Something a little different on the blog today. This year a committee of teachers, including myself, brought a new reading initiative to our school: One Book One School. This took A LOT of planning and work, but wow was it worth it. Below are my thoughts and reflections on our program, as well as a link to our local paper's coverage.
“Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human being.”
I am a reader. I grew up reading under the covers with my digital alarm clock lighting up the pages. I carry a book with me everywhere I go and sneak a few pages in whenever I get the chance. I can’t wait to come to school to tell my students about what I read the night before. I firmly believe you can never own (or borrow from the library) too many books...just ask my husband. Being a reader defines who I am. Unfortunately, for many of our students, reading isn’t a part of who they are. Although reading can be a very personal and individual experience, it is made so much better when it can be shared with others. That’s where the inspiration for our inaugural One Book One School came from: making reading an engaging shared experience.
One Book One School (OBOS) is an all school reading initiative. Basically, we chose one book - Neal Shusterman’sUnwind - and everyone involved in the school – students, staff, coaches, teachers, etc – received a copy and read that book. With One Book One School, the hope is that we spread the desire to read for fun and enjoyment. Too often, in the high school, we commit readicide; we kill the love of reading through assigning books to read and analyze. Don’t get me wrong, this analysis is an important skill for students to develop. However, we do a disservice to students if we don’t introduce them to reading for pleasure. Reading for enjoyment can broaden a student’s horizons and spark an interest in learning. The overall goal is that we share a reading experience that will result in the following outcomes:
1. Students will enjoy reading a book for fun
2. Students’ reading test scores will improve (currently, 58% of students meet standards)
3. The entire school will have a positive shared experience
As I reflect on our inaugural year of OBOS, I can’t help but smile. Whether or not we achieved our goals is yet to be seen, but did we make a difference? Most definitely! I saw kids sitting in the hallways before school reading Unwind. I heard students in the hallways joking about being “unwound” (maybe not something to joke about, but hey, at least they were talking about the book). I had teachers, many many teachers, tell me about the positive impact it had on their students. Our attendance queen, Mrs. Shea, who helped make all of this possible, shared stories of often absent or truant students who came to her office eager to talk about the book and see the author.
And as for the author visit, what a great experience for our students! We were privileged to be one of the few schools on Neal Shusterman’s book tour, thanks to the planning and hard work of our fantastic librarian, Mr. Pearson. Our students asked thoughtful questions - actually, Neal shared that he was blown away by the insight in the questions our students posed - which led to two great presentations. Goosebumps ran up my arms watching students run up to the stage to ask more questions or to snap pictures. My favorite moment of the day was when a student asked where Shusterman got the inspiration for the clappers. Students who read the book turned to some of their confused classmates and excitedly explained who and what the clappers are. That excitement and passion came from a book - amazing!
Of course the question now is “What about next year?” Well, our committee definitely hopes there is a next year and a year after that and so on. We plan on surveying the school to find out the actual impact of the program. From there, we’ll decide what next year’s One Book One School looks like. We need to pick a book and we need to find funding (always the biggest hurdle in anything a school does). We also want to expand the outreach of our committee to students, parents, and community members.
As Donalyn Miller - reading guru extraordinaire -so beautifully stated, reading can change your life, it can unlock worlds you didn’t know existed, and it can make you a better human being. If we’ve accomplished this, even a little bit, for just one student, then what we’ve done this year at McHenry West is a huge success!
Here's a link to our local newspaper's coverage of the event: