What is culture of literacy?
Culture of literacy is how literacy is viewed and ingrained into the day to day routines of a community. A school that has a literacy centered culture provides meaningful opportunities for students to read and write throughout the day with quality age-appropriate materials. Building a culture of literacy is not just about teaching children how to read, it is about helping them develop a meaningful relationship and attitude around literacy.
Why is it important?
Creating a strong culture of literacy encourages positive reading habits and a genuine love of reading. A strong foundation in reading will help students achieve across subject areas. Schools that are willing to prioritize literacy as a central mission of the school have a higher number of graduates who are active learners, proficient readers, and fluent writers. Literacy and content learning are deeply intertwined. If one struggles as a reader or writer, it is nearly impossible to succeed academically (Irvin, Meltzer, Dean & Mickler, 2010).
Ten tips for building a stronger culture of literacy at your school this year:
- Decide what your school’s literacy mission/vision statement is.
Most schools have some type of mission or vision statement that highlights what values and skills are important at their school. Having a mission statement specifically for literacy will show that your school truly values reading and will make sure staff, students and parents know what goals they are striving for in regards to reading. Check out the links below for examples of school mission statements that have a focus on literacy goals:Castlewood School in New York
Douglas School District in South Dakota
- Model the importance of reading.
If you’d like students to grow a love of reading, modeling positive reading habits is a great place to start. Start conversations about reading: talk to students, staff and parents about what you’re reading, why you like reading, what you’ve learned from reading, what you’d like to read in the future and what books they would recommend. Keep your favorite books by your desk to spark conversation.
- Train staff on teaching reading.
Both new teachers as well as seasoned teachers benefit from professional development and having time to collaborate and share reading resources with colleagues.
- Create spaces that are welcoming to read.
Having cozy places to read in classrooms, in the library and throughout the school will encourage children to want to read more. Doing simple things like adding chairs, pillows, rugs, little lamps and reading buddies (small stuffed animals) to an area will make sitting down to read much more inviting.
- Access to quality reading material.
Make sure students have access to various types of reading materials throughout the day that are age appropriate – fiction books, nonfiction books, informational texts, comic books, recipe books, magazines, newspapers, manuals, poetry, travel brochures, dictionaries, maps.
- Organize literacy events.
Family literacy nights, book exchanges, reading contests, classroom guest readers and author/character dress up days are great opportunities for schools to promote positive reading habits and create a stronger culture of literacy in their community.
- Make sure all children have access and know how to use the public library.
Public libraries are an amazing free resource that are often underutilized. Make sure the students at your school know where their library is, that they have an active library card and that they and their family understand how a library works.
- Put a Little Free Library box for in front of your school.
This creates an accessible place for parents to donate, exchange or take books home for their child. Learn more about starting a Little Free Library here.
- Have an interactive school community reading board.
This can be a simple board in a common area like a hallway, lunch room or office, somewhere that students, teachers and parents will see it. You can ask questions like: “What are you reading?” or “If you wrote a book, what would it be about?” and provide Post It notes for students/teachers/parents to write their responses on and stick to board. You can also have a “Caught Reading” board where teachers and parents can post pictures of their students/children “caught” reading. To encourage participation perhaps a book can be raffled off each month to someone who contributed to the community board.
- Create a Literacy Team.
It will take teamwork to make a large impact on your school’s culture of literacy. Find a small group of teachers, and/or parents who have an interest in literacy and have them help organize literacy instruction training for staff, literacy events, community outreach and volunteering revolved around literacy. Create long-term and short-term goals with the team and check-in frequently to keep goals on track and provide the support they need to successfully achieve those goals and create a richer culture of literacy at your school.
For more resource to help reflect on and shape the reading program at your school check out Stepping Stones to Evaluating Your Own School Literacy Program by Jeri Levesque, Ed.D. and Danielle Carnahan.
Irvin, Meltzer, Dean & Mickler (2010). Rationale for a Schoolwide Focus on Literacy. Retrieved from: http://sk.sagepub.com/books/taking-the-lead-on-adolescent-literacy/n1.xml
Samantha Burke is a Bay Area educator who is passionate about teaching literacy and social-emotional development. She is a credentialed reading specialist that has worked with children for ten years, and enjoys creating innovative learning opportunities for students and resources for parents through her tutoring company, Valley of the Moon Learning.