How and to what extent can social intervention make a difference in boy’s reading motivation and skills at primary level?

1.    Introduction and Context

1.1      Context of the case study report

This case study is a post-hoc and ongoing action research analysis of an apparently successful reading club for primary school boys in an international school in Singapore. After the first year of operation – 2015/6, the club received positive feedback from teachers, parents and the members themselves. Drawing on the academic context of reading motivation, reading skills, and the role of social belonging in motivation and academic achievement, the study attempts to unpack whether the perceived success is grounded in verifiable data and if further analysis in combination with peer reviewed academic research can further improve practice and allow generalisation to other groups.

The importance of reading to academic achievement and the reciprocal relationship between reading motivation, ability, self-efficacy and skill is well documented (De Naeghel, Van Keer, Vansteenkiste, & Rosseel, 2012; Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Retelsdorf, Köller, & Möller, 2014). Alas, so too is the fact that boys persistently lag girls in reading level at every grade and are more likely to be reluctant readers or aliterate – able to read but not willing to do so (Hamston & Love, 2005; Loveless, 2015; Maynard, 2011; OECD, 2014; Retelsdorf, Schwartz, & Asbrock, 2015).

According to motivational research, belonging, or relatedness, along with autonomy and competence are considered basic essential ongoing needs. In the school context, belongingness correlates with student success, as students have a more positive academic attitude and are more engaged. But boys are less likely to have a sense of belonging (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014; Goodenow, 1993; Osterman, 2000).

The substantial body of literature on reading motivation, particularly as related to reluctant male readers can be summarized briefly as follows:

  • Extrinsic motivation in the form of physical, achievement or emotional rewards for reading is considered less effective in the long term than intrinsic motivation where reading is its own reward (Guthrie et al., 2007; Logan, Medford, & Hughes, 2011; Schaffner, Schiefele, & Ulferts, 2013; Stutz, Schaffner, & Schiefele, 2016).
  • Young students can gain social currency by “knowing stuff”, sharing books and reading however this diminishes around grade five as a result of peer devaluation of reading (Proctor, Daley, Louick, Leider, & Gardner, 2014).
  • Self-concept/efficacy – the belief in one’s own ability is usually overstated in boys and understated in girls and changes over time (De Naeghel et al., 2012; Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Klauda & Guthrie, 2015; Marinak & Gambrell, 2010; Retelsdorf et al., 2014). There are critical moments in this respect such as when students switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” (mid primary) and when reading load increases (upper primary) and low reading self-concept may result in work avoidance when students begin to avoid reading tasks due to low motivation and/or reading difficulties (Lee & Zentall, 2015).

1.2      School Context

The case study takes place at the primary school campus of an international school in Singapore with 620 students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. Up to a quarter of the students may be English Language Learners (ELL) and more than 40% of the students are bilingual. Student turnover in an international school can be up to 25% a year, making individualized longitudinal data collection difficult. The schools’ MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, a computerised adaptive test of reading and mathematics (NWEA, 2016) mirrored global data (Loveless, 2015; Mullis et al., 2012; National Literacy Trust, 2012; OECD, 2014) in that boys lag girls in literacy at every grade while outperforming in mathematics.

At the beginning of the 2015/6 school year, the teacher librarian (TL) identified a number of ‘lost’ boys in grades 3-6 with little interest in borrowing books or reading. In response, a social club “Blokes with Books” (BWB) reading club was formed with voluntary membership led by a young male digital literacy coach with support in the background by the TL.

1.3      Case Study Purpose

The expected outcomes of this project are to reach a better understanding of a group of students as readers and to inform best practice going forward.  The label of “reluctant” by teachers, parents or librarians may mask a more complex interplay of factors including motivation, gender or other attitudes towards reading, (Love & Hamston, 2003; Martino, 2001; Mc Kenna, 1990) or underlying problems with reading skills, either as a result of teaching deficits or reading, learning or language issues (NEPS, 2012; Norton & Wolf, 2012; Scanlon, Gelzheiser, Vellutino, Schatschneider, & Sweeney, 2008; Silinskas et al., 2016; Zentall & Lee, 2012). The role of belonging to a social group as having a positive impact on boys at pivotal moments for reading and academic development is also a consideration (Osterman, 2000).

1.4      Case Study Questions

The main question is: “How and to what extent can social intervention make a difference in boy’s reading motivation and skills at primary level?” A number of sub-questions were designed:

  1. Is there any difference in reading progress between boys belonging to the BWB club and their peers?
  2. What is their attitude to reading and their self-concept as readers?
  3. Is there a difference in the number of books they read?
  4. Can digital technologies enhance reading experience or motivation for this group of students?
  5. How can the school best use data analytics to inform practice?

2. Methodology

2.1 Method and Participants

This was a qualitative, exploratory individual case study using data available from the school, supplemented by surveys, observations and interviews. The case study method is recommended where research is description, bounded, real-life with less control from the researcher and phenomena is studied in its context in order to develop theories or interventions and evaluate programs (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Gerring, 2004).

Participants were student members of the BWB club in September 2016 (n=24, ELL=3, all male, Modal age 10y0m, range 9y7m to 11y1m) and/or who had been members of the club since its inception in September 2015 (n=17). Where available, comparative data from all G5 students was used (n=71, ELL=9, male=36, female=35, Modal age 10y7m, Range 9y7m to 11y5m).

2.2  Data Collection and analysis

Prior to the study a consent form was provided to the BWB students’ parents (Appendix A, n=24), and the head of school was asked for permission do the case study and to use aggregated student data. Beside the survey and reading assessment data, comments of the BWB coordinator, teachers and parents were taken into account.

2.2.1   Reading ability

All mainstream (non-ELL) students from Grade one do in-class teacher-led reading assessments (RA) in September, January and April. A variety of benchmark tests are used so data were standardized to Lexile measures (Appendix E). Since the majority of the BWB students were currently in Grade 5 (n=24), it was decided to focus on the data of the 2015/6 Grade 4 cohort into Grade 5 in 2016/7 who were still at the school in September 2016. Students were coded as male (1) or female (2) and as being a member of BWB (BWB#) for the full year 2015/6 and start of 2016/7 (n=17) or just 2016/7 (n=6).

The second, comparative set of quantitative data came from the triannual NWEA MAP testing of all non-ELL students from Grades three to eight in mathematics and reading. The reading component includes a RIT (Rasch unit) score for the whole school by grade, by gender (Appendix G). Individual reports include an equivalent Lexile range and a growth rate compared to a growth projection.

Using both the RA and MAP test results, BWB students’ progress could be tracked over the years using two different test measures and also be compared to their peers.

2.2.2    Attitude and self-concept

The Elementary Reading Attitude (ERA) survey as adapted by Jung (2016) to measure effects of masculinity on motivation (Appendix B) was administered (n=23) during a BWB meeting by the coordinator. All G5 students took a reading self-concept survey “Me as a Reader” (MAAR) either in class or at home, using the nine self-concept questions from the MRP-R test (Malloy, Marinak, Gambrell, & Mazzoni, 2013) – Appendix D.

The ERA and MAAR survey results were rated on a Lickert scale with scores of one to four given for least positive to most positive responses. ERA questions were identified as either reading attitude or male reading attitude related (10 questions each). Statements were then ranked in order of most to least favourable to make inferences on student attitudes (Appendix C). Likewise, students were given a total “self-concept” score based on their responses.

2.2.3    Reading Volume and digital technologies

Library circulation statistics were downloaded from the Follett Destiny library system. Lesson plans and attendance sheets were available on a shared google drive and informal observation and documentation by photo and video was also done.

3.   Findings and Discussion

Parents and teachers were very enthusiastic about the effect of the club on students (Appendix L). It would appear that this school-wide club was more effective in meeting student social belonging needs and motivating them to read than efforts in individual classrooms. It is a non-threatening, non-pressurized environment that emphasizes books and reading as a pleasurable dynamic social activity rather than individual and silent (Studlo, 2016). According to the school counsellor, the BWB club complements the social-emotional work done with some of the students (Upston, 2016).

3.1      Reading Progress

According to a reading assessment data comparison between September 2015 (or first assessment date for new students) and September 2016 the following can be summarised:

RA Improvement All Girls Boys BWB 15/16
>15% 32 14 18 11
7-14% 4 2 2 0
0-6% 10 3 7 4
Negative 8 4 4 1
No Assessment / New 17 12 5 1
Total 69 31 38 17

Table 1: Reading Assessment Improvement September 2015-6

Although reading assessments are subjective, and results may depend on the individual teachers’ interpretation of the test and knowledge of the particular student being assessed, the data clearly shows that participation in a social reading club has a significant effect on reading progress. More than half of the boys showing improvement in reading were a member of BWB, most of them making a significant improvement (more than 15%). In the case of the BWB students who did not make an improvement, teachers thought further investigation needed to be undertaken to understand if there are underlying reading or language skill issues.

A longitudinal overview of the MAP RIT reading scores from Grade 3 to 5 for the whole school shows an interesting anomaly as the boys’ score exceeds that of the girls in September 2016.

  Gr 3 Gr 3 Gr 3 G4 G4 G4 G5
  Sep-14 Feb-15 May-15 Sep-15 Feb-16 May-16 Sep-16
All 196.1 202.4 204.6 206.0 209.9 213.4 214.4
Girls 197.0 202.7 204.0 206.8 210.7 213.9 213.7
Boys 195.3 202.1 205.1 205.3 209.1 212.9 215.0
BWB Average 197.3 207.5 204.4 206.4 213.4 214.2 214.5
NWEA 189.9 194.6 199.2 197.7 202.5 205.9 205.7

Table 2: MAP RIT scores 2014-2016

The average improvement of the BWB includes some individual variation:

MAP Improvement All BWB 15/16 BWB 16/17
7-14% 5 3 2
1-6% 11 7 4
0% 4 4 0
No Assessment / New 4 3 1
Total 24 17 7

Table 3: MAP score improvement

Although improvements are seen, they are not as substantial as those of the RA, so a detailed comparison was made for the BWB students, for whom all data was available.

# Students
Not tested 3
MAP ≅ RA 10
MAP < RA 4
MAP > RA 7

Table 4: MAP Lexile vs. RA Lexile for BWB students

As can be seen in Appendix I, compared to the MAP testing Lexile results, RA results varied with consistent bias. Discussion with individual teachers indicated lack of training and experience, time pressures and unreliable or absent data from prior years as significant factors impacting on the reliability of their data points.

3.2      Attitude, motivation and self-concept

Overall the students had a more positive attitude towards reading than to reading as a masculine activity. Drilling into the scores of specific students, struggling readers had a more negative attitude to reading than more successful readers, highlighting the importance of success in motivation (Allington, 2002).

Attitude score as % of 80 Overall Reading Masculine
Low < 65% 4 3 7
Medium 66-79% 13 7 7
High >80% 6 13 9
23 23 23

Table 5: Reading Attitude score

As can be seen below an analysis of the scores of individual questions yielded some interesting results. Students particularly liked it when a favourite author wrote a new book, and going to the library / bookstore was also highly ranked. In contrast, having to read in what they considered “their time” either during vacation, at playtime or in their free time at home was not appreciated. The results echo the findings of Martino (2001), that reading is devalued as a passive practice particularly when there are active hetero-masculine alternative activities (Frank, Kehler, Lovell, & Davison, 2003). The club focus on lively action related activities that increase exposure to books and genres (see lesson plans – Appendix K), rather than silent reading, to play into this need.

Since reading during the vacation ameliorates summer learning losses (Allington et al., 2010; Downey, von Hippel, & Broh, 2004; Hilsmier et al., 2014), and volume of reading predicts success (see next section) ways need to be found to make this more enticing (Shapiro & Whitney, 1997). Because reading during school time, either in class, during silent reading or free school time appears more acceptable, and this is more controllable by the school, the onus is on making it as effective as possible (Allington, 2002; Damber, Samuelsson, & Taube, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2008).

Q # Topic – reading attitude Score
14 Favourite author writes a new book 88
6 Going to the library 81
10 Going to a bookstore 79
17 Time for reading at school reading 78
13 Going to the bookfair 77
1 Reading in your free time at school 76
9 Reading different kinds of books 71
2 Reading in your free time at home 70
18 Reading on vacation 59
5 Reading instead of playing 49

Table 6: Reading Attitude Ranking

Male leaders (the Obama effect?) and grown men were seen to have a positive attitude to reading; male athletes aren’t seen in the same light. Ironically students enjoy it when other boys do book talks and make suggestions, but are loath to do so themselves, or to be seen reading during their free time.

Q # Topic – masculine attitude Score
20 Male leaders feel about reading 77
16 Grown men feel about reading 76
4 Other boys tell you about books they’ve read 73
12 Other boys give you suggestions about what to read 70
8 Other boys your age feel about reading 67
19 Male celebrities feel about reading 67
11 Older boys feel about reading 64
7 Other boys see you reading in your free time 58
3 Telling other boys about books you’ve read 55
15 Male athletes feel about reading 53

Table 7: Masculine Attitude Ranking

This would appear to indicate that the current spontaneous trend of voluntary book talks at the start of the BWB sessions is a positive development, as are their virtual recommendations on the BWB page of the online learning platform (OLP).

Looking at students’ self-concept as a reader would appear to confirm the gender bias of ability over-estimation by boys and under-estimation by girls (Marinak & Gambrell, 2010). But four of the five boys with a low self-concept were members of the BWB club and merit further investigation. For detailed data see Appendix D.

Self-concept as a reader All Girls Boys BWB
Low:         20-25 14 9 5 4
Medium:   26-31 38 18 20 13
High:       32-36 17 7 10 6
Absent 2 1 1 1
Total 71 35 36 24

Table 8: Self-concept as a reader comparison

3.3      Reading volume

Reading volume is an important predictor of both reading success and motivation (Damber et al., 2012; De Naeghel et al., 2012; Lee & Zentall, 2015; Schaffner et al., 2013; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2012; Stutz et al., 2016). Looking at the circulation data of students that generally shows an increase, only shows part of the picture, as students may have access to books at home or through the classroom or public library and not need to rely on the school library. Also, borrowing a book doesn’t guarantee that it is read. From the available data we can see the following:

  2014/5 to 2015/6 2015/6 to 2016/7
New students 4 2
Increased borrowing 12 18
Decreased borrowing 7 5
Total 23 25

Table 9: Reading volume – number of students per category

Number of books borrowed is not always a good indicator of the quality of reading. Decreases in number of books borrowed in some cases were due to mainstream and ELL students tackling longer and more advanced books. More concerning, for a few students the decrease appears to be the result of reading difficulties related to skills rather than motivation that need to be addressed separately.

3.4      Use of data analytics

One of the strengths of data analytics is that the amalgamation of large number of data points can show broad trends in an entire population. However drilling down to individual cases, particularly where subjective input created data, threw up inconsistencies as was seen in the analysis above. The problem with the current form of reading assessments is that they are subjective, missing data, use different standards and benchmarks and are cumbersome to use to extract and compare longitudinal data (Kame’enui et al., 2006).

While each piece of data is interesting in itself, this research would suggest in the case of multivariate phenomena such as reading, the combination of different types of data would improve its predictive and signalling power. An attempt to do this and incorporate the use of ‘warning’ parameters is seen in an extract below (full data in Appendix J). Parameters could be weighted according to their predictive ability and action taken accordingly. For example, that students with the most tags are monitored carefully with the involvement of the school counselling team, while the next group are flagged to their class teachers and receive a form of reading recovery and an eye is kept on others.

BYB # ERAS R ERAS M MAP Lexile MAP Δ GvP* RA Lexile Ave Circ 15/16 Ave Circ Aug-Sep 16 Self Concept # Tags
1 18 19 522 1% > 550 7.4 1.3 20 7
2 21 26 612 4% > 650 1.4 2.7 5
13 33 29 738 0% > 750 4.1 2.0 29 4
9 29 30 846 3% > 700 2.0 2.7 29 4
24 856 6% < 750 4.1 4.7 25 4
16 33 30 882 0% < 750 4.7 8.0 28 4
21 37 35 594 6% < 750 4.9 9.3 30 3
11 28 33 702 0% > 750 11.0 10.7 26 3
22 39 35 720 0% > 700 9.0 8.0 27 3
23 225 2.9 4.0 27 2
Criteria ≤ 25 ≤ 25 <900 ≤ 1% < <900 ≤ 3 ≤ 3 < 25

Table 10: Criteria combined warning tags

3.5      Role of digital technologies

Although students generally do not appear to enjoy reading digital books, one form of digital integration that has had success is the combination of print and digital in one of the books read communally in the club in 2015/6: “Adventures of a Kid Magician” (Flom, Flom-Hill, & Blom, 2015). Careful reading of each chapter unlocked the key to access a video showing a magic trick. Both the students and teacher in charge thought this to be an ideal integration and expressed a wish for more books of this nature. Interactive eBooks show promise in motivating students in leisure reading (Colombo & Landoni, 2014).

Photo 1: BWB member book recommendations


Photo 2: October break reading Challenge


From September 2016 the club had its own page on the new OLP, and boys were encouraged to add book reviews. Between 9 September and 6 October, boys contributed ten reviews on the platform. Within two days of a 14 item vacation reading challenge being announced, (with a prize of an exclusive viewing and borrowing of all new books received after the autumn break) 11 students had attempted one or more of the items and two students had completed the whole challenge.

4. Recommendations

4.1      Reading Progress

Reading progress or growth is a function of initial reading status, velocity and acceleration (Williamson, Fitzgerald, & Stenner, 2014). Each of these can be influenced through deliberate policy and practice. Initial status by early-intervention reading programs, velocity by increased deliberate practice and velocity by ensuring all year reading exposure, i.e. including vacation time, and systematically anticipating and compensating for moments of decreased social motivation, self-concept and work-avoidance discussed in section 1 above. This would require buy-in and effort from the whole school learning ecology including leadership, teachers, students, and parents. Feedback from parents appeared to indicate lack of awareness of the respective roles of home and school, so further parent education seems to be in order.

4.2      Attitude and Motivation

Consideration should be given to annually administering a validated test that signals recreational and academic reading motivation incorporating self-determination theory to students from Grade 3. In this way students at risk of aliteracy can be identified. Activities that position reading as a fun, collaborative social activity outside the classroom should be encouraged. Ways to enhance the appeal of summer/vacation reading need to be investigated.

4.3      Reading Volume

A library / classroom based alert system needs to be set up to identify students who need more assistance with finding the right book. Further work can be done on comparing student reading levels with library / class library collection data as a tool for collection development to ensure provision of interesting, relevant materials in student’s proximal reading zone (Williamson, 2015). Successful reading should increase reading motivation, volume and progress further (Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, & Burdick, 2007).

4.4      Data Analytics

Data in the form of MAP tests and RA needs to be compared and correlated in order to identify trends on a school-wide scale, but also to drill down to specific classes, grades and individuals to find any inconsistencies and comparative bias between teachers or grades or benchmarks used, such as were identified in this study. Teachers need better training in the tools, and follow up on missing data or discrepancies should be made in a timely manner. Students identified as being at risk based on a combination of markers including reading motivation and self-concept, volume of reading and reading growth need to be closely monitored with action taken to increase the velocity of reading gains or avoid deceleration on time.

It is suggested that a system be put in place, with thresholds for each criteria as suggested in the analysis above. Students can then be given a score for number of “warning tags” and follow up arranged accordingly.

Finally, although the school is above NWEA norms, at each grade level, caution should be exercised as to what benchmark is used given the socio-economic and education level of the school community – for example, Williamson (2015) suggests a Lexile of L925 would be appropriate for beginning G5 students but at present only 28 out of 62 non-ELL students meet a benchmark of L900 – although some of the non-ELL students may have been ELL at some point in the previous years, and therefor had a lower initial status.

4.5      Digital

Instead of waiting for authors or other providers to create print and digitally integrated books, our students could be encouraged to supplement their favourite books with digital content on the OLP. This would transform students from being digital consumers, to digital creators – one of the learning goals of the 21st Century learner (Ito et al., 2013; Kalantzis & Cope, 2015; Rickard, 2014). Students with reading skills or learning difficulties should be encouraged to explore read-along and audio books to reap the benefits of audio such as improving comprehension, fluency, reading accuracy and motivation (Audio Publishers Association, 2016).

5.   Conclusion

For most participants, this specific social intervention made a difference in boy’s reading motivation through enhancing their sense of social belonging and “masculinizing” reading activities. For most of those in the club since September 2015, reading skills improved at a rate higher than predicted by Lexile growth rate models, and higher than their peers, probably due to higher quantity and quality of reading.

One of the issues with this intervention is its scalability and reliance on key-personnel. At the moment the club has grown to its limits of 30 students, an additional staff member is helping during the meetings, and there is a waiting list of students. Although it has helped a group of students, more integrated school-wide, permanent solutions will need to be sought that benefit all students that involve the predictive ability of combining various indicators of reading motivation, self-concept and skill with reading for pleasure as a social activity and allowing timely rehabilitation where necessary. The predictive ability of combining reading assessments, MAP testing, motivation and self-efficacy surveys to identify at risk students needs to be investigated further on larger populations.

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Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., Drucker, K. T., International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, & Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Eds.). (2012). PIRLS 2011 international results in reading. Chestnut Hill, MA: IEA, TIMSS & PIRLS, International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.

National Literacy Trust. (2012). Boys’ reading commission. National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

NEPS. (2012). Effective interventions for struggling readers. National Educational Psychological Service. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/NEPS-Literacy-Resource/neps_literacy_good_practice_guide.pdf

Norton, E. S., & Wolf, M. (2012). Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: Implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 427–452. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431

NWEA. (2016). Accelerate Measure student progress with MAP for K – 12. Retrieved 12 September 2016, from https://www.nwea.org/assessments/map/

OECD. (2014). Reading performance (PISA). OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/reading-performance-pisa/indicator/english_79913c69-en

Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323–367. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543070003323

Proctor, C. P., Daley, S., Louick, R., Leider, C. M., & Gardner, G. L. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 76–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.014

Retelsdorf, J., Köller, O., & Möller, J. (2014). Reading achievement and reading self-concept – Testing the reciprocal effects model. Learning and Instruction, 29, 21–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2013.07.004

Retelsdorf, J., Schwartz, K., & Asbrock, F. (2015). ‘Michael can’t read!’ Teachers’ gender stereotypes and boys’ reading self-concept. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 186–194. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037107

Rickard, R. L. (2014). Wimps, dorks, and reluctant readers: Redefining literacy in multimodal middle grade diary books (Master Dissertation). Eastern Michigan University, Michigan. Retrieved from http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1943&context=theses

Scanlon, D. M., Gelzheiser, L. M., Vellutino, F. R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J. M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional Development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346–359. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.05.002

Schaffner, E., Schiefele, U., & Ulferts, H. (2013). Reading amount as a mediator of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(4), 369–385. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.52

Shapiro, J., & Whitney, P. (1997). Factors involved in the leisure reading of upper elementary school students. Reading Psychology, 18(4), 343–370. https://doi.org/10.1080/0270271970180402

Silinskas, G., Pakarinen, E., Niemi, P., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Poikkeus, A.-M., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2016). The effectiveness of increased support in reading and its relationship to teachers’ affect and children’s motivation. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 53–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2015.11.025

Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Gilmore, A., & Jameson, M. (2012). Students’ self-perception of reading ability, enjoyment of reading and reading achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 202–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.010

Stenner, A. J., Burdick, H., Sanford, E. E., & Burdick, D. S. (2007). The Lexile Framework® for reading technical report (Technical Report). Durham, NC: Metametrics. Retrieved from https://lexile-website-media-2011091601.s3.amazonaws.com/resources/materials/Stenner_Burdick_Sanford__Burdick-_The_LFR_Technical_Report.pdf

Studlo, T. (2016, October 5). Perceptions on the effectiveness of the ‘Blokes with Books’ club.

Stutz, F., Schaffner, E., & Schiefele, U. (2016). Relations among reading motivation, reading amount, and reading comprehension in the early elementary grades. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 101–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2015.11.022

Upston, G. (2016, October 7). Social dynamics and the ‘Blokes with Books’ club.

Williamson, G. L. (2015). Novel interpretations of academic growth. Retrieved from http://lexile-website-media-2011091601.s3.amazonaws.com/resources/materials/Novel_Interpretations_of_Academic_Growth.pdf

Williamson, G. L., Fitzgerald, J., & Stenner, A. J. (2014). Student reading growth illuminates the common core text-complexity standard. Elementary School Journal, 115(2), 230–254. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=99417740&site=ehost-live

Zentall, S. S., & Lee, J. (2012). A reading motivation intervention with differential outcomes for students at risk for reading disabilities, ADHD, and typical comparisons: ‘Clever is and clever does’. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(4), 248–259. https://doi.org/10.1177/0731948712438556


Not included in order to protect privacy of school and students



Graphical lies and semi truths

I’ve been geeking out a little with some data in the last 24 hours, looking at the circulation stats of my blokes for the last 2 years plus the last month.  Glancing through the table leads to the conclusion that they are in fact borrowing more books – I know that doesn’t necessarily lead to more reading, but I also know that just having books around is a good thing.  One of the issues is that inherent in international schools is the fact that students come and go. Most of our students have been here for the last 2 years, and a few entered mid-way – so I averaged the monthly book borrowing by assuming 8 months of school (yup, we’re off for 16 weeks of the year), and then apportioned appropriately. (Note 2016/7 data needs to be updated at end of September to give the full 1.5 months).bar

But no-one likes looking at a table of data, so how to get this into a graph?  Now even a 3rd grader would (hopefully) be able to tell you that discrete data = bar chart.  So that leads to this:

That kind of shows you the picture – that the green bars are generally the highest (although maybe I need to invert the colours).


Now, let me show you another picture. This time I am quite incorrectly showing you a line graph.  Why is it wrong – well because a line graph is to show the relationship between two sets of values, with one set being dependent on another. Well, as each point is a different child’s reading,  and one child’s data has nothing to do with another child’s data, so obviously a line graph is nonsense. Except for the fact that it much more clearly shows that students have increased their borrowing since they’ve joined BWB. Quite wrong, but more graphically. I’ve been even linemore deceptive by ordering the data by number of books by date (mainly because the first 6 boys were not at the school in 2014/5 and the next 3 not last year so it made things look more confusing if I didn’t order it.

The next graph is even more pretty but it’s wrong wrong wrong and very deceptive – because I used a “stacked line” it’s no longer showing the boys who they read less than the previous year (s) as I’m adding up their reading over time.

No wonder they say “lie, damned lies and statistic” – maybe they need to add “graphs” to that one.

stacked-lineMore problems with this type of data – it tells you about the quantity, but nothing about the quality of what’s being borrowed. If I drill into various circulation histories I see a lot of “churn” of graphic novels. I’m assuming the lads who’ve read 15 or 20 books in the past month are reading nearly one book a day. That’s assuming they’re reading them. In fact one of the boys who seems to be borrowing and reading less is the boy who is tackling much more sophisticated literature and longer books.

Which shows just how individualised one’s approach needs to be to students, and data, and even goals and aims.  I like to think I’m employing a “bait and switch” tactic in the long term – I wonder if that can be quantified? Thinking aloud – if my books were lexiled and I could for each child see a lexile trail that gets stronger over time … unfortunately wishful thinking at this point as our books aren’t lexiled. I’m wondering if any longitudinal research has been done in this respect? I was watching a demo of Scholastic’s Literacy Pro yesterday and maybe that’s influencing my thinking. Because once you’re in that kind of program the program in itself corrupts the data by only feeding the student books in their lexile range, so you have animals in captivity rather than in the wild, if you see what I mean.

Now to see what the reading data tells me, and to see if there is any way to tie it all together in a pretty picture.  I need a spare mathematician to guide me through this – first year university stats is just not going to cut it I fear!


Reading reluctance – factors

Writing a case study with 3,000 words of which 80% are limited by procedural bits and pieces is proving to be a little frustrating because I am learning SO MUCH.  So I thought I’d share some of it here, because heaven knows it could help someone somewhere somehow.

Remember the whole thing about motivation? That there was extrinsic and intrinsic and the latter was way way better? Turns out there are a lot more bits and pieces to motivation than psych 101 would have you believe. And more importantly there is such interplay between them and external factors and I’d like to add developmental ages and phases as well.


So with reading motivation we have:

  • Extrinsic (rewards, physical, achievement or emotional if you read more)
  • Intrinsic (reading is its own reward – interest, satisfaction etc.)
  • Social (currency gained by knowing stuff, sharing books and reading – turns negative around G5 with peer devaluation)
  • Self-efficacy (belief in ability – changes over time)
  • Work avoidance (starts in G2, avoid reading tasks due to low motivation and/or reading difficulties)

If you want to read just one study on the matter, I’d recommend Lee & Zentall (2015). They summarize most of the knowledge to date, have an excellent bibliography and most importantly add the longitudinal dimension. I really like longitudinal studies, and I know why they’re difficult and costly, but as a parent and an educator, what can be more valuable than recognizing and anticipating bumps along the road for what they are and taking preventative action before a student/child lands in a pot-hole?


I’d like to spend a little more time on self-efficacy. It has to do with self-concept as a reader (Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Proctor, Daley, Louick, Leider, & Gardner, 2014; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2012). I find it very interesting that self-efficacy takes a dive around Grade 3. Why? Because that is just the moment when the majority our self-confident readers, having spent 2 or 3 years soaring through the levels of their reading program are suddenly let loose into the big world of both “real chapter books” and needing to access their reading skills in order to “read to learn”. It’s that pivot point. The point at which I tell over anxious parents, “yes, now you can start worrying if the reading is not happening.”


So the question is what should our response be as parents and educators (another good point of the Lee & Zentall article – they add the “so what” bit). Remember the “terrible twos”? Well I think there is nothing more comforting in know that when behavior goes wonky, you have a frame of reference that says “oh, it’s this” accompanied by “I / my child / my student is not alone” and “this is normal” plus, hopefully some strategies in place that can be applied. I’ve just sent my blokes with books a set of positive affirmations that he can use in the Blokes with books club. It was one of a set of resources included in this very handy, practical and readable guide from Ireland (NEPS, 2012).


Then looking at the skill side of things. This is dangerous ground, because if a child is reading below the 30% percentile, (and they’re not 3 or 4 years old – I kid you not – I’ve had pre-kindergarten parents concerned their children are not reading yet – on that topic, please read this article (Suggate, Schaughency, & Reese, 2013)) and they’re over 8 years old, then there may be a problem.


What is the problem – well I’ll say mainly “beware, there be EGOS”. When there is a reading skill issue it is probably as a result of an experiential instructional deficit or a reading related cognitive problem (Scanlon, Gelzheiser, Vellutino, Schatschneider, & Sweeney, 2008). To put it simply, either they haven’t been taught properly at school or the home situation isn’t reinforcing adequately (hear those egos bristling), OR, the child has a reading related cognitive problem (Reading Disability – RD). This can be in decoding (like dyslexia); comprehension or retention and each have a different (here is a lay-person’s article) set of signs and ways of being addressed.


So, what does one do in this case – I like the NEPS article because they call for short, one-on-one or one-on-few and limited interventions of around 12 weeks. Obviously one can start with trying to overcome any instructional deficit, and if that fails, to move onto educational testing and specific RD related interventions. Once again there be Egos in the way – and if it helps at all, I can say “been there, done that, got the tears to prove it”. It’s hard to acknowledge that your child is anything than perfect, or at a pinch that they’re “normally” imperfect. But denial leads to more harm that good, and particularly because early intervention is so much more effective. Embedded in this article on dyslexia (Korbey, 2015) is an awesome scientific journal article (free to read! Yay) on RD, by Norton and Wolf that is very dense and brain spinning, but very good (Norton & Wolf, 2012). Personally I found the discussion on colour naming to be very interesting – talk about an early warning sign that we noticed but didn’t know was important.


I’m going to stop at this point – happy reading in the mean time. As always, interested in your thoughts and comments.


Förster, N., & Souvignier, E. (2014). Learning progress assessment and goal setting: Effects on reading achievement, reading motivation and reading self-concept. Learning and Instruction, 32, 91–100. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.02.002

Korbey, H. (2015, October 1). Understanding dyslexia and the reading brain in kids [Web Log]. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/01/understanding-dyslexia-and-the-reading-brain-in-kids/

Lee, J., & Zentall, S. S. (2015). Reading motivation and later reading achievement for students with reading disabilities and comparison groups (ADHD and typical): A 3-year longitudinal study. Contemporary Educational Psychology. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.11.001

NEPS. (2012). Effective interventions for struggling readers. National Educational Psychological Service. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/NEPS-Literacy-Resource/neps_literacy_good_practice_guide.pdf

Norton, E. S., & Wolf, M. (2012). Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: Implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 427–452. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431

Proctor, C. P., Daley, S., Louick, R., Leider, C. M., & Gardner, G. L. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 76–83. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.014

Scanlon, D. M., Gelzheiser, L. M., Vellutino, F. R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J. M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional Development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346–359. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.05.002

Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Gilmore, A., & Jameson, M. (2012). Students’ self-perception of reading ability, enjoyment of reading and reading achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 202–206. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.010

Suggate, S. P., Schaughency, E. A., & Reese, E. (2013). Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 33–48. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.04.004


Lovely little things

Did I ever mention how sweet my blokes are? And it must also be in large part since they have great supportive parents. Isn’t it super when a parent sends in a permission form with this on the back?


And when your students have been filling in a survey form on a lickert scale and they just can’t resist adding their own opinion – I mean how limiting can we sometimes be? Take note authors – they don’t just LOVE IT! when you write a new book they Love it 10x!


and then when I was administering the survey to a group of 5 of the boys who were absent when the rest were surveyed, there was a long discussion after around whether male readers liked reading or not. The gist being that they probably had to do a heck of a lot of reading, but that the topics and types of reading were probably not under their control or choice and that may result in them disliking reading instead of loving it!  Oh boys you are SO right!  That’s the whole point of FVR (free voluntary reading). Moments like that I wish I had my camera / microphone on and recording! But of course I didn’t because I was doing a survey and not an interview…


Fortunate coincidence

After our leadership meeting this week I asked our principal what she thought of my various options for my case-study and which would be most beneficial and meaningful for the school.   By happy coincidence the senior leadership is looking at a number of things that tie in nicely with my ideas of what would be a viable case-study

  • Using the cumulated data we have on reading scores from the last few years in an interpretive and meaningful way
  • Examining a small section of students to see if anything can be extrapolated to the wider student body and inform teaching and learning
  • Raising the “bottom” – i.e. looking at our struggling students in a holistic way and seeing how we can help them on their learning journeys

In our conversations we also discussed how struggling students can influence the whole ambiance in a classroom, both in the student body and in the teachers response to the individual student and the class as a whole.

The question of course is what is ‘success’ and how do you measure it?  Must it be an improvement in reading or other academic measureables? Something ‘concrete’? Or can we think about the more ‘fuzzy’ aspects of learning that are harder to pin down.  Like affinity and belonging – nicely spoken about in this (non academic) article. Certainly we know that students who have (excessive) stress have difficulty learning. But is it skill, is it motivation that starts the negative spiral? And who can help? Is it a bootstraps issue, is it parents, peers, teachers, mentors, siblings?  What formats and genres?

I’ve just downloaded hundreds of articles around these themes, so it’s time to start digging in and try to get a research question out of it all.


INF536: Assessment 4 – Part A: Applying spatial changes and design thinking to middle school reading– a three phase collaborative approach


There is a long history of research into the value of and elements contributing to the success of classroom libraries. They have an important role in ensuring accessibility of written works to promote fluency and skill in literacy and thereby contributing to academic achievement. But the literature appears to concentrate on elementary schools (Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; James, 1923; Jones, 2006; Krarup, 1955; Powell, 1966; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010; Todd, Gordon, & Lu, 2011; Worthy, 1996). Although partnership and collaboration with the school and/or public library and librarian is recommended, the literature often deals with the two spaces in isolation. Further, the problem of aliteracy in middle school – whereby students can read but don’t want to – is well documented (Kelley & Decker, 2009; Krashen, 2004; Lesesne, 1991; Sheldon & Davis, 2015; Worthy, 1996). This case report will show how the two environments library and classroom, can successfully be seen as extensions of each other through the principles of design and design thinking and explicit cooperation between the language humanities (Eng/Hum) teachers, literacy coach and school librarian in order to promote voluntary reading.

Case development

United World College South East Asia East (UWCSEA-East) is a K-12 international school located in Singapore. It commenced operations in 2008 and took occupancy of a purpose built campus in 2011. In this campus, the secondary school library initially served around 500 middle school students – see table 1. It now caters to three distinct communities, middle school, high school and the International Baccalaureate (IB) – see Table 2.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 11.27.14 am

Despite consultation with the librarian in the planning phase, certain spaces of the library were designated different functions than agreed upon and furnished accordingly by the architect and building manager. One such area was upstairs overlooking the main school plaza with purpose built magazine racks. The idea was it would be a well-frequented showcase area for magazine reading. In reality a number of factors prevented this from being realised:

  • The furniture design didn’t accommodate its purpose as it was not deep or high enough and the storage area didn’t fit back copies
  • The zoning of the library post occupancy meant that materials affording quick casual reading such as graphic novels and periodicals were better located in the “noisier” and fast turnover area which allowed food and beverages, i.e. downstairs.
  • The trend in libraries is to move away from physical magazines and periodicals towards online providers including online databases and aggregators such as PressReader that provide the same product at a lower cost and without delays and issues with cataloguing and maintenance.


The question of what to do with the space was resolved by noticing that as the secondary school reached post occupancy capacity the lowest students in the pecking order i.e. middle school students were increasingly marginalised with students of higher sections taking over the prime library real estate (students are visually distinct due to different coloured polo shirts for their uniforms). In addition, middle school students no longer had library visits planned into their schedule. Furthermore, the large influx of new students and teachers meant that reading books in the classrooms were unevenly distributed both in terms of volume and quality without any structured form of classroom library, which the students had become accustomed to in the primary section. Finally, Eng/Hum teachers were noticing a decline in voluntary reading as students moved up through middle school.


These issues were addressed initially through collaboration between the librarian and Eng/Hum teachers and more recently by the new literacy coach over a period of three years as follows:

  • The conversion of the magazine area into a middle school reading zone
  • The establishing of a core library for each of the three middle school grades (Day, 2013b)
  • The creation of middle school classroom libraries in a formal and structured manner with materials integrated into the library catalogue (Day, 2015d)
  • The integration of informational / nonfiction texts into both areas

This is an on-going process and worth a critical analysis to examine the choice process, latent or existing attitudes and assumptions, exterior pressures and design constraints and collaboration and communication.

Critical analysis

Choice of process

The spatial change in the library was conceived and led by the teacher-librarian (TL) with the Eng/Hum teachers joining in the collaboration as the process evolved. Since the TL has experience in design thinking (Day, 2013a, 2015a, 2015c) the process followed the design thinking cycle of inspiration, ideation, iteration and getting to scale (Brown, 2008; IDEO, 2014).


This was achieved by:

  • Agreeing on a “core library” of 30 titles per grade for grades 6-8 which were prominently displayed
  • Adjusting shelving to accommodate front facing books
  • Relocating books of interest to this age group from the fiction collection
  • Using large posters to highlight the favourite books of middle school teachers in the library and class corridors and classroom walls
  • Ensuring multiple copies of books, by using class and literary circle sets
  • Adequate lighting, comfortable furniture and the creation of a private space


The above steps and final spatial design incorporated the elements that are recommended as enhancing school library spaces (Cha & Kim, 2015; Elliott-Burns, 2003; La Marca, 2008; A. McDonald, 2006; Serafini, 2011).


The design elements that contribute to successful classroom libraries are not dissimilar and include:

  • Sufficient space which is a focal area but partitioned and private
  • Comfortable furniture
  • Variety of material in range of complexity including different literary genres and informational texts
  • Category organisation and shelf labelling
  • Combination shelving allowing for quantity of books and display (front facing)
  • Advertising by means of posters and notices on whiteboards
  • Graphic organisation either thematic or by connections
  • Involvement of students in selection, organisation and maintenance (Fractor, Woodruff, Martinez, & Teale, 1993; Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; Reutzel & Fawson, 2002, cited in Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010)

Discussion and research on the elements predominantly come from the elementary school environment, and the adoption to middle school requires some adjustments to account for the fact that students do not remain in one classroom, lessening the sense of ownership of a space on the part of students, and teachers needing to cater to multiple classes with different profiles and interests. Learning spaces are also typically smaller relative to the size of the students.


The creation of the library and classroom reading spaces and populating them with books is “necessary but not sufficient” (McGill-franzen, Allington, Yokoi, & Brooks, 1999). Other components of encouraging reading include training teachers to enhance their instructional routines to incorporate the material, and to ensure that teachers are familiar not only with their literary canon, but also the latest in good young adult fiction (Day, 2015b; McGill-franzen et al., 1999). The school has invested in training with Penny Kittle to assist in the instructional routines (Raisdana, 2015), while the librarian is working with the teachers on the latter.

Latent or existing attitudes and assumptions

An international school is blessed with diversity in cultures, languages and backgrounds both of their students and teachers. This results in a context of people coming from different systems with different attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and experiences around education, reading and libraries. In just the middle school, teachers come from Australia, United States, Philippines, Ireland, Canada and the United Kingdom, each with their own literary core. In addition, there are personal preferences and beliefs, for example around young adult literature (see Raisdana, 2014). Teachers may not be used to or have experience of collaboration with the TL, the benefits thereof, nor aware of the ways in which libraries have evolved (Gibbs, 2003; Montiel-Overall, 2006, 2008; Sullivan-Macdonald, 2015). And naturally there are assumptions around what constitutes an ideal learning or reading space and the balance between the two (Elliott-Burns, 2005). In a meta-review of access to print and educational outcomes, Lindsay (2010) concluded that limiting choices with a larger distribution interval led to more reading, particularly if it was accompanied by activities such as training and book talks. This is in contrast to the assumption that collections should be as large as possible. It also suggests that rotation of materials leads to better outcomes.

Exterior pressures and design constraints

The creation of the complementary spaces faced a number of constraints, design and otherwise. These included a small budget, limited time and variability in the reading level of students. In design thinking the presence of constraints is seen as a positive force that encourages creative solutions and exploring options that would not otherwise be considered, and this proved to be true in this case study (Brown & Katz, 2011; Hill, 1998; Ness, 2011).


Naturally budget was an important constraint that shaped the way in which the space was converted and books and furniture was acquired or moved and repurposed. As discussed earlier, the librarian was involved in the “fuzzy front end” (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 6), of the secondary library design and once the space was completed it was not possible to change the space, only to adapt its purpose. In the classrooms the availability of furniture in the room to hold the books and the available space for the classroom library vis-à-vis other learning spaces determined how many books could effectively by stored and displayed. In this respect creative design thinking was deployed, for example by taking the doors off built-in cupboard space both in the classrooms and in the library, creating additional shelving. Comfortable furniture was either acquired by donations from the community or purchased to ensure equity between the classrooms.


Although the library and classes each have a budget for the acquisition of books, both wanted to ensure that existing resources were not wasted – for example the books already owned in multiple copies. However their repurposing had to be examined within the constraints of the reading level of the students and the curriculum themes for each grade.

Collaboration and communication

Collaboration and communication between the TL and teachers has received a lot of attention as has the ways in which spatial design and design thinking can enhance collaboration (Avallon & Schneider, 2013; Ferer, 2012; Gibbs, 2003; Knapp, 2014; Montiel-Overall, 2006; Williamson, Archibald, & McGregor, 2010). Enhancing collaboration between the TL and the Eng/Hum department has occurred on a number of fronts, both physical and virtual – such as book chat mornings to book talk new books, encouraging teachers and students to be involved with the selection of books for the Red Dot Awards (ISLN, 2015), processing and cataloguing the books, and the creation of a virtual space for the books (Day, 2015b).


Given time constraints and curriculum pressures, additional moments for collaboration and communication have had to be designed into the process. For example teachers can book the reading zone space to conduct lessons, and invite the TL to book talk new or noteworthy books. In addition the library receives supervision assistance from teachers during lunch, recess times and after school. The Eng/Hum teachers have first priority in requesting this duty, creating the opportunity for the important “casual conversations” that result in informal learning and information exchange (Oblinger, 2006; Somerville & Brown-Sica, 2011).


The process can neither be criticized for its efficacy nor results. Teachers, students and the librarian have largely viewed the change positively. Due to making small iterative changes to the spaces, starting with a small budget and a limited number of books in the first year, and subsequently adapting the choice of books, the selection and weeding process based on experience and feedback, the combined library / class library spaces appear to have grown organically despite a lot of “behind the scenes” work on book processing, cataloguing and making books classroom / shelf ready.

There are five main recommendations arising from the analysis of this case study, all which can be tackled through employing design thinking rather than further changes to the current spatial design:

  • Balance the contradictory forces of novelty and familiarity through how books are selected, displayed and rotated
  • Focus efforts on the most efficacious element of encouraging reading – book talks
  • Expand the space to include the home environment, particularly in the case of bilingual students
  • Increase involvement of students in the spatial design and change process
  • Quantify the benefits of this spatial / design thinking collaboration through evidence based research.

These will be elaborated in the next section.


Balance novelty and familiarity

Students like and respond to novelty in display and a constant supply of “new” titles, they would also possibly benefit from choice limitation (Iyengar, 2011). This can be achieved by a rotation of titles between spine and front facing, and through a rotation between the books in the various classes (Lindsay, 2010). At present the core and class libraries are refreshed annually and the class libraries are not rotated between classes or teachers. It is recommended this be considered to prevent staleness. The class library placement of books in bins rather than shelves with a mixture of front and spine facing, allowing changes is display is not best practise, nor is having all books available simultaneously (Fractor et al., 1993; Lindsay, 2010; Sanacore, 2000; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010).

Book talks

The importance of teachers’, librarians’, students’ and the community’s increasing exposure of diverse books in all genres by book talking can’t be overstated (Bentheim, 2013; Gallo, 2001; L. McDonald, 2013; Serafini, 2011). But, as examined in the analysis, a number of barriers stand in the way of regular book talks. In addition, requiring reading related tasks from students runs the risk of resulting in unfavourable associations with reading and further reluctance (Eriksson, 2002; Gallo, 2001; Miller, 2009).


Many practioners have described how digital innovation and the creation of virtual spaces can enhance and augment traditional book talks as well as expand transliteracy skills of students (Dreon, Kerper, & Landis, 2011; Gogan & Marcus, 2013; Gunter & Kenny, 2008; Ragan, 2012). It is recommended that students be given ownership of exploring the potentials of the digital realm in this respect as a guided design thinking exercise.

Mother tongue material and the home environment

Access to mother tongue materials continues to be a weakness in the library and even more so in the classroom library. There are logistical and financial constraints including the wide spread of languages, the undervaluation of low status languages, and misinformation and misunderstanding on the value of reading in the mother tongue amongst students and parents (Bailey, 2014a, 2014b, 2015; Boelens, Cherek, Tilke, & Bailey, 2015). This is an area that would benefit greatly from increased collaboration between the college and parent body where previously “unknowable” resources could be tapped into through utilizing the analytical and process skills of design thinking (IDEO, 2014; Landis, Umolu, & Mancha, 2010; McIntosh, 2015).

Student involvement

While literature indicates collaboration by all stakeholders is essential for acceptance, particularly in learning environments (Hamilton, 2013; Jones, 2006; Sanders & Stappers, 2008), this has largely been a librarian / teacher initiative with some student involvement in book selection. Moving forward, the virtual or digital sphere is an area where students can also be encouraged to carve out a presence and take ownership with teachers taking on an enabler role as use of all seven learning spaces are maximised (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; McIntosh, 2010; Thornburg, 2007; Wilson & Randall, 2012).

Quantify the benefits

Despite numerous hurdles in providing data and making analysis founded on circulation figures or student attainment records, there is considerable value in documenting and providing evidence for practises – not the least that it supports budget requests.


Circulation records do not provide a complete record or necessarily correlate with reading because:

  • Books may be read in library / class without being checked out
  • In affluent multi-cultural communities, students may have access to large personal libraries, including books in their mother tongue
  • Students may be borrowing books from the public library

Despite this, circulation is still the best proxy for reading. The decentralised nature of the class libraries results in less control over book checkout. Even in the library, that has no exit barriers, at the end of 2014/5 academic year roughly 20% of returned books had not been checked out of the system. While this can be lauded as an indication of the high moral and ethical standards of the students, it does pose difficulties in creating any evidence based data on the actual impact of either separating part of the library or decentralising the collection to class libraries in terms of increases in circulation.


It is recommended that both current and longitudinal research be carried out to see if there is any correlation between increased access to text, the amount of reading / circulation and other objective measures of attainment such as the annual PISA or TIMS tests. This will take the initiative beyond transformative individual anecdotal stories to evidence based research. The CLEP (Classroom Literacy Environmental Profile) (McGill-franzen et al., 1999; Wolfersberger, Reutzel, Sudweeks, & Fawson, 2004) and more recently the TEX-IN3 (Hoffman, Sailors, Duffy, & Beretvas, 2004) tools have successfully been used in the evaluation of elementary school class libraries and could be adapted for the middle school environment.


The recent inclusion of informational (nonfiction) texts in both the middle school zone and the classroom libraries is also one worth further investigation. Whether the expansion of the collections has impacted on the space, the ability to choose, and the completion of summative assessments in the individual subjects can be investigated in the light of the existing literature on the matter (Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; Ness, 2011; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010; Young & Moss, 2006; Young, Moss, & Cornwell, 2007).


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Activity and Paralysis

Reading, reading, reading. I know I should start trying to write, but I’m in a kind of simultaneous paralysis and activity. Each new reading I do, I discover a whole field of knowledge and information that I know way too little about. Today I discovered the LEA (language experience approach) to teaching reading and writing. And the relevant (for me) “cousin” D-LEA (i.e. with digital). I’m sure every single teacher in the world is totally familiar with this and today was the first time I’d encountered it – academically at least. I’m pretty sure it’s what they do at school and that my kids experienced it, I just didn’t know the name. Duh. So this has kicked off a new round of activity – frantically learning more about it and how it relates to my topic; and paralysis – not being able to start writing my assignment yet.