The following paper examines
the value of a print-rich reading climate and the positive
effect of attractive physical characteristics.
e have all heard the cliché, "You can lead a horse to water,
but you can't make it drink." Many times, I have heard teachers
refer to this adage to describe their frustrations as they struggle
to motivate their students to spend more time reading and to
assist them in the development of a reading habit. These comments
are from teachers who are well acquainted with the reading research
that supports that children get better at reading by reading.
Perhaps we can't "make" the
horse drink, but we can do things, such as enhancing the reading environment,
to increase the likelihood that students will develop a thirst for
books and spend more time reading.
One way to enhance the
reading environment is by turning to the gutters rain gutters,
years, Jim Trelease, international consultant and author of The
Read-Aloud Handbook (2001), has advocated that books need to
be advertised in classrooms and libraries in the same fashion that
cookies and cereal boxes are displayed in the grocery stores with
the cover facing out.
Publishers pay for a book to be advertised in
book stores with the cover facing out, because they know that the
cover sells the product.
publisher provides the book seller with what is called a display
allowance. This is money paid to a retailer so that each store
in the chain will prominently feature a specific title for a particular
period of time. This practice began in the supermarkets as a means
of getting them to display a product at the end of an isle or on
the middle of the shelf at eye level to attract the buyer's attention.
According to a corporate manager for a prominent supermarket
chain, this practice has been in existence for many years and is
very important to the merchandiser. His concluding comment during
an interview "It has great impact!"
This custom has taken over the online book selling
world as well. If you see a book featured on the Internet, it is
due to display allowances. The display allowance practice has become
widespread to the point where now, if you see a title's cover in
a chain store, you can be sure the publisher paid extra for it.
Trelease (2001) recently presented the idea of
using rain gutters, as a cost effective approach to displaying
books in the classroom, at a full day workshop for teachers in
Phoenix, Arizona. Like many other participants, I was motivated
to return to my building to start installing rain gutters. Before
presenting the idea to teachers, I chose to model the idea first,
starting with my own office.
Most teachers were eager to participate, while
a few were a bit skeptical and hesitant to give up valuable wall
space. David Johnson, fourth grade teacher, expressed it this way:
"When I was first approached with the rain gutter idea, I thought
it was the dumbest idea I'd heard yet in education. And I was wrong!
First, it entirely changed the atmosphere of my classroom. The
covers added a warmth and excitement that wasn't there with a wall
covered with teacher-made material or posters. The school year
then started and the books 'flew' off the shelves. I've been teaching
a long time and my students have never read so much. Was I ever
wrong about the gutters!"
This study provides testimony from teachers,
principals, students, librarians and parents who have become part
of the Rain Gutter Literacy Revolution and can attest that the
practice of displaying books in gutters encourages reading and
assists in the development of good reading habits.
There is a very large body of research
that documents the relationship between a book cover and book selection. Carter
(1988) and Kragler and Nolley (1996) reported that illustrations
on the cover or in the book were two of the top factors in book
selections. Additionally, Vandergift (1980) stated that
the cover of a book attracts people's attention. 'Most children
(and adults) are more likely to select an attractive looking book
than one that is dull in appearance and gives no clue to its contents."
Through such observations, one might ask why we don't see the majority
of books in libraries and classrooms with the covers facing outward.
Gerlach and Rinehart
(1992) stated, "while it is important that teachers start with
children's interests in promoting independent reading, teachers
should go one step further and find ways to help their students
determine whether a book is worth reading by examining cover clues."
Children have greater opportunities to use cover clues when they
reside in print-rich environments with books displayed in rain
McQuillan, (1998) noted that "the amount
of free voluntary reading that students engage in is closely related
to students having ready availability of books in their environments.
Students who have easy access to books tend to read more."
Morrow (1982) reported that good kindergarten
teachers know just what the book sellers and grocers have discovered
while advertising their products: When library corners have 'attracting
features,' posters, bulletin boards, and displays related to children's
literature, children show more interest in books."
According to Coody (1997) and Huck
"the effort that goes into making the classroom library an
inviting spot will pay rich dividends in reading achievement and
interest." This study will attempt to provide further support to
this powerful statement with testimony form several educators who
have discovered the same relationship between an enriched classroom
library and student achievement and interest.
For many years, Jim Trelease, before mentioned,
has traveled all over the world promoting the relationship between
the print climate and reading achievement. He best
describes this irrefutable relationship in the following manner:
"There is a strange phenomenon that whenever students' scores drop,
it is echoed by an outcry for school and teacher reform and higher
standards. Yet there is no similar outburst when the scores are
posted for the Winter Olympics and the African, Middle-Eastern,
and South American teams finish out of the money every time!
Yet no one bats an eye in those countries. Of course, we all understand
the Olympic situation: Countries like Norway, Canada, Austria,
Russia, and the U.S. dominate the Winter games because their youngsters
grow up with continual access to the 'climate' of winter sports ice
and snow. Conversely, athletes residing where they never or seldom
have ice or snow will seldom have the skating or skiing skills
to win. How much of a chance do you think the Israeli luge team
has against Sweden's?"
"Simply put, it's the 'climate."'
Data collected for this study comes from five
Surveys were administered to teachers, librarians
and principals at five elementary schools within the Mesa Public
School District where books are currently displayed using rain
gutters. Informal interviews with eight intermediate level students
were conducted where the students were asked to describe the
influence of rain gutter book displays in their classrooms. Parents
of elementary school age children were also informally interviewed
to describe the effect of placing rain gutter book displays in
the bedrooms of their youngsters. Nineteen teachers, five principals,
four librarians, eight intermediate level students and three
parents represent the subjects for this study.
Mike Oliver is presently principal of
James Zaharis Elementary in Mesa, AZ, where he continues to work
the magic of reading under ideal circumstances, a building he
insisted have a built-in atmosphere conducive to reading. Click Zaharis for
a photo tour of the school Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This page is copyright 2001 by Mike Oliver and
Julie Christensen and reprinted
here by permission of the authors. All rights reserved.
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