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Setting the Tone:
Creating A Reading Community


By Cathy Puett Miller

Before school starts, make it your goal to transform your classroom into one that has positive assessments, and strong and engaged learners. How? By declaring reading an empowering, engaging, life-enhancing experience. Believe it; practice it by using the guidelines below and I guarantee that test scores will rise!

"An environment rich in high-quality talk about textshould involve both teacher-to-student and student-to-student talk. It should include discussions of text processing at a number of levels, from clarifying basic material stated in the text to drawing interpretations of text material to relating the text to other texts, experiences and reading goals."
-- Neil K. Duke and P. David Pearson

Strategies for Struggling Readers

Do you have a question about teaching reading? Click here to send an e-mail to Cathy Puett Miller.

Do you have a reading strategy to share? Click here to post it to the Education World Reading forum.

Infuse instruction with opportunities for students to connect with text.
According to Dr. Michael Pressley, "Children's comprehension of the ideas in text increases when they have conversations about literature with peers and teachers." Even English-language learners benefit!

  1. Carve out five minutes daily (at the beginning or end of small group instruction). Talk with students about what they've read. Let them share; and ask -- with wondering, pondering questions -- what helped them understand a text.
  2. Value everyone's input during that time -- there are no right or wrong answers, but they must be able to justify what they say. Honor student thinking; let them determine what is meaningful.
  3. Model the pose of Rodin's Thinker or put on a special hat -- anything to signal, "Reflect and open up your minds." Reveal a personal text-to-self connection.

Explicitly tie reading instruction back to why we read.
At least once every week, converse with students. Ask, "Why do we read anyway?"

  • to get information we need or want.
  • to understand someone very much like us -- or very different.
  • for inspiration, verification and escape.
  • to get the "juice" out of what someone else is trying to say.

Add to that discussion: "How can we read better?" Then, when decoding or strategy practice gets dull, students can remember a purpose behind the instruction, a connection to becoming better readers.

Lastly, don't forget to refurbish the classroom library. Include many different types of reading materials of common interest. Jeff Lowe, a southern California teacher, offers some great ideas in Creating an A+++ Classroom Library.

More Resources

Website Resources
* Effective Beginning Reading Instruction: A Paper Commissioned by the National Reading Conference, by Michael Pressley, University of Notre Dame.
* Building Classroom Community Through the Exploration of Acrostic Poetry. A poetry and community building connection from
* Building A Community. An activity from
* Respect, Reciprocity, and Reflection in the Classroom. Especially for teachers of older readers.

Print Resources
* "Creating Caring Communities with Books Kids Love," by Nancy A. Chicola and Eleanor B. English, Fulcrum Publishing, 2002.
* "Life in A Crowed Place: Making A Learning Community," by Ralph Peterson, Heinemann, 1992.
* "What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction," edited by Allen Farstrup and S. Jay Samuels, International Reading Association, 2002.

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, Family Network, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.