How to Be a Reading Role Model for Adolescent Students
In the fall of 2016, Scholastic and YouGov conducted their biannual survey and put together the “Kids and Families Reading Report.” The results underscored the relationship between student reading and educational success, while also demonstrating the critical role that literacy educators play in fostering a love of reading.
Perhaps the most encouraging finding is that the importance of reading certainly isn’t lost on the students. The Scholastic study reported that 86% of students aged 6 to 17 agreed that it was important to their future to be a good reader, and 76% agreed that they knew they should read more books for fun. Another encouraging finding: reading role models have a major impact on students’ interest in reading outside of school. While students listed their own parents and families as their biggest encouragement for reading books for fun, teacher and school librarians were the second biggest influence.
Knowing that literacy educators can have such an impact on their students’ reading is gratifying. At the same time, teachers know it can be hard to find ways to share a love of reading with older students—particularly reluctant readers. Read on for creative ideas for being a reading role model to adolescent students.
Many of us remember being read aloud to as young children. Story time is an essential way of passing on a love of reading to students, even before they are old enough to read on their own. But what about students in middle and high school? According to a 2015 article in School Library Journal, reading aloud can be a curriculum staple into the teen years. Particularly for reluctant and struggling readers, hearing a story read aloud “levels the playing field,” allowing them to comprehend and discuss stories with their peers on a deeper level.
While students of all ages and abilities may enjoy listening to stories, finding dedicated time to read aloud during class may be a more difficult feat for middle and high school educators. With this in mind, the School Library Journal article noted a variety of ways that librarians and educators have found to read stories to older students. For instance, Sara Lisson Paulson, a middle school librarian, read aloud from Robert Louis Stevenson’s "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" without requiring or expecting a formal audience. Instead, students were pulled into the story and joined her on their own, excited to hear the rest. Paulson also recounted a “Reading in the Streets” day, during which staff and community members read aloud from classic books in the hallways as students moved from class to class.
Don’t forget another form of reading aloud that’s increasingly popular with adults: audiobooks. If there isn’t time to read aloud in class, students can probably find plenty of opportunities to listen to an audiobook on their ride home from school, at home on the weekends, or while they’re exercising. As a bonus, audiobooks carry many of the same benefits as a class read-aloud. Students will be able to enjoy the story while also picking up on pronunciation, inflection, and tone from the narrator.
Listening to stories read aloud is something students of all ages and skill levels can enjoy. Whether you’re reading aloud from a favorite book or talking about the audiobook you listen to on your morning commute, be a reading role model by sharing your love for stories on and off the page.
Recommend a book—in person and online
Another finding from the 2016 Scholastic survey: 41% of students responded that finding enjoyable books was a struggle, especially as they get older. Even more striking? 57% of infrequent readers reported having trouble finding books, compared to just 26% of frequent readers.
Literacy educators can play an important part in helping students find books to read for fun. Part of being a reading role model includes sharing your own reading life with your students, as 51% of students reported that they get their best book ideas from teachers and librarians. Another great strategy includes helping older students navigate social media for book recommendations. In addition to book-centric websites such as Goodreads, adults and adolescents can find book recommendations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Looking to social media can help students find books related to stories they enjoyed, challenge themselves to read books on difficult topics, or read reviews before choosing to buy or borrow a certain book.
If students are still having trouble finding books that interest them, don’t forget the power that social media can leverage. The Twitter hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks was first used in 2014 by writers expressing their frustration with the lack of diversity in children’s books, and the hashtag became a unifying force for those in the book industry who were ready for change. We Need Diverse Books is now a nonprofit organization that advocates for diversity in children’s literature. Its website includes an app, reading lists, and other tools for students seeking diverse books.
Whether you prefer sharing your personal favorite books or helping students connect with like-minded readers online, making book recommendations is an essential part of being a reading role model. Sometimes finding the right book is all the encouragement a student needs to start reading for fun.
Host a book club
Elon Academy, a college access and success program through Elon University, found a novel way to encourage reading outside of school: hosting a book club-style Book Jam for local high school students. In the first session, staff introduced the purpose of the program: “to read like real readers, to enjoy books together, and to practice reading as a good habit.” Notably, college students joined the Book Jams to share their love of reading, engage in book discussions, and talk about their lives as readers with the high-schoolers. The Book Jams were a great success, with 92% of program enrollees giving it a positive review and 100% advocating for the program to continue.
Creating an after-hours book club doesn’t have to be time-intensive—the Elon Academy Book Jam meets just once a month, and students suggest the titles and form groups based on shared interests. With this in mind, consider forming your own just-for-fun book club for middle or high schoolers. If finding space at school after hours is an issue, look into holding the sessions elsewhere in the community, such as at the local library or community center. Inviting community members to participate in book discussions is another way to add more positive influencers to your students’ reading life, as any enthusiastic book lover can be a wonderful reading role model for students.
Through taking creative approaches to reading aloud, finding book recommendations, and forming book clubs, literacy educators can share their love of reading with middle and high school students. Adolescent readers already know the value of being a good reader—sometimes, they just need a good reading role model to inspire them.
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