Readership project puts books in students’ hands at a time they need them most

In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic last fall when students across California were learning virtually, some learners in five Tulare County districts enthusiastically welcomed some low-tech gifts – books. The books – 30,000 of them – have been distributed to 50 teachers and over 1,900 students through the Readership project, a grant-funded program that launched with a virtual conference for teachers in five pilot districts in September 2020.

The Readership project is a program the Tulare County Office of Education’s Central Valley Networked Improvement Community (CVNIC) funded in 2019 by a grant from the California Department of Education. The grant was used to create a literacy program aimed at helping improve student performance on the English Language Arts portions of state assessment tests. Now in its pilot stage, Readership includes teachers from schools in Earlimart School District, Monson-Sultana Joint Union School District, Porterville Unified School District, Woodlake Unified School District, and Woodville Union School District.

In the six months since the Readership project team held its first meeting with teachers from partner school districts, the group has held two additional virtual conferences featuring Penny Kittle, author of Book Love; and Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CSI television franchise. Mr. Zuiker, who writes social-emotional graphic novels for young people, donated hundreds of his books to participating schools. The project team has also worked with community partners from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Porterville Police Department, Woodlake Police Department, and Tulare County Office of Education Foster Youth Services to distribute books to homes in communities served by the grant. The books have also been given to participating schools to help build site and classroom libraries. Additionally, the Readership team has ordered Little Libraries for each school site, a take-one, share-one kiosk for spreading literacy among all students at each school site. Educational Resource Services has also benefitted from the grant and is adding new titles to its own library collection.

During the third meeting of Readership, teachers were able to share some initial data. Project co-directors Jenean Bray and Tammy Milligan of Educational Resource Services shared that 80% of the teachers are now motivated to share book talks with their students each day, and 86% of the students in grades 4-8 said they are connecting to the books being shared. “Initial data collected shows that students are increasing their interest in reading and are motivated when teachers share books through book talks,” they said. “This is key data because we know that motivation to read leads to increased reading volume, which leads to positive results in achievement. We will have more concrete data once the state tests are administered, but will be examining assessments at school sites to assist teachers in monitoring their school’s data.”

Next year, Readership will hold four meetings featuring teaching tips, current research around literacy, and book talks, plus follow-up coaching focusing on the literacy and social-emotional learning connection. Participating schools will also learn the basics of Improvement Science as the project implements continuous improvement cycles of learning throughout the year.

“The work that the Readership project is doing will be foundational to a future countywide shift in student attitudes toward literacy,” said Tim Hire, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools. “We have much work to do to keep students engaged in reading in their late elementary and middle school years, particularly our English learners and socio-disadvantaged students. The rewards of this work however are greater academic success, and college and career readiness.”

In May, Jenean and Tammy will present the Readership project to leadership at a California Department of Education (CDE) conference. The CDE has also asked the team to create resource videos for its website to help other LEAs as they begin their journeys toward improving literacy on a local level. For more information on Readership, contact Jenean Bray at [email protected], or Tammy Milligan at [email protected].

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