I never understood the importance of pictures in a child’s journey to becoming a reader until recently. My oldest son, Bryce, is on the autism spectrum. If you are familiar at all with autism, you know that visuals are so important to those on the spectrum. Words can be confusing for him, but pictures allow him to connect. It isn’t just for those with special needs, however. We all use images to make connections and stretch our imaginations.
I am a librarian and a former English teacher, so I love words. I love the sound of words; I love how you can connect words together. But the cliche phrase “A picture can say a thousand words” is true. And it isn’t just a thousand words. It’s a thousand combinations of words. My boys have been reading books to me since they were very little. Now, were they reading by the typical reading definition? No. But they would tell me the story using the pictures. They loved it. They felt empowered by doing it. I loved it because it allowed their creativity to shine.
They were utilizing the pictures on the page, and they were developing the story with those pictures. No, it wasn’t the perfect word for word story that the author wrote, but it was an imaginative re-telling of the story that was written. For my kids, it developed conversation, creativity, and a love for reading.
Adults create stories utilizing photos, as well. Last Saturday, the Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945. If you are a die hard Cubs fan, you no doubt have an emotional story that accompanies being a fan. I wrote my story last week (click here to read it). I used the power of words to share why I was a Cubs fan and the emotions that accompanied the victory. The picture shown was taken of my brother, Jeff, at a bar in Wrigleyville on the night the Cubs clinched the pennant. The best part of this picture is that there could be so many different stories to go with it. We could tell a 1000 stories from this picture, and yet they would likely all portray the same genuine emotion--joy.
We are thrilled to have picture books as our #readitglobal genre for November. But don’t be fooled into thinking that picture books are only for young readers. Picture books allow the reader to develop the story on his or her own--to develop his or her own language. This can be done at any age or any reading level. A picture is the foundation to unleash the unceasing potential of the imagination.
The first time I ever heard the word “genrify” I was overwhelmed. I love simplicity. I merged paperbacks and hardbacks together because I didn’t like the idea of having too many sections in the library. So the idea of dividing my entire fiction section by genre seemed outrageous.
I listened to librarians say that they would never go back after genrifying their libraries. But I wondered, “Was it really worth the time and energy?” In the summer of 2014, I started contemplating the idea. I decided to do my own informal survey when school started that August. I counted the number of times a student said, “Where are your mystery books?” Or “where are your sports books?” In those two weeks, I realized that our students often chose books completely on genre. And genres are what allow students to begin to connect--it makes the overwhelming task of choosing a book a lot more doable.
Finally, in the fall of 2014, I did a formal survey. On it, I asked our student population, how do you choose a book? The overwhelming answer was by genre. It was enough to convince me that it was time to give this fad a try. In the spring of 2015, the sophomore class spent nearly a week with me genrifying our library as a class project. We took the entire fiction section in the 7-12 grade library off of the shelves. We split it by genre, reclassified everything in the catalog, and reshelved all of our books. It was a huge project, but at the end of the week we all left feeling fulfilled by it.
The response was and continues to be amazing. Kids feel comfortable searching because they know where to start. Most kids don’t stick to one genre, but it allows them to feel safe and comfortable in a particular area as they begin to search for a book.
The hardest part of getting a student to read is getting him or her in the “just right” book--the book that will keep him or her reading and keep him or her coming back. Genrifying puts the students one step closer to finding what they need to find to become readers. #readitglobal was created to build readers. By featuring a different genre every month, we hope that we are showcasing something for everyone throughout each season. Genrifying was a powerful tool for my library, and utilizing genres in reader’s advisory is an essential component to helping kids succeed as readers.
In my career, I have heard “I don’t like to read” more times than I can count. Ninety percent of those comments were from teenagers. I heard it well before kids had immediate access to technology. I heard it when I was a student in the 1990s, I heard it when I was an English teacher, I heard it when I was a school librarian, and I still hear it as a public librarian. But the truth is, it isn’t reading that kids dislike, it is what they are reading.
Sometimes we give teenagers more credit than we should. Don’t get me wrong…I love teenagers. I love watching kids grow into the person that they will be as an adult. However, I have often told people that when I started teaching junior high, I struggled until I realized that my students were little kids in big kid bodies.
“I don’t like this” is a very common phrase when someone is uncertain or not entertained. Teenagers say that they don’t like to read for many reasons--they are reading books that are too difficult, or they are reading books that they can find no connection or interest in. I was an English major, I love fine literature, but there are many books that I have been forced to read for classes over the years that I struggled with. It wasn’t my reading level that was the problem, it was that it wasn’t my choice of book.
Do we want kids to read the classics? Yes...well kind of...maybe. We could debate that all day, and I could probably argue equally for both sides. But more than what kids are reading, I care that kids of all ages ARE reading. As I would tell my students, it’s like a sport, you have to practice. You can’t get better by not doing it.
So what do we do for the kids who say that they don’t like reading? We look at the reader. What have they been reading? My guess is it has been either too hard or too boring (each reader is different--what is boring to me, may not be boring to you!). So how do you hook them? It’s that simple...choice. Let them choose what they are reading. HELP them choose what they want to read.
My standard question to students when helping them choose a book, “What do you like to do?” Not, “what do you like to read?” But instead, “What types of movies, youtube videos, etc. do you like to watch?” That is how gage their interests. When you know the person, you begin to know the reader.
Reader’s advisory often gets lost in busy classrooms with chaotic schedules. It is becoming a lost art in a lot of libraries. But it is the personal touch, and allowing choice, that helps readers flourish.
In June of 2014, I attended the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. While I had been a Twitter user for several years prior to attending that conference, it was during that time that I realized the power of social media, particularly the hashtag.
Pound sign, number sign, sharp--whatever you may have called this symbol before--it is not new. Yet, it has been rebranded and is changing how we communicate. In using a hashtag, we are making connections.
Whether you are using #flytheW to celebrate a Cubs victory, or searching #HurricaneMatthew to get the latest on a major storm, when you create or a search a hashtag, you are connecting on topics with people around the globe. Yes, celebrities and authorities in their fields use hashtags, but so do people like you and me. It is the creation of news and information by the user.
The use of the hashtag in education allows us the ability to connect with people that we would never have been able to connect with before. Last Friday, my son, Luke, a first grader, came home after his #readitglobal launch at school and said, “Do you know if I tweet an author, they might tweet me back?” I said, “Let’s try it!” He chose to tweet (on my account) @laurentarshis , author of the I Survived series. Within an hour, she had liked our tweet, replied, and started following me on Twitter. She lives across the country, but we connected with her almost instantly. What did that do for Luke? It allowed him a connection that now has energized him to continue reading, learning, and connecting. And what better skills can we ask our students to develop?
#Readitglobal was created as a means to bring readers together. You can connect with an author. You can connect with a fellow reader. You can have a voice in your own learning and reading experiences--whether you are six-years-old or 66-years-old. You have a platform to share with the world.
October 10, 2016