Reading can transport us to places we’ve never been and allow us to experience the world through another’s eyes. And throughout our education, comprehension is essential at all grade levels, in all subjects.
One Waunakee Middle School teacher is helping to ensure her students maintain a love of reading at an age when, research shows, it begins to fade. Stephanie Boegh, who teaches eighth-grade communication arts, now has a library right in her classroom full of books for her students to read at home.
Last spring, Boegh applied for a $1,000 grant through the Book Love Foundation begun by English teacher and author Penny Kittle. Over the summer, she received word that she was one of about 60 teachers chosen to receive the grant. She then purchased the books, newer titles of multiple genres – fiction, non-fiction, some dealing with current issues, science fiction, fantasy and “everything from graphic novels to things written in verse,” Boegh said.
Boegh said she and other teachers participated in a book study around Kittle’s book, “Book Love,” and had a chance to see her another English teacher guru, Kelly Gallagher.
The book discussions reaffirmed Boegh’s and her colleagues’ beliefs about the importance of independent reading, she said, and research shows that having the books right in the classroom encourages the students to read them on their own.
“They can use their teacher as a resource to help match them with books. They can use recommendations from peers,” Boegh said. “Even that proximity can help invigorate them to choosing books that they want to read.”
At the middle school level in Waunakee, students are continuing to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. But they meet online as a class synchronously, and the school is open for them to pick up books and other supplies curbside. They now have a more structured schedule and asynchronous time is scheduled in.
“As an English teacher, one of the things we urge them to do is read,” Boegh said about those asynchronous times.
Some of her students have taken their books to read outdoors during warm fall days and sent pictures of themselves, she said.
Although Boegh and her students can’t meet in person, she and the other teachers are working with students in innovative ways. At the middle school, an afternoon enrichment time allows teachers to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups.
It’s one the best parts of her day, she said.
“I get to talk with students one-on-one. Sometimes it’s a reading conference; sometimes we’re working on a piece of writing. The majority of the time, we’re just getting to know one another,” Boegh said.
While the teachers struggle without a chance to meet in person, Boegh said they get to know their students in new ways.
Also, a 30-minute advisory time, like a homeroom, starts out the day, allowing the group to spend 30 minutes together.
“We’re really just focused on building relationships, making them feel welcome, making sure this is a place where they can be safe, where they can share and that they have adults and peers that care for them,” Boegh said. “It’s just been a great way to set the tone for the day, set the tone for the year.”
With so many unknowns, having that home base has been invaluable, she added.
Boegh’s classroom may look a little different when the students do return in person. After spending the $1,000 grant on new books, she purchased another bookshelf to hold them and may need a third. But having the books right there for students to choose is what she called “every teacher’s dream.”
The English teacher gurus’ focus has been giving students a “voice of choice,” Boegh said.
“We know, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade, we know in the middle, students kind of lose that joy of reading,” Boegh said.
But younger children are delighted by books.
“It’s always fascinating as a teacher to think, when do we lose that spark, when all of the sudden did kids think that they’re not readers?” she added.
At elementary schools, classrooms are full of books, but at the middle and secondary level, educators may forget that students need help choosing titles.
Part of the power of the classroom library is that she can give them tools to make choices, Boegh said.
“I can easily grab them in and work with them and talk about books and match them up to one in a less intimidating way. I think sometimes there’s a fear of taking books out of the library if they don’t know what they’re looking for,” Boegh added.
Kittle has a saying, Boegh said: “Books can be mirrors, they can be windows, or they can be doors,” Boegh said, explaining that Kittle’s goal is to provide students with books that open doors to the world from a new perspective.
While Boegh said she wants students to see themselves represented, she also wants them read about others, and so her classroom’s library is diverse.