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Oh, DEAR!


If you couldn’t tell already, at Turning Pages, we love reading. And we believe in its transformative power so strongly that we’re launching a new feature to our programme starting in the 2022-23 school year: drop everything and read (DEAR) time.


It looks like this: pin drop silence. School has just begun, and everyone—from the students to the teachers to the principal—is absorbed in a book. Kids sit scattered throughout the classroom. Some are reading silently on their own, while others work through new books from the class library in pairs. After twenty minutes of silent reading, students are encouraged to share their opinions on their favorite books, helping them stay engaged.


DEAR time is a fixed time daily set exclusively for reading books for pleasure. We’re starting off our implementation in two schools, with hopes to expand even further in the future. It’s in this way that we hope to kindle a lifelong love for reading and to support long-term academic achievement.


Why do we do it?














Well, the benefits of in-class reading time are well documented. Reading helps children learn more about the world around them. It introduces them to diverse perspectives and nurtures critical thinking and collaboration.


In addition to that, spending more time on independent reading is associated with higher reading achievement on standardized tests, which makes sense because sustained reading time improves reading fluency, builds vocabulary, and improves writing skills [1,2]. Older students have also been seen to be losing the ability to concentrate on reading for long periods of time, so building a regular habit and enjoyment of reading at an early age is all the more important.


Given the benefits of building independent reading skills, it shouldn’t be a surprise that systems of structured reading time during the school day have been embraced in schools across the world. In fact, DEAR is even a national holiday in the United States, celebrated on April 12th each year in honor of Beverly Cleary, the widely loved children’s book author who was the first to introduce the concept of DEAR [3]!


Structuring Our Time Together





At Turning Pages, we’re joining in on the fun! We’ve helped our partner schools build DEAR time in their schedules. But how does it work, exactly? It’s a matter of structuring DEAR time to effectively help build up reading skills, finding interesting material, and building a sense of collaboration.


First, we want to use this time effectively. We know that reading is often only ever contextualized by studying or classwork, and if it’s not fun, people understandably lose interest, including even teachers, who we’ve seen reading less and less as well.


Thus, as we’re initially setting up new libraries in schools, we’ve asked teachers to begin DEAR time reading their books aloud and roleplaying the scenes. The reading journey begins—especially for younger children—with adults as role models, so we’re using this time to introduce reading as an exciting activity! Moreover, these read alouds, whether in English, Hindi, or Marati, will also significantly promote language development.


By the end of the first month, our partner schools will have a full record of all the books in their libraries, an established system for loaning books, and information about their reading levels, paving the way for a daily, schoolwide silent reading routine.


Second, how do we expect kids to stay engaged in the books they have? That’s where our curated selection of books comes in.


Research shows that children in classrooms without literature collections read 50% less than children in classrooms with such collections [2]. At Turning Pages, we seek to combat this by selecting a wide variety of print books that students can freely access during break times in the school day, and that they can check out and bring home to enjoy. We can also introduce other systems, like rotating sets of books, so that everyone has an opportunity to read everything that’s available, or calendar slots, to ensure that students can read the storybook that’s being discussed in class both before and after the class itself, which reinforces learning.


Moreover, we select our books very carefully. Our criteria include a “windows and mirrors” philosophy: the books must reflect the world the children live in, and they must provide windows into worlds and perspectives different from our own. Moreover, these books must support students’ socio-emotional development, and encourage them to form connections between what happens in the books and their own lives.


We’re excited to have already seen positive reception on this front from teachers, who say they hadn’t known there was so much variety in children’s literature until now!


Finally, displays in classrooms or in common areas of the school help students get to know what their peers are reading, fostering a community of passionate readers. From rating books to writing short reviews to putting up photos of students and teachers with books in hand, we want to do our very best to make school an environment where reading is not only welcome but encouraged, and for active discussion about books to be a hallmark of teaching.


Conclusion


We’re beyond excited to introduce DEAR time to our classrooms, and we can’t wait to share our progress along the way!




References and Related Reading


Here are some of the sources that informed our thoughts on this topic. We encourage you to check them out if you’re interested in learning more!


  1. “What’s Hot in Literacy: 2020 Report” from the International Literacy Association.

  2. “Facts About Kids and Reading” from Scholastic Corporation.

  3. “D.E.A.R. Day – April 12, 2023” from National Today.







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