Joseph Colin has to be one of the most eager and enthusiastic school librarians we have come across. He works at Bangalore International School in Bangalore. Here’s a question he had for our ‘Litpert’ Dr. Shailaja Menon:
Q. I feel that children in my school between the ages of 11 and 13 are suddenly losing interest in reading. As a school librarian, I am struggling to keep them hooked to reading. I conducted surveys among this age group to find out what they like to read, and managed to procure all sorts of books of their choice. However, I was disappointed to see that most of them did not even touch those books. How should I approach this situation?
And here’s literacy expert Dr.Shailaja Menon’s response to Joseph Colin’s question:
When we try to cultivate the habit of reading in children, we have to keep in mind that what we’re trying to do is to create a culture and environment around the children that models certain values – in this case, that of valuing reading. Like all other aspects of childrearing, there is often not a direct correlation between input and visible output at a given moment of time. We may model generosity and provide opportunities to our children for being generous, and yet there may be long stretches of time when we’re not sure that we’re seeing any visible signs of their being generous, in turn. Yet, we keep faith with the idea that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree – what is consistently modeled, reinforced and encouraged throughout a child’s growing years, will surely leave an important imprint on the child’s life.
11 to 13-year-olds are in a phase of life where they are no longer very young children, the phase of middle childhood is a new and exciting one for them to be in, filled with new explorations, peer dynamics, and the like. They might well have more “fun” and “interesting” things to explore at this point than what might feel like “same-old, “same-old”, to them. Therefore, one suggestion is to not expect consistency of results in terms of hooking children into reading, but to expect detours that may be a natural part of growing up. At the same time, we should leave no stone unturned in building a strong culture of reading around these children.
How can we build a strong culture of reading around children?
It is wonderful that you have found out what they like to read and brought in these books for them. But, often, it takes more than making books available to children, to turn them into readers. First, consider: is reading being modeled as a valued activity in your school? Do you, or other teachers, take the time to share your own reading habits, tastes, ups and downs with the children? Do you have a school-wide culture that values and models reading (outside of textbooks)? Is the library a central and organically important space of activity in the school? If not, some of these should be taken up at a school-wide level, while there are other aspects that you, as a librarian, can ensure without wider/larger reforms. One thing that you could do as a librarian is to design ways to engage children with the books you’ve brought in for them. There are many different ways in which you could do this; a starter set of ideas is listed here:
1. Book Talks: You could schedule book talks – where children talk about or visually recommend/review books they’ve read to each other. You could give them space also to talk about why certain books DO NOT appeal to them; they may be working out all kinds of responses and reactions to why adults/society expect them to like certain kinds of books – and this should be engaged with, rather than silenced.
2. Title the Book/Design its Cover: You could read aloud a book over a few library sessions without divulging its cover/name/author. You could then ask children to design their own covers for this book and title it appropriately. Children could be encouraged to “guess the author”.
3. Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) time: You could ask the classroom teachers of these children to schedule a Drop Everything and Read time regularly in the time-table. Your role as a librarian would be to ensure that they have enough choices when this time comes around, and that they see the adults around them dropping everything and reading, as well!
4. Read Aloud: None of us is ever too old to be read aloud to. 11 to 13-year-olds will love it if you read aloud regularly to them – with material, themes and content that is age-appropriate for them. Find good selections/short stories to read aloud and discuss with them.
5. Create book clubs/literature circles: Have more than one child read the same book, and create discussion groups around the books read. Always offer children choices in which books they wish to read, while creating these circles.
6. Meet-the-Author/Reader events: Invite local authors to the library to talk to the children about their journeys as readers and writers. Invite adult “bookworms” (e.g., parents, others) to come in and talk about the importance of books in their lives. The best way to do this is not to moralize, but to share – share experiences, books, ideas that convey passion and excitement!
In short – focus on building a strong reading culture, engage children systematically with books, and don’t expect consistency of visible results at all times!
Have questions related to reading or literacy that you haven’t yet found the answers to? Send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and have Dr Shailaja Menon respond to it.
Dr. Shailaja Menon currently works as faculty in the area of Language and Literacy, School of Education, Azim Premji University. She has her Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and degrees in human development and psychology from MSU, Baroda, and Delhi University, respectively.
Shailaja has worked in various educational settings in the US and in India. She has an abiding interest in imparting a love for language, literature and literacy to children, teachers and teacher educators and engages in a variety of initiatives that help promote these.