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Books and a “scholary culture”

Okay. I used to do it. You probably do too.

And I’m not saying it was accurate 100% of the time but after the first few days of school, I could look across the classroom and have a pretty good idea of which kids would struggle and which would do well in my class. Call it a sixth sense, call it experience, call it reality but you sorta just knew. Some just “got it” easier than others.

I would make a mental list of those kids who seemed like they would need extra help and then work to find ways to ensure some success. And, yes, the list was created in fairly unscientific ways but there was also a little method to the madness. I asked all of my students a series of questions – some content-related, some not.

I always asked questions about what they were reading and watching. What games they played. What they were involved in. What magazines and books were in the house. Most likely, you ask similar questions of your kids.

And now it seems that perhaps there is research to support those types of questions. Maria Evans of the University of Nevada, Reno recently completed a project that involved close to 60,000 people in 27 countries that asked the question

Which of the following best predicts a child’s level of achievement at school and at work?

The traditional answer has usually been one of two things – the parents’ level of education or the occupation of the parents. Evans discovered something different.


If a home has books, kids succeed at higher rates. When a home has books, the kid is propelled

3.2 years further in education.

And it doesn’t matter whether the country is rich or poor, East or West. The presence of books equal success. More specifically, it’s not just the presence of books that’s important.

Evans and her colleagues contend the number of books at home is an excellent reflection of a family’s “scholarly culture,” which they describe as a “way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read and enjoyed.” An early immersion in such a culture “provides skills and competencies that are useful in school,” and/or engenders “a preference for and enjoyment of books and reading that makes schooling congenial, or enjoyable,” they conclude.

So what?

I think we need to keep asking questions about the home life of our kids. We need to know the sort of “culture” they come from. This information becomes useful as we create that mental list of kids that require additional help.

I think this information is also the sort ammunition we can use to support our school libraries and media specialists. We need to take advantage of these resources to encourage a “scholarly culture” in our buildings.

And we also need to model this culture in our classrooms. Do you have full bookshelves in your room? Do you mention books and web sites that you’re reading? Are there unfinished books laying on your desk? I saw one middle school that had “Books I’m Reading” placards outside every classroom listing the current selection of that particular teacher.

Books can make a difference. But it’s the culture that surrounds them which becomes the game changer.

What are you reading?

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