If anyone were to ask me how to create a successful silent reading program in high school, I would answer two things: read every day and have a great school library. The goal of any SSR program is to have students read voluntarily, to read for pleasure and to increase their reading volume. Our school has been doing this for 15 years. I use the term “successful” because all our English classes read for 15 minutes every day and as a multicultural mixed- income school we have done consistently well on the OSSLT, the Ontario literacy test. Our results are much higher than most similar schools.
The library at our school is the heart of our silent reading program and one of the reasons for our school ‘s success on the literacy test. The combination of an excellent library and daily silent reading in English classes has created a thriving book culture in the school. Reading books( in their many forms) is seen as neither nerdy nor the domain of girls. If you walked into my classroom, you would see my grade 12 students reading The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, Theo Fleury’s autobiography, books by Jodi Picoult or Sarah Dessen, The Glass Castle, Tom Clancy, a book on probabilities, Manga books and Calvin and Hobbs With a few exceptions, everyone is reading something. The library’s transformation and success has to be attributed to the teacher-librarian Dan de la Fuente who for the past 7 years has found a way to purchase books that kids want to read.
The following stats show what a great school library should look like: there are almost 9100 non-fiction books, over 3200 fiction books, over 1050 graphic books( including Manga and comic books) and over 360 juvenile books for our developmentally delayed class. Our student population, which was once over 1100 a few years ago, is now just below 700. The library averages about 470 withdrawals a month, with about 19 renewals and 25 hold requests. The library also has 30 Kobo readers loaded with about 200 titles. The withdrawal stats do not include the Kobos nor the on-line books which are available.
The 3200 fiction books and the 1050 graphic novels cater to teenage tastes. While the library does have some typical adult best-sellers, the majority of the books are from the young adult market. Dan makes most of his purchases from requests by the students; these requests are generally books they have heard or read about. In turn, the students tell their friends about the books. There is a bit of competition to be the first one to take the book out and consequently the number of holds on these books is huge. In September alone this year, there were 30-35 requests for new books. The large interest in graphic texts particularly among boys is also reflected in the library especially with the Manga books which are in constant circulation. Right now, the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson is very popular.
As teacher-librarian, Dan gives book talks at the beginning of each semester to each English class. These are about 30 minutes long and he will put out a wide selection and give a brief talk about each one. This is meant to be advertising for the books and it lets the students know about many different books they may not have even considered. The use of display holders also functions this way; the ones that are put on display get taken out regularly. Dan also gives seminars in research skills and in how to use databases and e-books.
When we were a larger school, the library budget was around $17000, now, for various reasons it has been cut to $4000. The success of this library is a testament to money that has been well spent. We know that other than our reading/library program, we don’t do anything differently with respect to literacy than other schools. It would be interesting to examine the connection between library budgets and the literacy test. It might be an eye-opener for many people.