Here’s how it works:
Once you bring the program to your community, it will actually be executed by individual schools. The simple premise of the program is ”to teach families how to fish.” That is, instead of just tossing books at them, One District, One Book, by asking families to read a children’s novel as a community (everyone reading the same book, at the same time, over the course of a month), all families, even those not very familiar with reading chapter books out loud, can discover and acquire the habit. The program is enabling. Eventually families will keep reading together on their own – independently.
You reach those families through your schools. That’s where your captive (and needy) audience awaits. But when each school – at your direction – agrees to adopt the program, they each still have the freedom to refine the program to suit their school, community, needs, capabilities, and resources.
You will help the district of schools choose a book – probably one of the books recommended by the national non-profit advocacy group, Read To Them (RTT), which developed the program. You may even help the schools acquire the books, too – although that is an open-ended question, very likely to require a different method or solution in each district.
Once the book is chosen, each school will find their own best ways (with their personnel) to explore and pursue the book as a community. Your schools may rely on RTT’s tried and true simple first steps: send a letter home explaining the program; hold a school assembly (creative and fun – with materials and scripts supplied by RTT) to introduce the program and the book; hold a Family Reading Night to build enthusiasm and deliver some hands-on advice and encouragement on reading aloud; send home a reading schedule with the books; and – believe it or not – most simply and importantly: ask a daily trivia question each morning, to reward attentive reading and encourage and stimulate attentive listening. Many schools will do far more than this – holding auxiliary assemblies, hosting guests, and various community and individual student art projects (usually based on the particulars of the book chosen.)
What do you need to do to bring One District, One Book to your community?
It’s simple: You are the ring-leader. You know your district better than anyone else. You may want to communicate with school board members first – explaining to them the merits of One District, One Book – so that they can help extend support in your community. You may want to employ a “grass roots” method – reaching out to other members of your community – libraries, community foundations, women’s groups, local businesses. You will certainly lobby each of your elementary school principals. In some cases, it may be that your district has that one, all-star principal, and if you can convince her, it will then be most effective to let her contact the other principals. More than likely, you will know best. But it won’t start without you lighting the way.
Once you have buy-in, your role becomes supervisory. Helping to co-ordinate any necessary funding sources for the schools. Contacting Read To Them’s One District, One Book personnel so they can provide resources to participating schools. Co-ordinating workshop sessions with parents and teachers at participating schools. You can be as hands-on as you like. (You can even lead your own workshops if you’re up to it.) But your primary role is too be the initiator – the spark that brings One District, One Book to your district – to get hundreds, even thousands of families to regularly read chapter books aloud.
Why should you bother to do all that?
You know the litany. The number of students of who come school unprepared to read. The difficulty these students have in school – and the lack of re-inforcement they receive at home throughout their school careers. The high school drop-out rates that still exist in the 21st century – lives doomed to a roller-coaster struggle, in many cases because of the initial lack of preparation to succeed in school – familiarity with English prose. The percentage of adults who no longer read books regularly at home. The consistent complaints from American businesses that high school graduates are unable to write clear, clean English prose and must be trained.
Very likely, you are who you are and do what you do for any or all of these reasons. There is no need to review the many programs and initiatives that continue to seek to alleviate these problems. Very likely, you are already engaged in more than one of them.
But here is a new one. A simple premise, relatively easy to implement. Not very expensive. Not very demanding in terms of human resources. Simple – but a game-changer. Go back to that opening image. Can you imagine the elementary school families in an entire city reading the same chapter book at the same time for an entire month? Can you imagine students – long exposed to little more than television slang and abbreviated, ungrammatical common speech – finally hearing and listening to full English sentences, rich with vocabulary – all through the entertaining, engaging medium of a novel – a great story? Can you imagine any of those families going back for more – making it a habit to read together as a family while their children are in school? That’s the reason, right there. That vision.
It’s already happening. Schools began trying this simple, novel, idea in Richmond, Virginia in 2001. The program has spread, a sprinkle at a time, throughout Virginia, to over 45 states – and 7 provinces in Canada – and now includes over 700 member schools. One cohort of these schools include Title I schools who even report dramatic reading games among their population, once the program has been instituted for 2-3 years.
Until now, the program’s spread has been like Johnny Appleseed – a seed planted here, a seed bearing fruit there. But gregarious, can-do principals in Hampton, VA; in Hanover County, VA; in Bentonville, Ark.; and in Lethbridge, Alberta have managed to spread the concept beyond their own schools to encompass a wider community of district schools. Spreading to the wider community’ also involves outreach to and participation from libraries. Some districts have even reported involvement from the home school population.
It doesn’t take much to imagine the literary gains from this kind of ubiquitous, broad, shared, deep experience. Research repeatedly demonstrates that children who are read to at home arrive at school better prepared to learn, become better readers, and generally have an easier time – and more success – in school. Ask any first grade teacher and she’ll tell you. The rationale is fundamental – expose children to more vocabulary, a higher range of grammatically correct sentences, more sophisticated usage and syntax (than they’ll find in everyday human speech or on television) – and watch the literary gains accrue. Expose families to the simple and rewarding (and recurring) charms of reading a novel aloud – and watch habits change a little, adding a dose of wholesome, constructive parental involvement in their children’s academic lives.
Note that One District, One Book is different from all other reading programs in that it doesn’t stop with picture books and it doesn’t rely on the school to do all the heavy lifting and change the world. Its unique premise asks families (not the school) to read chapter books (not just Dr. Seuss) at home. Its daring rationale joins President Obama’s similar exhortations and asks parents to do some (or more) of the work of helping to prepare their children to succeed in school. Its sly secret is that such ‘work’ is fun – showing families (enabling families) to read together.
The premise is simple – just hand the same book (along with a reading schedule and a daily trivia question) to every family in your district. The method is organic – let peer pressure and community enthusiasm and the charm of classic literature do the convincing. But the gains are immense – to elementary school children, to families, to high school graduation rates, to library usage. All you have to do is get the simple idea started…
– Bruce Coffey, Jr.
Director, One School, One Book