1,000 books for home readers

Giving 40 books to each student in second and third grade for their home libraries — 1,000 books over two years — turned struggling readers into confident readers, writes Justin Minkel, who teaches in Arkansas, on Education Week Teacher.  Twenty of the 25 students speak English as a second language; all but one live under the poverty line.

Home reading surveys showed that at the beginning of 2nd grade, my students had access to an average of three books at home. Increasing this number to 40 or more books had far-reaching effects. Students’ fluency improved because the children could engage in repeated readings of favorite “just right” books, and parents reported increased time spent reading at home during weekends, holidays, and summer break.

The only incentive for this increase in reading time was intrinsic: the pleasure each child felt in reading his or her own book, beloved as a favorite stuffed animal.

Scholastic donated 20 books per child. The teacher bought the others with his own money and donations.  Each month, children received copies of class read-alouds, guided reading books and books they’d chosen from Scholastic’s website.

At a cost of less than $50 each year per student, his 25 students made greater reading progress than he’d ever seen before. Second graders started with a picture book, Where The Wild Things Are, and finished third grade with The Lightning Thief, which is geared toward 5th and 6th graders.

“I watched child after child become a different kind of writer, thinker, and human being because of his or her growth as a reader,” Minkel writes.


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  1. This reminds me of a study done a few years ago – at a cost of $1 million or so – that proved that students with more books at home were better readers.

    Really? It took the government that much money to figure this out?

    I applaud this teacher doing the thing that’s proven to work. Maybe if, along with the crappy school food, we give kids on free and reduced lunch regular books to take home. At least some part of them would be nourished.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The students aren’t better readers because there are more books at home. They’re better readers because they come from the kinds of families that have books in their home. You could give disadvantaged kids books galore but it’s only marginally likely that they’ll open them. This is about culture; it’s what people DO. Some people read; some don’t. Getting more kids to read is obviously the goal, but handing them books to take home won’t necessarily change their behavior.

      This is another field of dreams, if you build it they will come, well intentioned but poorly thought through idea.

      • SuperSub says:

        These were disadvantaged kids… you’re right that culture is a factor, but the difference in culture is not socioeconomic status.

      • SuperSub says:

        And I agree that in other environments, primarily urban, this would not work. But again, socioeconomic status is not the key factor.

  2. This needn’t cost even $50/yr/child.  Any city with a public library system has thousands of books available per child.  All it takes is motivation and a clue; that’s all it’s ever taken.

    • Lightly Seasoned says:

      I think the idea is that you take the parent out of the acquisition process. They’ve already proven (with the 3 books average avail.) that they’re not on top of that for whatever reason.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Having your own books is *NOT* the same as checking them out from the library.

    When you are a child, and you have your own books, books become part of the world to which you are acclimating. They are an integrated part of your environment, when your neural proliferation and pruning processes are trying to figure out just what your environment is.

    Your books. Your world. Your life.

    • I’m not saying that ownership isn’t good, but I think that libraries are a pretty close substitute. When I was a kid, my small-town library was open only two afternoons a week but those days were the highlights of my week; I’d meet my mother there and we would each choose a new bagful of books.. It’s the culture; if books are important, access will be found. We didn’t even have a TV until I was 11, and we had only two channels, so it was mostly used for news, some sports on the weekends and Monday Night at the Movies. Most nights, the whole family sat in the living room and read for at least part of the evening.

      • Lightly Seasoned says:

        How is any of your story relevant to the lives of these kids? News flash: it ain’t about you, sister.

  4. Here’s a problem–aren’t poor families supposed to be highly mobile? It might be very hard for the targeted children to hold on to their books for any length of time, given repeated moves.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Most libraries I’ve seen sell used books. The smaller libraries do it from time to time. The larger libraries have a separate room open most of the hours the main facility is open.
    Paperbacks are usually a quarter, hardbacks up to a buck.
    If you want to provide books to the poor kids, you can have a bake sale and, if your marketing is good, come up with enough money to purchase several hundred books. Then you can pass them out, avoiding the overhead expense inevitable in government ops.
    Or the parents themselves could buy half a dozen books for the cost of a Big Gulp and package of jerky if borrowing a book isn’t sufficiently wonderful to increase reading skill and interest.
    As usual in such “experiments”, it’s chicken-egg and correlation vs. causation.

  6. It’s good to see books making their way into children’s homes and children’s scholastic achievement increasing. However, let’s not overlook what Mr. Minkle (the teacher) reported, “through class discussions and our class blog, the students talked about everything from how they organized their libraries to their favorite reading buddy at home.”

    Talking about their books in class, on the class blog, setting up designated book/library areas, and having a “reading buddy” are all very important social-emotional factors that inspired the children’s motivations to read (and learn).

    Children who come from home environments that don’t value reading do not generally respond well to merely academic presentations of reading. When, however, reading is presented as a social activity, children will be much more motivated to read.

    In essence, there is a direct correlation between and relationships and print motivation and print awareness — books are a tool, not an answer.

    I see it everyday in my line of work.