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Celebrate student voices with Read Across America

Engaging student voice

Which books do your students love? Readers find it harder to put down stories that reflect something about their own lives. Ensuring students are exposed to texts that mirror their experiences and identities is key to strengthening literacy skills like reading comprehension and vocabulary—and providing equitable access to the knowledge and skills students need to thrive in our public schools.

“As members of a school community, we need to think about the opportunities our kids have to read stories that provide mirrors into their own experiences and identities,” says Allison Thompson, City Year’s national literacy specialist. “We want to bring joy to students, but we also want to ensure that all of our students have access to a diverse range of books.”

Students who discover and share books they identify with gain a stronger sense of being a valued part of the school community, which may set the stage for learning. The importance of encouraging a love for reading during elementary, middle and high school can’t be underestimated, says Thompson, who helps support the literacy work of young adults serving in public schools as City Year AmeriCorps members.

Research also suggests that students who read more become stronger at understanding and analyzing text, and readers of literary fiction can deepen their ability to understand and socialize with others by thinking through the motivations of fictional characters.

How can we encourage a love of reading and ensure that we’re sharing books that reflect the wide range of backgrounds and voices of our students? Knowing your students’ interests will help you discover books that are both mirrors, where readers see worlds and characters that reflect their own lives, and windows that allow them to experience new perspectives, Thompson says.

City Year celebrates Read Across America Day

Want to join the City Year community and over 45 million people of all ages taking part on March 2 in Read Across America Day’s celebration of a nation of diverse readers? Try these activities:

• Explore your school library and choose some books based on your knowledge of your students’ interests. Bring the books to your next small group session with students, or take your students to the library so they have the opportunity to discover new books that may be of interest to them.

• Start a conversation about examples of narratives that you find to be “windows” or “mirrors.” Ask your students to categorize a book or text they’ve read recently. How does each type of story make them feel? What did they learn? Which kind of book do they usually read?

• Work with a group or individual students to create a list of their favorite books to share with their friends or classroom. Or make a list of their favorite fictional characters and the books where they appear.

• Create a library scavenger hunt. Pick some topics or themes, and challenge students to find books related to them at the school library. Each group member can talk about what they discovered. If it’s a book they haven’t read and would like to, students can report back during a second session after they’ve had time to read the story.

• Is it possible to decorate a bulletin board or classroom door with favorite books or authors?  Students can vote for their favorite and design and create the decorations. We encourage you to share the finished product on social media using #LiteraCYforAll to spread the word about how to encourage a love of reading and connect with students.

Looking for ideas for more books that reflect the wide range of student voices in our classrooms? Check out these lists from Read Across America and The American Library Association.

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