My Simplest Way to Celebrate Read Across America Day
On Read Across America Day, move the focus from Dr. Seuss Week to its intended purpose – encouraging students to celebrate reading.
Rather than focusing on one author, it’s the perfect time to create a reading day for exploring diverse texts from multiple writers.
Here’s how I celebrated Read Across America in my upper elementary classroom in the simplest, but most effective way.
HISTORY OF READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY
In most classrooms across the country, Read Across America Day is a time to celebrate Dr. Seuss. His books are read aloud by special invited guests, students wear red and white top hats while completing truffula tree crafts, and schools host building-wide door decoration challenges featuring their favorite Seuss characters.
And years ago, this is exactly what you would have seen happening in my classroom.
But a time came when I realized this type of “celebration” not only negates the purpose of the day, but also places too much value on one author, one man.
Recently, some have raised questions as to whether we should celebrate the man at all. Many feel his books encourage racial stereotypes in both his illustrations and the way characters of color are represented in his texts.
Regardless of how I feel about Seuss’ books, this at the very least give me pause to consider the effects of celebrating any one person (or type of person) while so many other are excluded.
Rather than celebrating one author and his work, let’s return Read Across America to a day of celebrating reading.
After all, that is its intent. From the NEA's website:
"Let's create a day to celebrate reading," the group decided. "We hold pep rallies to get kids excited about football. We assemble to remember that Character Counts. Why don't we do something to get kids excited about reading? We'll call it 'NEA's Read Across America' and we'll celebrate it on Dr. Seuss's birthday." And so was born on March 2, 1998, the largest celebration of reading this country has ever seen.
MY SIMPLEST WAY TO CELEBRATE Read Across America DAY
Last year, I celebrated Read Across America in the simplest way possible.
And then we celebrated our reading.
And it was glorious.
To be honest, I wasn’t so sure about this plan at first. It completely broke from the traditional Read Across America activities and at first glance didn’t fit the typical definition of a “celebration.”
However, I wanted to honor the importance of reading by not filling our time with extra activities and just provide students with the opportunity to relax and enjoy great books. If the intended purpose is to celebrate reading and perhaps encourage a love of reading while you’re at it, then what could be better than just reading and honoring what you’ve accomplished?
Nothing I could think of. So that’s what we did.
1. I checked out bags and bags of books from our school's library and set them out in various spots around my room. Every title had at least four copies so more than one student could read each text at a time. Books were a mix of new texts with well-loved titles from our studies that year. (*More on this below.)
2. Next, I made a hundred copies of our in-class reading log so that we were well prepared to record all of that glorious reading!
IMPORTANT NOTE: The intention of the logs was not to keep the kids accountable or give them something to do. Rather, I wanted them to see just how much they could read when devoting a decent amount of time to it.
At the time, several of my students were struggling with book abandonment, had low to no interest in reading and made all kinds of excuses for not reading outside of class. That day's celebration was meant to make students feel successful for completing not one, not two, but several texts - and having a record of completion to show for it.
3. When students arrived, I explained our purpose for the day and gave a quick overview of the titles available to read. Students began by choosing a partner and then going together to select their first book. (Spreading books around the room in multiple areas helped control congestion.)
How they read each book was up to them – paragraph by paragraph or page by page, etc. When finished, each student would record the book on his own reading log and then return the book to the counter.
Then it was off to find a new partner and a new book!
Without rushing or turning it into a competition, I encouraged students to read as many books and with as many of their peers as possible. I wanted to participate in the reading too, so I made myself available as a partner at our front table.
At the end of the period, students received a celebration sheet. They completed it independently by:
recording the number of books they read
graphing the different types of genres represented
reflecting on their experience as a whole
writing about their favorite book of the day
Once completed, we came together as a class to celebrate our achievements. We applauded the total number of books read and students shared their biggest takeaways from the experience – some couldn’t believe how many books they were able to read in one sitting while others were surprised by a new author or genre.
To close our day, I encouraged each student to complete an “I Recommend” form for the book they enjoyed reading most in hopes of encouraging others to read it as well.
It was by far one of the best low-prep days I had in quite some time. Students were engaged and left feeling proud of their accomplishments. I left feeling proud of how we strengthened our community in discovering new partners, discussing common interests, and bonding over the love of a new (or old) book.
RESOURCES FOR DIVERSE BOOKS
As always, the books you choose should be reflective of your students’ abilities and interests. I chose multiple levels of short picture books to ensure that my students were able to read them independently and complete as many as possible in a relatively short time period.
I also made a conscious choice to include diverse texts. Many of the books were those we used in various units throughout the year, including new titles we discovered during our recent Black History Month celebration.
If you’re in need of diverse books, here are four great resources to get you started:
Here are a few extra resources to make your day complete:
1. The NEA site is full of links to help plan your event and participate in the Year of Reading.
2. Celebrate all year long with this reading calendar from Reading is Fundamental and the NEA. Each month, a different text is featured along with lesson plans, activities, and more.
4. Find all types of book lists on this Pinterest board.
5. The four resources shown in the post (Reading Record, Genre Overview Chart, Genre Graph, and Reading Celebration Sheet) are all available for free in The Treasury.