From the Office of the Future of Reading

Guest poster Jennifer Orr has spent all sixteen of her years as a teacher in a Title I school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Currently she teaches first graders but she has also taught fourth and fifth graders and thinks they are all fabulous.

Jen Orr thinking about books!

Everyone Can Be A Reader
I can’t remember when I became a reader. It’s simply, to my memory, always been a part of me. But not every child is that lucky, for a variety of reasons. Many of my students don’t have a home full of books and don’t visit the library. This may be because the family can’t afford to purchase books and the parent(s) work multiple jobs and aren’t available for trips to the library. Some parents are illiterate or don’t have enough English to read to their children. To be perfectly honest, for some families survival, having a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear is enough of a challenge that things like books to read are a luxury they can’t manage.

As a teacher of first graders, forming life-long readers is something I take seriously. For those kiddos with a home full of books who are read to regularly and who see their parents reading, that’s pretty easy. For others, it’s less so.

One of the easiest things I can do as a teacher is provide books for my students. When they arrived at Open House (a chance to meet their teacher the week before school began) I had a table full of Keep Books available to them. These books are cheap and the text is accessible to even the most novice readers. 

“Keep” books

Every student picked three to take home, even writing their names on them so they didn’t have to wonder if I wanted them back. If siblings were there and wanted books, they got three as well. I scour yard sales, library book sales, and used book stores for books to give to my students. In my classroom there is box of books ready. I give students some on several occasions in the first few weeks of the year. I give more before any holiday and again at the end of the year. Anytime they will be away from school for more than a weekend.

Our librarian does a lesson early in each school year which fits beautifully. She has teachers provide pictures of themselves reading, anywhere they might regularly read. She shows students their teachers reading on a couch, bed, chair, at the kitchen table, lying on the floor, waiting in line at the bank, on the beach, in the car, on a park bench, all over! 
Together they make a map of a home and label all the places they might like to read. After that, when I greet my students in the mornings, I might ask them where they’ve been reading. We talk what and where about books daily.

As for families, I take every opportunity to talk to them about supporting their children as readers — at Open House, Back to School Night, conferences, even if I run into them at Target. Many parents help their children by giving them harder and harder books or by asking them to recount what they read. I encourage them to sit with their child and just listen as they read. I tell them to talk about the books together, not by simply retelling the story but by sharing thinking about it.

It’s two weeks since school started and we’re off to a good start. My first graders knew exactly what books they wanted at our school library and have even brought books in for me to read aloud. The value of books and reading is there. They just need the right opportunities to keep it growing.

Amen, Jen! We need to have the mindset that everyone can be a reader. Thank you for these thoughts. 

If you want to learn more about what Jen thinks about connecting books and kids, follow her on Twitter: @jenorr

No Responses to “From the Office of the Future of Reading”

  1. Elizabeth Varadan, Author

    What a fabulous teacher you are, Jen. As a former elementary teacher, I appreciate so much the effect of what you are doing. I taught upper middle grades and often had students who had such limited reading skills for all of the reasons you mentioned. Reading opens so many doors for a person. It’s life-changing.

    • Jenny

      The more I watch my students and my daughters the more I realize how true it is that reading opens many doors. Coming to truly love reading at a young age can make such a difference in becoming a true reader!

  2. Jane Martyn

    This is wonderful! I’m wondering if you’ve ever run across Dolly Parton’s organization that mails kids book each month so they can have their own library? I think it’s geared toward younger than school-age children to help them get ready for school. I don’t know much about it- PBS interviewed her about it recently, but I think it’s a national organization that helps people start up local chapters. It might be something your community would be interested in to help you in your amazing efforts:

    • Jenny

      Jane. thank you so much for sharing that! I was not familiar with that organization and greatly appreciate learning about it.

  3. Stacey

    This is a really powerful piece, Jen. Your students (and their families) are so lucky to have you laying the groundwork for their reading lives.