Building a Culture of Literacy

Building a Culture of Literacy  

March 29, 2017

One of my most rewarding moments in my teaching career came last summer at a wedding. My children and their friends, whom I taught, are at that age where there are many weddings during the summer months. At the reception of one of these joyous events I had the opportunity to join a group of young people gathered together around the punch bowl. To my surprise, they were talking about reading class in 6th grade and reminiscing about the Iditarod Unit and the unit on the Middle Ages. At that time, we engaged students in multi-disciplinary units, and it wasn’t until this wedding years later that I realized how much it meant to these young adults. They talked about the books we read in small groups and about the read-alouds. The conversation was enjoyable and life-affirming for me as their “old” teacher. 

Fast forward to today. I was reading an article in Educational Leadership from February 2017, written by a principal, Barry Gilmore, titled “10 Ways to Promote a Culture of Literacy”. This article discusses a philosophy of learning that will help to instill a culture of valuing reading, writing, and discussing as roads to learning. By sharing what I learned and the beliefs about literacy that were affirmed in my mind by reading this article, I hope to encourage school leaders to build a culture of literacy.

1. Publicly celebrate reading. This doesn’t have to mean the pizza party for the class reaching their reading goals. This can simply be providing opportunities for sharing and discussing books that have been read; i.e., posting teachers’ favorite reads, student favorites, book talks before, during, or after school. These are smaller celebrations but may be more valuable.
2. Create classroom libraries. This means the science room, the PE teacher’s office, and even the math teacher could have a classroom library. I thought since I loved to read I couldn’t be good at math. One of the myths that we have, hopefully, busted.
3. Share word walls. Let the students understand that learning the prefix meta- can assist them in learning many words in different content areas.
4. Make time for collaboration and get students talking. This is a combination of two of Gilmore’s suggestions. This is time for teachers to collaborate so they can plan opportunities for students to discuss their learning. Think about what adults do when they finish a great book; they want to talk about it! 
5. Read and write across the content areas, value disciplinary literacy, and provide authentic writing experiences. This is another combination of three ideas that go hand-in-hand. Let’s help each other out by connecting the subjects together and planning units collaboratively so that students see the value of literacy in life, not just in English. Writing for a real audience can go a long way in making a writing experience meaningful.
6. Invite browsing and promote reflection. These two steps toward a culture of literacy can help students take their reading and writing further. Share book displays in creative ways and in venues not normally associated with literacy (a basketball game). When students reflect on their own literacy practices they may set goals that get them on a life-time trajectory of reading for learning. 

There are many ways we can create a culture of literacy; however, let us strive to make this culture school-wide in order to develop a school community that values learning and collaboration.

-by Susan Evans, Teaching & Learning Coordinator


Gilmore, B. (2017, February). 10 Ways to Promote a Culture of Literacy. Educational Leadership, 74(5), 72-76.