How can we get middle graders to read? How can we get them to like reading? How can we get them downright excited about books and reading? Those questions are exactly what language arts teachers are asking themselves, experts on reading, and other teachers. “What works in your classroom”? is often heard in middle school among conversations in the faculty lounge.
More and more schools, literacy organizations like Imprint in Houston have begun to arrange author-events, book signings, book fairs with decorations, life-sized cardboard characters to take selfies with, and “take-offs” on adult book signings (but a lot more fun). In Brazoria County ComicCon gets the whole family involved in a family night at the local junior high. It is sponsored by the Brazoria County Library System, held in a local school, and a good time is guaranteed for all. Tie Ins with current family-approved movies (like Wonder) are promoted and encouraged by teachers and book clubs alike. Because films are made with “something for everyone,” films made from popular YA books are most often successful with middle schoolers, sometimes viewed after reading the book at school.
Often authors will greet fans and sign and sell their books, which builds an author-reader relationship only equalled by the child- book (or more often book series) relationship–a win-win for all involved. Students and their families begin to “think of reading as a cherished part of their lives, not just homework.” (Samuels, Bobbie “Houston’s Tweens Should Read For Fun” The Houston Chronicle) In the same article, Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith (authors) are quoted as saying, “Reading for pleasure is better for developing minds than assigned books.”
It has been my experience over the past fifty years that students identify with characters in age appropriate books, often reading about characters slightly above the age they currently are, perhaps to get a sneak peak at what lies ahead. Books that deal with family and social issues (putting up with embarrassing parents, problems with older and younger siblings, troubles with demanding or even unreasonable teachers, bullying, students with “differences” etc.) often have a way of equipping a student to deal with the life issues he/she faces.
According to the NEA report ,”To Read or Not to Read, quoted in Samuels’ article in the Chronicle,” Independent readers are more likely to be good citizens–to volunteer, vote, exercise, attend sporting events and support local arts.” These traits are what we should be promoting in our schools, and it can be done through promoting literacy.