Books for Me: Creating the Motivation to Read
The research is clear: if you want children to become good readers, you must allow them to choose the books they read. If you encourage independent reading and let students choose books based on their interests, rather than prescribing texts you think they should enjoy, they will be more engaged and spend more time reading overall. The books that students end up loving tend to be the ones they choose themselves, not assigned by their teachers or mandated by their parents.
The ability to choose the right book is an essential real-world skill, too; as adults, no one assigns books to us. We need to allow students to practice choosing their books and hone their literary tastes. The process of selecting a book gives students a sense of control and empowerment that helps them develop identities as readers. And it gives them not just the ability to read, but the motivation. When students are personally invested in the books they read, they can more easily find the strength to persevere through more challenging texts.
Book choice is essential for children today. Over the past two decades, the time children spend reading has declined. Several possible explanations for this include the No Child Left Behind Act’s lack of focus on reading motivation or a rise in internet and television use. On top of that, there’s the “decline by nine,” the overall decrease in recreational reading between ages eight and nine. One expert in the children’s book industry contends that to combat this, teachers and parents should focus less on “reading level” and instead allow children to choose books based on their interests.
The students most vulnerable to the decline in reading are those in low-income schools. Students of low socioeconomic status, on average, have fewer books at home, which leads to:
- a lack of academic confidence
- a lack of exposure to vocabulary words that tend to appear much more in print than in verbal, daily conversation
- a decline in motivation to read
A solution to the reading decline
Holding book choice as a core value, BookSpring’s Books for Me program seeks to increase book access and motivation to read. By partnering with elementary schools that serve low-income students, we aim to develop early literacy that creates a lasting love of reading.
The program can take place any time during the school year. It culminates with each student choosing books to take home. It is designed for Pre-K3 through 5th-grade students, and a school participating will undertake these steps:
- A school signs up for Books for Me.
- Our program director or program associate reaches out to the librarian or teacher and discusses how the program can work best with that particular campus.
- The librarian may select a theme for the Reading Celebration event(s).
- BookSpring visits the campus with a curated selection of books for the student’s age, reading level, and language. The students choose books to take home and keep.
We know that every campus will have different rules and expectations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Given that this year will be unconventional, we will make accommodations and cater to your needs. There will be no set structure that schools that participate in Books for Me must follow; we want the program to work for you and your students.
Because we believe that the ability to access a text is the most foundational skill needed to develop a reading habit, we provide as many Spanish or bilingual books as you need to meet the needs of your multilingual students. And every book that we curate is of good high quality and high interest; we know that a variety of options empowers students to make choices that are best for them, giving them a sense of ownership over their reading choices and the books themselves.
The librarian or teacher may also choose a theme to help engage the students. Each theme comes with several read-aloud texts, costumes, and other materials meant to build real-world connections. Some popular themes our librarians have chosen in the past include Reading is Out of this World, Reading in the Great Outdoors, and Pet parade. If you elect not to borrow a physical kit from us for the Reading Celebration events, you can use one of our digital literacy kits.
It is vital to support your students in their reading at home as well. At BookSpring.org, parents can access weekly themes and digital books to use at home to help your student. We currently offer differentiated themes to be suitable for both 3-5-year-olds and 6-8-year-olds, and an initiative for this year is to create themes for the 9-12 age group.
The past success of Books for Me
The COVID-19 pandemic presented BookSpring with numerous challenges. In a year when many students lacked resources and struggled academically, we knew it was imperative to get books in children’s hands. Despite the pandemic’s limitations on us — campus visiting restrictions, the large proportion of remote students, and the need to ensure the sanitary and safe distribution of books — we were still able to distribute over 34,000 books through Books for Me, serving over 13,000 students. Below are two quotes from participants in the program, illustrating the program’s success:
“I get to keep books to myself, and I can make collections and read them all I like.”
— Fifth Grade Student
“The kids getting to choose a book and realizing that it is theirs to keep is still amazing. The parents watching and helping the kids pick books with such care was wonderful too.”
— Librarian at Rodriguez Elementary – AISD Title 1 School
Because of the pandemic, we did not host Reading Celebration events on campus last year. In average years, we would provide a themed kit for a teacher or librarian during the events, and we would provide books sorted by grade level and language. Last year, however, the teachers applied for books based on their students’ needs, and we packed them. We are willing to be flexible and make Books for Me work for you.
Our goals for 2021-2022
We hope to distribute at least 30,000 books for the current school year while expanding our outreach to ISDs outside the Austin and Del Valle districts. Many students, especially those from low-income families, did not receive adequate reading support in the past year. We are hoping to provide that support and make up for the lost time.
One area in which we hope to grow is our outreach to remote students. Last year, many students at the schools we served attended remotely. We want to improve book access to these students and ensure they can participate in Books for Me. This effort is not possible without teachers’ support, so we are seeking ways to collaborate and find out how to get books out to kids attending school from home.
We also want to expand our book donations to include teachers trying to build their classroom libraries, school librarians looking to expand their selection, and schools installing a “Little Free Library” to improve book access to local communities.
We know that parent engagement is crucial in ensuring that students receive support in their home reading habits. A recent survey indicated that nearly half of parents do not read at home to their children. We are working on expanding resources for parents so that they can more easily read to their children and support their children in their independent reading. We help ask comprehension questions to provoke deep thinking and creative activities to develop in other cognitive areas.
Our goals extend beyond the 2021-2022 school year. One big-picture objective is to expand the proportion of children who have at least 20 or more books at home. The Central Texas Reading Survey reported in 2018 that only 58% of families with children under 12 have 20 or more books at home. We hope to expand that number to over 70% by 2023.
The point is not just to create good test takers
At BookSpring, we understand the importance of the STAAR test. But our goal is not to merely prepare students for standardized assessments. We want to create lifelong readers who read not just for school but fun. And these two goals are in truth linked; the more a student reads for fun in their free time, the better they will perform on reading tests.
With Books for Me, BookSpring aims to build habitual reading in students. By creating a personal library at a young age, we hope that this can motivate students to continue that practice into their teens and, eventually, adult years.
If students have access to books that they feel comfortable reading, their confidence about reading will improve. We want students to feel personally invested in their reading habits and actively seek books as a form of entertainment.
Building a partnership with us
We are always looking for ways to improve our programs and better serve the communities we work with, so if you or your campus has any concerns or suggestions, please let us know. We know the 2021-2022 school year will be unconventional and that student and campus needs vary, depending on geography, socioeconomic status, and school culture. BookSpring will work with campus administrators to ensure that Books for Me works for your school and your student population.
Written by Trent Kennedy, Program Associate
We hope that you will consider partnering with us this school year.
Don’t hesitate to contact Shannon Thorne, our program director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to sign up.