Children Need Enormous Opportunities to Read and Write Real Things (page 3)
Peek into the homes of some children and you will see lots of real reading and writing activity. Parents write notes to each other about telephone calls taken and appointments to keep; they write lists and schedules that are posted on the refrigerator; they read newspapers (sometimes to each other), magazines, bills, letters from grandpa, and books. The parents read to the children and foster their writing (or scribbles and scratches). The parents talk to each other about the things they read and talk to their children about them too. Walk into the child's bedroom and you will find a bedroom library of children's books. When these children go to school, their parents encourage them to make purchases from school book clubs and often sit with them to discuss possible purchases and to hear about the books after they have arrived and have been read. In other words, some children see adults engaging in real reading and writing, talking about what they have read or written, and have adults who read and write with them and talk with them about what they read. These are the children who are likely to find learning to read in school relatively easy.
Imagine now that these already "lucky" children also attend a school where there is lots of real reading and writing activity. These children go to schools where teachers read to them from newspapers and magazines, as well as children's books, every day. Their teachers have bulletin boards and other displays where newspaper clippings, children's book reviews, and stories written by peers are routinely posted and discussed. The children write real things, and the teacher writes on an overhead projector as they watch her compose the morning message and listen to her "stretch" the words as she writes them. She supports their reading by modeling how good readers puzzle through difficult texts. These children write letters that they send, plays that they perform, reviews that they share, lists of questions for an interview that they will conduct, and lists of things that they need to buy for the class party. When lucky children attend these classrooms, their literacy is virtually assured.
But not all children are so lucky. Many children do not come from homes where they have seen adults constantly engaged in reading and writing and sharing and discussing what they have read or written. They arrive at school with no good idea of what reading and writing are for, much less any well-developed sense of even fundamental concepts about print and its relationship to talk.
Imagine that these children who haven't experienced these real reading and writing activities at home come to a school without classroom libraries and with a school library inadequately stocked with books and other information resources, understaffed (no one is readily available to help children find the perfect book), and largely inaccessible during and after the school day (only weekly class visits are allowed). In some of these schools children are not allowed to take the library books out of the school! Research shows that schools with many children from low-income families most likely fit the latter description (Duke, 2000; Guice, Allington, Johnston, Baker, & Michaelson, 1996; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 1993; Stipek, 2004). The children least likely to have books in their homes are the same children least likely to have books in their schools (McQuillan, 1998; Neuman & Celano, 2001).
Easy access to books, magazines, and other reading materials is an essential factor in schools where children become readers and writers (Allington, 2006). The classroom library is especially important for classrooms that work to create readers and writers. Well-designed classroom libraries work to increase the amount of reading that children do (Morrow, 1991). When classroom libraries are well designed and attractive and offer a wide range of appropriate books and magazines, children are more likely to use the libraries and read more books. This wider reading results in better readers (as measured on standardized tests). But most classroom libraries (90 percent) are not well designed nor well stocked (Fractor, Woodruff, Martinez, & Teale, 1993). Too often, classroom libraries have too few books, too little planning of the display, and little variety in either the difficulty or the types of books in the collections. In fact, by grade 5 only 25 percent of the classrooms have libraries!
Schools can create wonderful classroom libraries and school libraries, but doing so takes time and money. First, however, schools need a plan. Depending on the school and the community, the plan might be to develop better access to books over a 3-, 5-, or 10-year period. Until a plan is developed, access rarely improves. Without easy access to books, children are unlikely to become readers and writers.
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