoyed though by the enthusiasm of a work colleague who did attend saying that he was brilliant, I resolved to do the next best thing and explore the beliefs, research and teachings of this inspiring professor for myself by researching all that is available online.

Ah the joy of online learning!!

To my delight, I found lots by and about this eminent educator and proceeded to devote a number of hours to a self styled ‘online’ learning program and as a result, now feel I’ve got a good handle on how Krashen believes we should be pursuing the ‘teaching’ of reading in our schools.  Most inspiring of all is that Krashen’s approach fits in perfectly with my own beliefs!

Like Krashen, I believe that the best way to teach reading and extend our students’ skills is, quite simply, by having them read!  Exposure to good quality reading material which is readily available, providing positive role models and ensuring that students have as many opportunities to knuckle down and read are essential ingredients to nurture reading.  Reading is not something that can be compartmentalized into English classes and taught.  Indeed reading is a skill and a focus of every school subject and is the reason why in past schools I have created school wide Literary Festivals in which literature across the curriculum was celebrated.  In addition to authors and illustrators,  a wide range of artists, all of whom are united in their passionate desire to engage, stimulate and challenge students with their love of the written and spoken word were included in the Literary Festivals held.  I’ve written extensively about Staging a Successful Literary Festival.

I was very pleased to come across a presentation by Stephen Krashen where he spoke at The University of Georgia College of Education in 2012 on the very same topic as his Melbourne presentation: The Power of Reading.  It was great to listen along and realize that his words illuminated the handout given to me by a work colleague from Krashen’s Melbourne presentation.  As I listened, I found myself jotting down some of the key points he made:

Opening his talk, Krashen aims to debunk the myth that millions are illiterate and that teachers are to blame.  Very few, he says, presumably in relation to US children, are completely and totally illiterate.  The problem he maintains is that demands for literacy have been increasing faster than we cope.  Officially he explains, the lowest 25% (referred to in statistics as the lowest quartile) have low literacy. It is obvious, he says, that there will always be 25% who are at the lowest percentile which does not equate with them being illiterate!

After stating emphatically that he knows how to develop literacy, Krashen gives the simple one word solution:


One kind of reading which works better than anything else, he claims, is the kind of reading we do obsessively and it is called free voluntary reading in which there is no requirement for any kind of formal response.  Krashen has adopted these three words as a slogan, elevating them to a process called Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).  In his online talk, he explains:

There is one kind of reading that works better than any other and it was the kind of reading you did last night before you fell asleep”….. The kind of reading that really counts is the reading you and I do all the time that we do obsessively. We call it Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) … reading because you want to. No book reports. No questions at the end of the chapter. You don’t like the book you put it down and pick up another one. Free Voluntary Reading is the source in my opinion of our reading ability; it’s the source of most of our vocabulary, all of our educated vocabulary just about comes from reading, in most cases, our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions, … most of our ability to spell well…. our ability to write with a good style, much of our knowledge of the world, comes from reading.

Acknowledging that no discussion about reading can be complete without reference to a book by Daniel Faber called Hooked on Reading, published around 1965, in which the notion of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is raised as a tool to promote reading, Krashen then spends considerable time detailing the results of research studies which support the value of both FVR and SSR.  The results are profound.

The case for Free Voluntary Reading, discussed at length in his Melbourne presentation, is explained quite fully in The Power of Reading – skip to 15.33 minutes into the video continuing for about four minutes. This explanation is also published in a 1983 article in The Reading Research Quarterly.

Also of interest is his reference to Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in a study by Elly & Mangubhai in Singapore, which is written up in Language Learning, (at 19.45 minutes into the video) in which he sates:

Students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!

Why should this happen?  ….

If you read a lot your knowledge of the conventions of writing , your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar it’s acquired not learned; its subconsciously absorbed, it’s stored deep in your central nervous system, it becomes part of you.   They have no choice but to write well.”

Krashen goes on to give a number of case studies some of which are people reflecting on their reading experience.  The conclusion, he says, he is coming to (at 24.46 minutes) is that:

Children who grow up with poverty, with access to books, are the ones who make it. Those who don’t,  don’t make it.

As someone who has worked in the field of Teacher Librarianship for more than 20 years, Krashen’s endorsement of the value of libraries is profound!  Others writing about the value of libraries, Teacher Librarians and reading field such as SHOUT for Literacy and Libraries also make reference to Krashen’s research, writings and presentations.

As a profession, our role is to promote the value of libraries and the wealth of reading choice they offer students.  It is our professional responsibility to continually remind teachers in our schools the undeniable value that students can gain from engaging with literature for no other reason than the joy of it.  I believe that the continual over-emphasis placed on students by required text study, most often kills the joy of reading.

If an interest in this topics is high on your ‘knowledge’ agenda, I would highly recommend you take an hour and have a listen.

Apart from this video I found a number of other valuable onine references, including Krashen’s website and blog, as well as An Introduction to the work of Stephen Krashen where drop down menus give more information on topics of interest.

So, it seems, I have been able to enjoy a professional learning experience virtually.   Wonderful!!

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I just love the enthusiasm of James Patterson! He’s just so intent on inspiring kids to read!!

Apart from the ongoing generosity he shows by creating reading programs (James Patterson – Getting Australian Kids to Read; James Patterson’s Random Shorts: Story Competition) his contagious fervour to simply get kids reading is summed up well in this article: James Patterson’s Quest to Save Reading

Take away ideas:

  1. Get your kids to read every day – or else! He said this to his own 8 year old, who groaned at the thought. The alternative – living in the garage instead of his bedroom – was enough to convince his young man to ‘just do it’. The result? His SAT reading test scores soared
  2. Face facts: ‘At risk’ kids are not competent readers. By providing additional reading programs on a regular weekly basis – even if it’s on a weekend – will help and encourage them.  Achievement feeds achievement.  Reading is infectious!
  3. Turn kids onto reading! To ensure that kids continue reading for the rest of their lives, shift the focus from school curriculum focus of ‘you must read this text’ to encouraging kids to read what they like!
  4. Reading is evolving: Reading a novel is not the only form of reading. Social Media means kids are actually more deeply involved in reading and written communication than ever! The result of acknowledging this may well redefine what constitutes good reading.
  5. Reading should be fun! Book Clubs in schools can shift reading to be a ‘cool’ activity. The focus needs to be on the joy of reading rather than ‘You must read!’.

The article is well worth a read!

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As I put the finishing touches on a presentation made at the annual VATE (Victorian Association for the Teaching of English) Conference held in Melbourne on November 27-28 2014, I felt reignited with a passion to convince all educators of the need to inspire in our students a love of reading.   It really doesn’t matter whether we are teachers of Math, Science, History, Music, Drama, English or Library – all of us who work in schools need to actively pursue ensuring that our students not only learn the importance and value of reading, but that they see reading as an essential life skill which will be with them throughout their lives; a tool which will open doors to worlds they may never be able to explore in other ways.

Presenting on the topic Engaging Readers: Tried and tested ideas that work! I shared some of the many activities, programs and events which I have been involved in throughout my career in school libraries. If I am able to inspire just one attendee or reader of this blog to pick up one of these ideas, consider it, play with it, try it and make it their own, I will feel satisfied!   After all, being able to share ideas with each other is a fundamental spin off from attending conferences.

With an ability to share beyond the confines of a conference, I am duplicating the text of my presentation, with links to the resources shared with this session’s attendees.  It is my hope that those reading the many activities, programs and events I have initiated over the years will try and test them for themselves!  Should more details be needed, I am available for consultation, via Twitter or email: @novanews19 or bev.novak@gmail.com

This text has subsequently been published online in IDIOM: Volume 51, Number 1, 2015 where access is restricted to VATE members only.


Following this year’s VATE conference theme, I must ask:

So, how are you travelling?”

Are you finding it hard to get students to read?  Have you run out of inspiring ideas and ways to motivate students in your class or school to be interested in reading?  Are you stumped for a response when your students show total disinterest in reading beyond the first few pages or chapters of a book?

There is little need to highlight the many advantages to be gained from reading.  That reading is a source of pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment which ignites the imagination, allows escape into other worlds, the exploration of new ideas, cultures and experiences while developing vocabulary and sentence structure which directly feeds into improved writing skills are just some of the many benefits to be gained along the way.  A mantra I repeatedly share with my students states:

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”

English teachers regularly encourage their students to read.  So do teacher librarians.  There is little doubt that parents also are on ‘our team’ knowing full well the benefits to be gained from reading.  Over the years I have seen many a ‘Recommended Reading List’ distributed by English teachers to students in secondary schools.  Most often these lists include the many ‘classics’ which were part of our formative years.  How wonderful it is to share those novels with our classes.

But ….. remember ….. the world of literature has moved on!  

An abundance of well written, stimulating, exciting and thought provoking novels which have been written over the last five to ten years are readily available.  The authors of these novels have a huge, eager, well established following of young adult fans who literally ‘hang out’ for their next book.  If you do not know which books or authors are on the current top ten list, find out!  Ask the teacher librarian in your school or check with the staff in your local public library or your local book shop to help when compiling your lists.  Best of all – ask the ‘good readers’ in your class for the names of novels and authors.  They will be thrilled to see their recommendations included on your ‘Recommended Reading List’.

Sharing with you some of the many easy to implement activities, programs and events which I have run in conjunction with secondary English teachers, will, I hope, be a source of inspiration as you grapple with how best to engage readers in your classes.  None of these ideas are the sole province of teacher librarians.  All of the activities, programs and events described here can be put into action by both a single English teachers for his/her class or by the Head of English for all classes in a year level or a campus.  Working together with the library staff in your school will, of course, have many benefits including sharing the organizational and supervision load.  The discussion should not be about who owns the ideas, but rather how we can unite to create engaged readers.

So, read on and if you get inspired just give it a go!


The range and variety of activities that can easily be put in place in classrooms are enormous.  An activity can most often be completed in one or maybe two periods.

Opportunities for students to meet and hear authors of popular novels speak are an awesome way to inspire and engage students.  Having the opportunity to listen to how authors grapple with characters, plot and setting sends powerful messages on the complexity of storytelling.  As they listen to these ‘behind the scenes’ anecdotes, intimate connection to both the author and the novel are cemented.  Watching the glee on the faces of students as they line up to either purchase books by the authors or to have their coveted copies signed is a joy.  Talk with the knowledgeable staff of booking agencies such as Booked Out, Nexus, Creative Net and Speakers Ink to get advice on suitability of speakers for your students.  Also explore the increasing availability of authors to visit your classroom via Skype.

When considering the range of visiting presenters to your class or school though, dare to be different!  Authors and illustrators are not the only presenters who can inspire a love of reading.  By including any professionals who promote the written and spoken word, the range of possibilities expand incredibly.  If you are unable to invite these presenters into your school because of cost or distance, check if they are available to present via Skype or ask if two or three presenters would be prepared to be part of a Webinar.


Aim to excite passion about reading.  Invite another teacher into your class to start the ball rolling.  Have your students observe as the two of you excitedly and passionately share details about a book you have both read or a book you would love the other to read.  Then get your students to do the same, either in pairs or small groups.  Involve other teachers, members of your non-teaching staff, your school admin, students, parents and grandparents.  Create situations, sessions or events where book chats are shared.  You will be amazed at how contagious this kind of event can be!

One of the most exciting events I ever initiated was sending a pair of teachers into a Year 10 class with the instruction to ask each other, in front of the students, ‘Have you read a good book lately?’  Students were not only surprised to see an unlikely pair of teachers enter the room – the art teacher paired with a legal studies teacher, a physics teacher paired with a music teacher, a math teacher paired with a drama teacher – but were astonished when one of the teachers walked in with an overnight bag literally stuffed with books off her bedside table!

Considerable reading engagement can be gained in cross age reading activities in which older and younger readers are paired.  A very effective activity was run with one of our Year 10 English classes who were taken into the junior library where the teacher librarians discussed salient points of picture story books and how best to read to young children.  The students were then asked to borrow a couple of picture story books and, for homework, to practise reading the story out loud.  A week later, each of the Year 10 students returned to the junior library and read their selected books to one, two or a small group of Prep children.  The event was excellent and reaped great dividends for both the Preps and Year 10 students.  Some of the most enthusiastic participants in this activity were those students noted to be reluctant readers!

Competitions which raise the profile of reading are a dime a dozen.  Trivia quizzes, guess the number of pages in a bundle of books, matching books with authors and writing competitions are some of the obvious ones.  Having worthwhile ‘bookish’ prizes goes without saying.  You’ll be amazed how passionate some of the Year 11 and 12 students can get about a very simple competition.  I’ve overheard some pretty amazing conversations between senior students as they have tried to guess the number of pages in a well wrapped up bundle of books!  Although reading competitions are most commonly associated with the school library, there is no reason they cannot also be adopted by English teachers in a class or year level.

Treasure hunts are another way to spark interest in reading.  Incorporate QR codes into your treasure hunt or tie them to book trailers so students can explore novels that are in your classroom, the school library or scattered around the school.  QR Codes are easy to create and easy to read.  If you are unfamiliar with them check out this link and download a QR Code Reader/Creator for your smartphone, then let your imagination fly!

Additionally, there are a host of opportunities to explore ‘online’ activities.  Magnetic poetry and Jigsaw Planet are just two that come to mind.  With no need to create accounts or sign up prior to using, it is easy to set aside class time and have students work on their own, in pairs or small groups to complete these mind challenging activities.  Written or oral reflections make for a great follow up to tease out focus questions.

For time immemorial, English teachers and Teacher Librarians have asked students to write book reviews to demonstrate their understanding of the plot, characters and setting of novels read.  Web 2.0 has changed the way we can elicit this kind of reflection.  Have students use some of these tools to encapsulate their response to books read by having them create a book trailer, a word cloud or a cartoon or have them submit a written review online to a school, class or library blog.  Consider having students upload their response to websites such as Inside a dog administered by State Library of Victoria or or Spine Out, established by Good Reading magazine.


Unlike activities which usually require no more than one or two periods to complete, programs are often run over a few weeks or a term.

The Global Read Aloud program which is held once a year in October/November is an amazing way to not only inspire and encourage reading but creates the opportunity for young readers across the world to connect with each other.  Over a stretch of six weeks, participating teachers read sections of the same book aloud to their class.  The students then, either individually or in small groups, create some kind of response – often using Web2.0 tools – which are shared with any number of other classes anywhere in the world.  The GRA is managed globally via a Wiki. Teachers sign up and share ideas and contact via the wiki and/or a range of social media platforms.  Starting just four years ago, this program has grown from a mere 60,000 to more than 300,000 this year and is a very exciting way for both teachers and students to share the joy of reading.

Engaging an author to be a Writer in Residence to come into the school and run writing workshops is another fabulous way to engage readers.  Over the course of a week, writing workshops can be held for each class in a year level.  Including an opportunity for a small group of keen writers to participate in additional intensive master classes may also be an added option offered.  If funding is an issue, check out the availability of local and state grants.

Book Clubs are a traditional program often offered by either the library or English staff.  With many other school wide events vying for students’ interest over lunchtime and after school though, it can be hard to maintain numbers in these kinds of programs.  While traditional face to face events are most popular, explore the online book clubs in places like the Inside a Dog Book Club.  Alternately you may be inspired by the Global Book Club to create an online book club for your class.

Literature Circles, is another exciting program in which students can engage and share.  This is the kind of program which can be implemented in either lower or upper secondary English classes.  Traditional Literature Circles programs are highly structured.  It is possible however to vary the format somewhat from the original and adapt it to suit your own class needs.  Moving this program to an online environment can add spice and excitement to an already super way to inspire students’ reading interest.


Unlike activities which can be run in the library or classroom over one or two periods and programs which run over a few weeks or a term, an event is characterized as being a huge one off occurrence and often involves a large number of participants and a considerable amount of planning.

Events never fail to garner excitement and interest from staff and students alike. In many cases, the excitement generated spills beyond the library, capturing the imagination and interest of the wider school community.  Although it is unlikely that either English teachers or Heads of English have the time or capacity to stage these kinds of events alone, they give a glimpse of what can be done, especially if the skills and knowledge of English teachers and library staff are combined!  I’ve written at length about some of these events: Book Launches, Books ‘n Bikkies, Poetry Showcase, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, Australian Books for Children of Africa, Read around the World, National Simultaneous Storytime, Speed Book Dating, The Great Book Swap, Literary Lunches and Staging a Literary Festival.

Characteristic of all of these events has been an attempt to create a ‘buzz’, an excitement and a ‘can’t wait for this day to come around’ kind of anticipation.  I regularly use every form of media to publicize upcoming events that are available in the school: posters, displays, newsletters, flyers, bookmarks, library webpage, school webpage, school blog and social media.  There’s no such thing as too much publicity!  At events I often use IWBs as a backdrop to project inspirational visuals related to the presenter or books.  I regularly incorporate Book Fairs into events as they lend an additional dimension to the event.  And music!  There is nothing nicer than having a small string ensemble playing at the start or mid-way through an event to add to the atmosphere.  Screening just one of the many promo videos or book trailers that can be found online can be a great hook to attract attention.  I have some of my favourites listed under the Promo Ideas tab above.

While there are a host of ideas to engage and excite interest in reading on BevsBookBlog look further afield for inspirational ideas on Inside a Dog  as well as the great publication Good Reading which is available both digitally and in hard copy.

The best inspiration though can come from sharing with each other, so share your thoughts, comments and ideas on this post so that others can benefit from your expertise.

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Having spent many years of my career working with students who have reading difficulties has encouraged my strong interest in reading programs designed to assist this group of students.

On the surface, Scholastic’s reading program “Read 180” seems to hold much potential for successful intervention.  In a post – Learning to Read Goes High-Tech – on  the blog Mind/Shift: How we Learn, details of the successful implementation of this program with classes of disadvantaged students in New Jersey are outlined.
Given that the subject of this report is about reading, I found it both novel and highly valuable that an audio feed was included with this post.  So if you’re not inclined to read this post, certainly run the audio to have a listen.

In this, the National Year of Reading, I think it is imperative that we pay as much attention to our non-readers and those who struggle with reading as much as we do for those students who are reading comfortably at an appropriate reading level.

As a Teacher Librarian in a large school, it is a challenge to identify and assist those students having difficulty with reading without embarrassing them or reinforcing their sense of failure. I’d be really interested to hear about programs, techniques and ideas that others have in place to assist this group of readers. Does anyone know if Scholastic’s “Read 180” is being used in Australia?  I imagine, to be affective here though, there would need to be modification to the database to make it suitable for use in Australian schools.

Sharing techniques, ideas and programs amongst each other in either the Blogosphere or Twittersphere is a powerful contribution to our collective aim of developing our students’ skills.

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