Comfort and Joy: The Simple Formula for Strong Literacy

By Dr. Michelle Hasty Assistant Professor, College of Education, Lipscomb University, Lead Faculty for Instructional Coaching Program, Dr. Ally Hauptman, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Lipscomb University, Lead Faculty for Instructional Practice, and Julie Simone, MEd, Instructor in Education, College of Education, Lipscomb University.As teachers, we are constantly asking ourselves: How do we get all kids to love reading? We believe reading motivation is at the core of all effective literacy programs. We saw an example of this at the Read to be Ready rollout this past February, where we  were collectively captivated by Ann Patchett’s story of her struggles to learn to read.

Reading is my comfort and joy,” the author and Nashville bookstore owner shared. In education-speak, we call that reading motivation.

Reading is more than “sounding out” letters and words. It is about loving a book so much one can’t bear to read the last page. It is about reading everything ever written by Mo Willems because that bus-driving, hot dog-eating pigeon never fails to crack you up. It’s about making meaning and being motivated to make more meaning. 

Teachers and families can motivate children to read by sharing a variety of books so they can discover their reading preferences. Just as we offer our children a balance of foods and challenge them to try new things, we mindfully share books we love and allow children to make choices. We then empower readers to answer for themselves, “What is the point of reading?” As Rudine Sims Bishop explains in Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, children can see themselves reflected in books, look through windows into others’ perspectives, and open doors to worlds they have never seen. When students explore the purpose of reading, they begin to make meaning. Young readers must see that the meaning the reader brings is as important as what the author has conveyed. How do we give our students opportunities to make meaning, find purpose, and exercise choice in reading?

Share great books – lots of them.

Different books appeal to different readers. Kids need books that reflect a variety of topics, authors, difficulty levels, and genre (graphic novels, informational text, historical fiction, mysteries, poetry, picture books, etc.). For all children to achieve in literacy, they need good books – rich texts that provoke thoughtful questions and deeper thinking. A home library collection of books is an integral part of the Read to Be Ready Summer Grant.

Talk about books.

Early literacy develops best when we are reading and talking about books with children, telling family stories, engaging in conversations around shared experiences, and building vocabulary and language. As we read, we question the text and the author. “I wonder…?” helps children start to think more deeply about the text, its meaning, and purpose. Stopping to talk about pictures in the book creates conversation around the connection between the author’s words and how illustrations support and enrich the text. Reading this way provides space for social-emotional learning when teachers, children, and families talk about values and why our behaviors matter. Reading together offers the gift of sharing common stories and experiences through books.

Write every day.

Using favorite books as mentor texts helps students learn to be writers themselves. Students can use what writers do in books as springboards for their own writing. In our work with elementary school students recently, we have been reading Memoirs of a Goldfish and Memoirs of a Hamster by Devin Scillian and writing our own daily journals with students. Just as the goldfish and hamster chronicle their daily antics, children can write about their own, starting with “Day One.” Christopher Myers in My Pen inspires us with his description, “My pen tap-dances on the sky and draws clouds with its feet,” and asks, “What can your pen do?” Very young children can use their pens to scribble-write messages and stories and understand that print has meaning. What looks like scribble-writing and pictures is writing and communicates a world of meaning for young writers. When children believe adults value their writing, they come to see themselves as writers.We look forward to our training sessions with the Read to be Ready grant recipients across the state May 17, 19, and 26, and sharing ideas for summer reading grounded in Read to be Ready’s Five Chapters of Literacy:

  • Chapter 1: Early literacy matters.
  • Chapter 2: But it’s never too late.
  • Chapter 3: Reading is more than just “sounding out” words.
  • Chapter 4: Teacher knowledge and practice is critical.
  • Chapter 5: It takes a community.

Here is to a summer filled with the comfort and joy of reading!