Q&A: Increasing Literacy Rates in Students
Choice reading is an initiative that encourages youth reading by allowing students to select their own books, rather than assigning required texts. Offering students a range of high-interest young adult literature opens the doors for reluctant readers to take an interest in books, with the hope that students no longer perceive reading as a task, but a hobby.
We chatted with Jennifer Kempf-Burkart, MEd, Instructional Specialist at Beaverton Public School District and adjunct professor for Lewis & Clark College’s Reading Endorsement program about choice reading, literacy challenges facing educators, and her two upcoming courses, Choice Reading: Connecting Kids with the Right Book at the Right Time (hybrid, in-person July 1 and August 2) and Striving Readers: Increasing the Rate of Progress Through Engagement and Strategic Coaching (August 1-5)
What differentiates “choice reading” from other literacy practices currently employed in schools? How do you feel this approach improves a student’s capacity to learn compared to others?
Choice reading is essential to all reading practices as engagement isn’t a thing, it’s everything. When a child is truly engaged in reading, writing, or any subject matter - the chemistry is the brain actually changes and allows for true learning to occur. When students are able to participate in choosing texts for themselves, engagement is high.
What inspired your interest and specialization in literacy? What do you find most rewarding about it?
One of my family members has special learning needs. He was identified early, but never seemed to get any traction with reading. I worked with him on isolated skills and drills to no avail. It wasn’t until we uncovered his passion for gardening and plants that we were able to flip the switch. Choosing texts that truly interested him provided the motivation to want to read, to learn.
Where do you see the greatest learning opportunities for teachers and educators when it comes to literacy instruction?
Finding the right book, for the right kid, at the right time. It’s an art. It’s a challenge, but the rewards are transformative. Of course, once we find that book, the next challenge becomes effective conferring and coaching that includes the reader. Teaching cannot be something we do to students, it needs to be something we do with students.
What will participants in your Choice Reading course to come away with?
Participants will walk away with innovative tools for learning about their students as people and as readers. In addition, deepening our understanding of what children’s literature has to offer is a real focus. Never before have we had so many choices for student reading. It’s both exciting and daunting at the same time. Participants will learn from children’s literature experts about the most engaging texts out there, and how best to match our students to their next great read.
What can participants in your Striving Readers course expect to come away with?
This course is aptly named. If students are significantly behind grade level reading standards, it’s because they have a history of not making a full year’s reading growth. The only way to disrupt this cycle is to increase their rate of learning. That means taking a student who has traditionally made .5 years reading growth to 1.5. Can this be done? Absolutely. Is it easy? Not at all. This class will discuss the strategies and decisions made by teachers, schools and districts that have proven that nearly all kids can read on grade level with the right plan.