Keep Students Reading Over Winter Break

Help Students Develop Healthy Lifelong Habits
By Donalyn Miller, fourth-grade teacher at O.A. Peterson Elementary, Fort Worth, Texas

Working to encourage children to read both in and outside of school, I notice that many children haven’t picked up this lifelong reading habit of making reading plans. Adult readers, however, download books to Kindles, reserve books at the library, and pre-order books before their release dates. We pack books for trips and always keep a book in the car or in our bags. We must work to foster that same mindset in children. 

During reading conferences, my students and I discuss their current books, but I often guide students to consider what they could read next. How can their reading experiences and preferences lead them to the next book and the next? 

Developing a reading plan is a twofold process: 

• Finding time to read: When do you have some downtime in which to read? Are you traveling during the break? How much time will you spend sitting in the car or at an airport? How can you keep up your daily reading habit over the holiday? Considering their holiday schedules gives students an opportunity to set realistic reading goals for the break. 

• Choosing titles: What books have you been reading? What books are you considering reading next? What are you looking for in your next book? Are you in a reading rut? How can you challenge yourself with your next book? Setting aside titles they want to read, looking back over their reading experiences, and planning to move forward, my students continue to develop their reading habits. 

After looking at our holiday schedules and choosing books, my students and I record our reading plans into our notebooks—setting goals and sharing them with each other. Writing down these plans and verbalizing them to each other makes these plans concrete and real for my students. Reading isn’t something we may end up doing during the holidays: We have reading plans. 

When we return from winter break, students will reflect on their reading habits over the past year, celebrate their growth as readers, and set reading goals for the year ahead. We write down our reading resolutions and share them as a plan for the upcoming year. 

How to Help Students Establish Their Own ‘TBR’ Lists
By Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, Calif.

As a lifelong reader, I never thought about the concept of creating a reading plan. I have always been surrounded by books. Even as a child, I loved spending time at the library or in a bookstore selecting special books to read. I took access to books for granted.

Until a few years ago, it never really occurred to me that not everyone created “TBR” (to-be read) lists or looked forward to the next book in a series and actually planned for the release of the book.  However, when Donalyn Miller encouraged others on Twitter to join in on Book-a-Day (#bookaday) one summer, I began thinking about establishing reading plans for my own students.  
Many of my students did not have an abundance of reading material at home, did not have reading role models, and had limited access to books.  I immediately needed to figure out a way to help my students establish year-round reading plans.

Before students leave for winter or summer break:

• Talk with them about setting realistic reading goals.  For some students, that may be one book a week.  Also help them think about the types of books they could look for at the library.

• Make sure that every student has a library card and knows the location of the closest library.  The school staff and I actually worked with one of our community librarians to find out which students needed library cards and which ones already had them.  

• Tell students about reading programs that will be available during breaks at their community libraries.

• Plan Book Fairs to coincide with upcoming breaks.  This will motivate independent reading during breaks.

During the school year:

• Talk about reading plans or reading goals every week. Encourage teachers to share their reading plans with their students. Go into classrooms regularly to talk about what you are reading and about reading plans, and ask students about their plans.

• Set mini-challenges with students. Sharing your own short-term goal of reading a specific number of books or titles helps students understand how to create a reading plan. I may challenge students to read five graphic novels or five chapter books within a specific time frame. One year, we even tried to read a book to fit each letter of the alphabet. Make the challenge fun and visibly document reading goals.

• Provide access to a variety of high-interest books. Find ways to put books into the hands of students who have limited access to books. Book donations, book exchanges, All for Books™, or community book drives help with this.

Though one teacher can change the reading habits of students in a year, it requires the whole school community to get on board to create permanent habits that will establish children’s reading lives for many years to come. Principals, as Reader Leaders, can set the pace to ensure that reading plans become a regular part of students’ lives.  

A voracious reader, Donalyn Miller spent 10 years teaching middle school language arts and is embarking this year on a new adventure: teaching fourth grade self-contained. Donalyn is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (2009) and the upcoming Readers in the Wild, which describes her methods for inspiring and motivating her students to read. She writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher ( ).

Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the site and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fairs Principal Advisory Board and the Schneider Family Book Award jury. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog,
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