Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming this week's guest blogger Sarah Mulhern Gross. In addition to teaching high school in New Jersey, Sarah is a contributor to the New York Times Learning Network blog, a member of the Monarch Teacher Network, and is owned by two Australian shepherds.

Sarah Mulhern Gross

I always tell people that I've been a voracious reader all my life, but that's not entirely true.  I devoured books in elementary school and middle school, but in high school that changed.  I still read, of course, but nothing like I did before I walked through those doors.  What happened, you may ask?  I spent a lot of time thinking about those high school years when I started reading again in college.  Why did I stop reading?  I clearly missed it, as evidenced by the overflowing piles of books in my dorm room by the end of freshman year.  What had stopped the flow of books from 9th to 12th grade?

It dawned on me that a lot changed when I entered high school.  Don't get me wrong- my high school years were some of the best of my life.  I had amazing, life-changing teachers.  I made some of the best friends of my life.  And I built a family of amazing classmates.  But where were the books?

There were books, but they were mostly whole-class novels.  We did not have a school library and instead shared the academic library with the college campus next door.  There were no classroom libraries in the school, which was very different from elementary and middle school.  And the focus of the school was on STEM, so most of the books that were shared in class were nonfiction.  Today I really enjoy reading nonfiction but that was not the case in high school! The last nail in the coffin was my busy schedule.  Suddenly there was no time to go to the public library or book store.  When I did have time, it was spent on homework or clubs, not reading books.  

Now that I teach at my alma mater, I still see some of the same issues.  The biggest one is that my students are insanely busy.  I’m proud of everything they accomplish and they will change the world someday, but I wish they had a little more time to relax.  And I wish they would choose to read sometimes instead of playing Candy Crush.  (At least I didn’t have Facebook and Reddit to distract me in high school!)

I do everything I can to create a culture of literacy at my school and I’m blessed to work with amazing colleagues who share my passion.  We’ve worked hard to surround our students with books and readers.  My classroom library is overflowing and I’m in need of more shelving on a constant basis.  In this day and age, too many districts have cut their librarians and library hours so we need more classroom libraries!  Solicit donations from parents, community members, and colleagues. Raid the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and library book sales.  Making books available to students creates readers!* I love to watch students wander over to the bookshelves between classes or during downtime.  Because they are there and readily available, students peruse the shelves and borrow books.

There’s no reason to stop modeling lifelong reading when students enter high school, either!  Because of this, I have become a book pusher.  I’m always sharing books with my colleagues and telling students what their biology and history teacher recently borrowed from me.  Students are always amazed when they can discuss books with content area teachers!  I share my Goodreads account with my students and I tweet about the books I am reading.  My email signature lists my current favorite reads, so anyone who emails me is hit with a list of great books.  My students see that list a few times each day!  Everywhere they turn, my students hear about reading and see the adults around them reading.  I’m a book-pusher and I’m proud of it!

My colleagues and I also make time to read each day.  I expect my students to carry a book with them at all times and to read whenever they have downtime.  My colleagues know this and encourage students to take their books out when they finish a test in Latin or a problem set in Algebra 2/Trigonometry.  In English, we make time to read a few days each week and we also read the newspaper every day.  Independent reading is celebrated and students share their reading with me and their classmates in the form of booktalks and recommendations.  

A culture of literacy.  A school full of students, teachers, and administrators who read and are proud to share their reading.  That’s what every high school should be for every student.  Small changes can make a big difference, so start with something small.  Share books with students, talk about what you are reading, or participate in #fridayreads on Twitter.  Be a book pusher and a proud book nerd! But don’t stop sharing books just because students have reached high school.  Lifelong reading needs to be honored and modeled, so make time for reading in high school and show students that you honor reading in your building.  

Thank you Sarah for sharing this post. The point you made that I asterisked reminds me of a study I once read that said a good predictor of student success in school is access to books. It sounds like you and your colleagues think outside the box when it comes to surrounding your students with books!

For more of Sarah's thinking about connecting kids and books, follow her on Twitter: @thereadingzone


  1. Sarah - Thanks for your post, and for keeping pleasure reading alive for hoghschoolers. You've inspired me to start putting favorite books in my signature line!

  2. *high*schoolers! Thanks again for the post.

  3. If ever there was someone who truly creates a culture of literacy, you are that someone. It is evident in everything you do as an educator, Sarah!