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The following paper examines the value of a print-rich reading climate and the positive effect of attractive physical characteristics.

We have all heard the cliché, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Many times, I have heard teachers refer to this adage to describe their frustrations as they struggle to motivate their students to spend more time reading and to assist them in the development of a reading habit. These comments are from teachers who are well acquainted with the reading research that supports that children get better at reading by reading.
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Perhaps we can't "make" the horse drink, but we can do things, such as enhancing the reading environment, to increase the likelihood that students will develop a thirst for books and spend more time reading.
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   One way to enhance the reading environment is by turning to the gutters — rain gutters, that is.
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   rain gutter without booksFor years, Jim Trelease, international consultant and author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (2001), has advocated that books need to be advertised in classrooms and libraries in the same fashion that cookies and cereal boxes are displayed in the grocery stores — with the cover facing out.
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   Publishers pay for a book to be advertised in book stores with the cover facing out, because they know that the cover sells the product.

grocery image 1grocery image 2   The publisher provides the book seller with what is called a display allowance. This is money paid to a retailer so that each store in the chain will prominently feature a specific title for a particular period of time. This practice began in the supermarkets as a means of getting them to display a product at the end of an isle or on the middle of the shelf at eye level to attract the buyer's attention. According to a corporate manager for a prominent supermarket chain, this practice has been in existence for many years and is very important to the merchandiser. His concluding comment during an interview — "It has great impact!"
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   This custom has taken over the online book selling world as well. If you see a book featured on the Internet, it is due to display allowances. The display allowance practice has become widespread to the point where now, if you see a title's cover in a chain store, you can be sure the publisher paid extra for it.
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   Trelease (2001) recently presented the idea of using rain gutters, as a cost effective approach to displaying books in the classroom, at a full day workshop for teachers in Phoenix, Arizona. Like many other participants, I was motivated to return to my building to start installing rain gutters. Before presenting the idea to teachers, I chose to model the idea first, starting with my own office.
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   Most teachers were eager to participate, while a few were a bit skeptical and hesitant to give up valuable wall space. David Johnson, fourth grade teacher, expressed it this way: "When I was first approached with the rain gutter idea, I thought it was the dumbest idea I'd heard yet in education. And I was wrong! First, it entirely changed the atmosphere of my classroom. The covers added a warmth and excitement that wasn't there with a wall covered with teacher-made material or posters. The school year then started and the books 'flew' off the shelves. I've been teaching a long time and my students have never read so much. Was I ever wrong about the gutters!"
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   This study provides testimony from teachers, principals, students, librarians and parents who have become part of the Rain Gutter Literacy Revolution and can attest that the practice of displaying books in gutters encourages reading and assists in the development of good reading habits.
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art 1art2art3art#4   There is a very large body of research that documents the relationship between a book cover and book selection. Carter (1988) and Kragler and Nolley (1996) reported that illustrations on the cover or in the book were two of the top factors in book selections. Additionally, Vandergift (1980) stated that the cover of a book attracts people's attention. 'Most children (and adults) are more likely to select an attractive looking book than one that is dull in appearance and gives no clue to its contents." Through such observations, one might ask why we don't see the majority of books in libraries and classrooms with the covers facing outward.
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   Gerlach and Rinehart (1992) stated, "while it is important that teachers start with children's interests in promoting independent reading, teachers should go one step further and find ways to help their students determine whether a book is worth reading by examining cover clues." Children have greater opportunities to use cover clues when they reside in print-rich environments with books displayed in rain gutters.
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   McQuillan, (1998) noted that "the amount of free voluntary reading that students engage in is closely related to students having ready availability of books in their environments. Students who have easy access to books tend to read more."
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   Morrow (1982) reported that good kindergarten teachers know just what the book sellers and grocers have discovered while advertising their products: When library corners have 'attracting features,' posters, bulletin boards, and displays related to children's literature, children show more interest in books."
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   According to Coody (1997) and Huck (1976), "the effort that goes into making the classroom library an inviting spot will pay rich dividends in reading achievement and interest." This study will attempt to provide further support to this powerful statement with testimony form several educators who have discovered the same relationship between an enriched classroom library and student achievement and interest.
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   For many years, Jim Trelease, before mentioned, has traveled all over the world promoting the relationship between the print climate and reading achievement. He best describes this irrefutable relationship in the following manner: "There is a strange phenomenon that whenever students' scores drop, it is echoed by an outcry for school and teacher reform and higher standards. Yet there is no similar outburst when the scores are posted for the Winter Olympics and the African, Middle-Eastern, and South American teams finish out of the money — every time! Yet no one bats an eye in those countries. Of course, we all understand the Olympic situation: Countries like Norway, Canada, Austria, Russia, and the U.S. dominate the Winter games because their youngsters grow up with continual access to the 'climate' of winter sports — ice and snow. Conversely, athletes residing where they never or seldom have ice or snow will seldom have the skating or skiing skills to win. How much of a chance do you think the Israeli luge team has against Sweden's?"
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   "Simply put, it's the 'climate."'
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   Data collected for this study comes from five sources:

Surveys were administered to teachers, librarians and principals at five elementary schools within the Mesa Public School District where books are currently displayed using rain gutters. Informal interviews with eight intermediate level students were conducted where the students were asked to describe the influence of rain gutter book displays in their classrooms. Parents of elementary school age children were also informally interviewed to describe the effect of placing rain gutter book displays in the bedrooms of their youngsters. Nineteen teachers, five principals, four librarians, eight intermediate level students and three parents represent the subjects for this study.

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Mike Oliver is presently principal of James Zaharis Elementary in Mesa, AZ, where he continues to work the magic of reading under ideal circumstances, a building he insisted have a built-in atmosphere conducive to reading. Click Zaharis for a photo tour of the school Mike can be reached at maoliver@mpsaz.org.

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