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How I Handled...

Reviving Interest in
Our School-Wide
Literacy Effort


Our school's "Book of the Month" program had sailed along smoothly for a couple of years. In its third year, though, the program hit some rough spots; students and parents began to lose interest. How could we revamp the program to bring back the enthusiasm it once had enjoyed?

The Problem:

Each month, we spotlight a school-wide "Book of the Month." We started the program as a way to increase school-home communication and parent involvement. The concept is terrific, but we've found that it's difficult to find a book of interest to our entire K-6 student body. If a book is appropriate for K-3 students, then our 4-6 students usually are pretty apathetic about it.

The Solution:

Our Book of the Month program now is in its fourth year. The School Improvement Team, made up of teachers and media center personnel, manages the program, selecting the books, compiling reading skill/comprehension ideas for teachers, and providing read-aloud and follow-up ideas for parents. Each class is given a book bag containing a copy of the book. Students sign up to take home the book for a night. A form is included on which parents record the number of people who listened to the book and students respond to a general question about the book (for example, What did I like about the book? or On a scale of 1 to 5, how would I rate the book? Why?)

Last year, teachers found that students were losing interest in the program. Other reading initiatives had taken prominence in our school, and the Book of the Month program needed to be revisited and revamped. Committee members came up with possible solutions and voted to take the program in a new direction this year. Because many authors have written books that are appropriate at different grade levels, the committee decided to concentrate the program on "author studies" instead of on a particular book. This fall, we debuted our Author of the Month program, which enables teachers to select multiple books from an author's works. For example, so far this year, the following authors and books have been used:

Author: Judy Finchler
Miss Malarkey Won't Be In Today (Grades K-1)
Miss Malarkey Doesn't Live in Room 10 (2-3)
Testing Miss Malarkey (4-6)

Author: Patricia Polacco
Rechenka's Eggs (Grades K-2)
Thank You, Mr. Falker (3-6)

Author: Janell Cannon
Stellaluna (Grades K-2)
Verdi (3-6)

Committee members continue to pass along teaching and take-home activities, discussion ideas, and projects. I write a monthly message to teachers and one to parents. I always include a statement about the importance of this program to our school-wide literacy effort. I encourage teachers to make every effort to display the book, read it, and make it an integral part of their classroom work. I encourage them to share with others the writing and artwork their students do related to the book, and to remind parents about the author/book in the communications they send home. The book's take-home bag includes a form parents can use to share their reactions to the book and how it was received at home. I ask teachers to help me track how many people have read or listened to the book or discussed the author. Feedback has been very positive.

The Reflection:

"The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has riches in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived." -- Howard Pyle

That quote is a favorite of mine that I have used in my monthly message to teachers about the Author of the Month program. The program is enjoying renewed enthusiasm. The credit for that belongs to our School Improvement Committee for revisiting this valuable program and coming up with a new approach that has provided a much-needed spark and that offers a great home-school complement to our literacy efforts.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.