What Works in Public Education: A love of reading
Mrs. Tiffany Rettkowski is an experienced and highly effective teacher at Desert View elementary school who is engaged in an innovative project to instill a love of reading in her students. I recently visited her second grade classroom and found students learning how to form a book club. This practice is an excellent example of the creative and highly effective work happening in our elementary schools.
Mrs. Rettkowski first introduced the concept of a book club to her students a few days prior to my unscheduled visit. She provided each student a copy of the small reader, “Basic rules for a book club,” and discussed each of the seven rules included in the book. She then asked students to independently read the rules again and discuss them with a partner. Finally, she asked students to summarize the key points of forming an effective book club before proceeding to other learning.
On the day of my visit, Mrs. Rettkowski revisited the “Rules for forming a book club” and asked students to gather in a common space in her classroom. In the center of the circle, she joined a smaller group of students. What followed was truly astounding. In the space of just 15 minutes, Mrs. Rettkowski engaged the smaller group in conversation about a specific story they each previously read and modeled interactive questioning and conversations consistent with what is expected in a book club! Those students who were observing this interaction then formed four other groups to conduct their own book club meeting about an assigned story appropriate to their skill level. I was extremely impressed with the student led questions and great engagement I observed! Students were genuinely excited about reading.
Why a book club? Researchers from the National Reading Panel tell us that students must learn to read fluently and with comprehension in order to be successful. Book clubs are a fun and exciting way to encourage students to interact with the text in deeper ways. Students learn to ask critical questions about the characters, setting, and problem in the selection. Students look for clues in order to predict future developments in plot or characters and to summarize important aspects of the story. When working in small groups or with a partner, students use rich, oral language to describe their thinking. Additional benefits include improving social interactions and considering information which may challenge their assumptions. In short, book clubs are a fun and engaging way to instill a love of reading which is applicable to all ages.
It is especially important that children master basic reading skills by third grade. Without the ability to read effectively and access content for learning, a child will progressively fall behind peers. As the child grows older, an uncorrected gap in literacy becomes increasingly difficult to close. Researchers tell us that illiterate adolescents are far more likely to engage in risky behaviors, and eventually, criminal activity. Instilling a love for reading is one of the most important things both parents and teachers must do to contribute to the education of children. Therefore, it is imperative we instill a love of reading in our children and that we commit to assuring all students are literate early in their education experience.
Mrs. Rettkowski’s students are making impressive academic gains. From fall to winter, students who were assessed as far below standards in passage reading fluency dropped from 36 percent to 19 percent (an improvement of 47 percent who are deficient). Similarly, reading comprehension grew during the same period from 43 percent meeting standards in the fall to 65 percent in the winter (an improvement of more than 50 percent).
Mrs. Rettkowski noted added social benefits for her students as well: “One of the first times I sat back and observed the interactions of the clubs, I saw how some shy and otherwise quiet students spoke out and became leaders. They were asking questions, sharing and leading other more dynamic and outspoken students in the discussion. It was a side of students I hadn’t seen and was so grateful that I got to see them in a different light. I felt like I was setting up a student to become an adult who will continue to read and learn and share with others. That is success to me!”