ith 19 teachers surveyed, 19 (100%) reported that their students
experienced an increased interest and excitement for reading
because of the more visible presentation of the books in
rain gutters. It was also reported by 16 of the 19 teachers
surveyed (84%) that the books displayed in rain gutters were
more frequently checked out than the books displayed in more
traditional settings (shelves, book carts, etc.). The 3 who
did not report a more frequent usage stated that all classroom
library books were displayed in gutters so there was nothing
to compare against.
are comments from individual subjects describing the effect
of rain gutter book displays in various print environments.
Scott Ritter, grade 2 teacher, describes
the effects of books displayed with the cover facing outward
in the following manner: "In the seven years that I have
been teaching, I have amassed a classroom library of well
over 1,000 books. The sheer number of books in my library
posed quite a problem. Books were stored on shelves in such
a way that students were not able to tell anything about
the book from looking at the spine. Books would often remain
at the bottom of the pile and not be read for quite a while.
Other times, I would be looking for a specific book to read,
or a student would be looking for a particular book, and
they would be unable to find it."
"That all changed when rain gutters were
installed to display our classroom books. Previously, I would
only be able to make one half of my classroom library available
to students since there was not enough room. Now all of my
books are displayed in rain gutters."
"Students now have more choice when selecting
books: all the books are out and students can now see the
covers and make better choices. Compared to last year with no rain
gutters, students this year have shown much more interest
when selecting books. Many times, they are attracted to an unfamiliar
book by looking at the cover. They pick up books with covers
that interest them, flip through it, and then make their
decision. Since students are making better decisions when selecting books,
when they have independent reading time, they are more likely
to be on task reading."
This year, for the first
time, my students have requested a second daily 'Drop Everything
and Read' time!
— Gr. 3 teacher
Thede, grade 4 teacher, reports that her students use her classroom
library as a primary source for book access since installing rain
"This is the first year I have had rain gutters in my classroom.
I have always emphasized the joy of reading as part of my instructional
day. Before the rain gutters, the children read more books from home
or from the school library, whereas now they are more likely to read
a book from my classroom library. This can be attributed in part
to the rain gutters and the more visually appealing display of classroom
Abbie Simpson, grade 2 teacher, noted that her
students place a greater value on their free voluntary reading time
since installing rain gutters in her classroom. She said it this
"When entering my room for the very first time,
children and adults gravitate toward my reading corner where my classroom
library is displayed in rain gutters. Children and their parents
curl up on pillows and begin reading books together during 'Meet
the Teacher' gatherings. I have never experienced that when books
were placed on shelves with only the spine showing. The inviting
pictures on the front covers of books definitely entice readers.
I know for a fact that the books displayed in the gutters are read
more frequently than those on the shelves because they are wearing
out much faster. All children in my room seem to love to read. If
anyone interrupts their free reading time, they become agitated.
You can hear a pin drop during this special time. I attribute this
to the gutters!"
Terri Caves, grade 3 teacher, also noticed an increased
interest for daily silent sustained reading. She attributes the change
to books displayed in rain gutters. "My experience with rain gutters
has proven to be worthwhile. I have found that my students are very
aware of every book that is on display. If a book is out of the reach
of a student, he or she will ask for help in obtaining it. This confirms
that all of the books are being considered. I truly believe that
the presentation of books in rain gutters has enhanced the reading
program. This year, for the first time, my students have requested
a second daily Drop Everything and Read time!"
3 teacher also reported that books displayed with the covers
out impacted student interest in daily free voluntary reading: "I
didn't see much student interest in books when they were
accessible only on a cart and on shelves. Now that my books
are displayed in rain gutters, I see a whole different
attitude and excitement about books. They can see what
they're choosing. Before gutters, they didn't 'love' free
reading time. Now they complain that we don't have enough
of it! My students were asked to write a letter to me describing
what they like about our class and what they would like
to change. Most said they'd like more reading time. Wow!
I never got that response before!"
Cox, grade 1 teacher, reported that children respond favorably
to a book displayed with the cover facing out versus the
more traditional display on a shelf with only the spine
being visible. Janet noted:
"The inviting book covers are very 'eye-appealing' and call out to
be read. I am truly an advocate of displaying books in rain gutters.
I can attest to the fact than when the children can see the cover
clearly, the books jump out at them to be read and shared. The spine
of the book is the least attractive part of a book. If we want children
to develop a love of reading, writing and illustrating, what better
way to develop their talents than by sharing the talents of others.
The illustrations invite the reader inside. Yahoo for rain gutters!
Keegan, a grade 4 student, is an avid reader who
appears in my office daily before and after school or during recess
periods to check out books from my personal collection on display
in rain gutters. Her comments support what Janet previously recognized
with her primary youngsters. When asked why she so frequently visits
my office as opposed to the library, she responded: "You can only
see the spine of books in the library. In your office, you can see
the books better and you're able to tell if you will like the book
or not. You also don't have to turn your head to read the titles
as you walk down the aisles. Your books say, "Grab me! Take me home
and read me! Hey, pick me!"
Andie, a classmate of Keegan's in grade 4, said
it this way: "I like the classroom library display better (books
displayed in gutters) because you don't have to go to a computer
to look up the book."
Before installing the rain
gutters, the kids would pull just any book off the shelf ...
— 5th-grade teacher
Shannon, another frequent
visitor to my office for books, noted, "You can see the books better
in your office. The books are right in front of your face! I look
at the cover to see which books look good. I look at the cover
and then read the title."
A grade 6 teacher said this about the value of
displaying books with the cover facing out: "Even though 'you can't
judge a book by its cover,' kids do. Visually, books displayed in
rain gutters are easier to focus on and can plainly see as opposed
to twisting your neck sideways to read the spine."
Connie Walters, grade 1 teacher, added: "I think
readers of any age show a stronger interest finding and reading books
when he or she has a cover facing them."
Jen Grayard, grade 5 teacher, related the following:
"The ability to see the cover of a book really sparks a child's interest.
Before installing the rain gutters, the kids would pull just any
book off the shelf because they weren't very interested in their
selection during free reading time. Now with the books in gutters,
students look at a book cover to see if the book appeals to them,
then read the back cover to see what the book is all about. The cover
actually encourages them to grab the book and look it over carefully."
Gloria Adams, grade 5 teacher, reports the occurrence
of atypical behavior in her classroom since installing rain gutters:
"This is the first year that I have displayed my books in rain gutters.
Some surprising things have happened. Students have come to me and
have asked to organize the books by Newbery Award winners. Then they
wanted to organize them by author. The students seem to be drawn
toward the rain gutter display."
Comments from the elementary school principals
surveyed support that rain gutter book displays had a positive influence
on the school-wide reading climate at their schools. One principal
noted that "the effect of installing gutters throughout the school
was unifying and motivating for a school reading focus." Another
principal reported that "the display of books in rain gutters provide
more opportunity for choice and promotes greater interest in reading."
Of the 4 librarians surveyed, 2 reported that the
rain gutter displays in the library experienced an increase in circulation
when compared to those housed on shelves. These same two librarians
also reported that student interest in reading has increased since
installing rain gutters.
One of the librarians reporting an adverse effect
on circulation noted: "Our students are trained to search on computers
and then locate their books. When you have too many displays it complicates
the search process for students. Sometimes when books are displayed,
they are not easy to find, students get frustrated and don't check
out books. Libraries need to have books that are easily accessible.
I have seen a drop in circulation in certain grades because of very
large classroom libraries, students reporting to the principal to
check out books and the school library doesn't have the circulation
that they want. More funds need to go towards books in the library
instead of the classroom."
parents have noticed the effect of rain gutter book displays
on the reading climate at school and have embraced the
concept with gutter displays of their own in their youngster's
The following letter was received from a parent who understands
the relationship between the reading climate and success in reading:
am writing this letter to let you know that we have implemented
your idea to use rain gutters to hold our children 's books
and that it has been a tremendous success.
Our children ~ literature library at home
consists of over 150 books. In the past, we have had great
difficulty storing this many books in an effective manner.
There were a number of times, when our boys would want to
hear a specific book, but due to the number of books we had,
and the manner in which they were stored, we would be unable
to find the book requested. We also discovered that our children
were becoming bored during reading time because they were
reading the same books each time. Although they had many
books, they were not able to select new and interesting books because
all their books were crammed into our bookcase.
After hearing of your idea to use rain gutters
to store children 's books, we decided to give it a try.
The effects were overwhelming and immediate. Our boys were
very excited to find books that they used to love but had not
seen in many months. Since the books are stored with the
covers facing out, our boys are able to make quality selections.
Cleaning up books after reading time is easier too.
Overall, the rain gutter idea was an overwhelming
success. Other parents have commented on the rain gutters
and have said that they plan to do the same thing in their
home. This may be the beginning of something very special. It already
is in our home."
This parent, as described in
the following letter, has formed a possible relationship between the
reading environment in her home and vocabulary development:
l am writing
this letter to thank you for a wonderful idea you gave
me. After a recent visit to your office, I couldn't
help but notice the books that were displayed from
floor to ceiling. The books were displayed with the
covers facing forward and it visually made a tremendous
impact on me. When I inquired about it you went on
to tell me it was a simple rain gutter that you had
mounted on the wall. You gave me the grocery store
analogy about how cereal boxes and other products are
displayed in the same manner on the shelves in supermarkets,
with the boxes facing forward, inviting your attention.
How do we as adults expect young children to be drawn
toward a book when all they see is the spine? That
made so much sense to me!
Well, I have installed the inexpensive
rain gutter "shelving" in my daughter's room and it has
made a tremendous difference in her reading! Her books
were in a cute little bucket and she would want to read
her books about every other day and usually just one
or two. Since I put up the gutters and have all her books
facing outward, we read about 4-5 books every day! It's
amazing. Within the last week it seems as though her
vocabulary development and memory has expanded threefold.
She remembers a song I sing once and she then sings it
back to me. I don't know if all of this is because of
the increase in reading or not, but I wished I would
have put the books out earlier. Thank you for passing
along this great idea. I have already started telling
all the other parents I know.
Students get better at reading
by reading. They read more when they reside in environments where
they have greater access to reading materials. Students show a greater
interest in reading when books are displayed in an inviting fashion
with the covers exposed. The cover of a book has a significant effect
on a child's motivation to pick up the book and read it. Although
this formula is quite simple and it doesn't require an enormous investment
of a costly software program to operate, the effects are powerful
and proven by research to have a significant influence on reading
McQuillan (1998) emphasizes the importance
of the print climate while revering the critical role that the
teacher plays in the reading process: "I do not wish to argue that
simply providing books is all that is needed for schools to succeed,
what some have referred to as the 'garden of literacy' approach.
Teaching is much more than physical resources, and no progress
can be made without qualified and sensitive teachers. But just
as we would not ask a doctor to heal without medicine, so we should
not ask teachers and schools to teach without the materials to
do so. Reading material is basic to all education, and providing
a rich supply of reading material to children of all ages, as well
as a place and time to read, is the first step to bridging the
gap between poor and good readers."
It is absolutely critical to move beyond the
focus of teaching a child "how to read." Teaching them how to read
is not enough, because they can "choose" not to. Regie Routman describes
what can happen in a child's life when "the basics" are put in
a literacy context of wonderful books, stories and poems
"when teachers truly believe that all kids can and must
and so they do when they read, read, read, all day
long for the joy of it and to make sense of the world; when kids
write every day on topics they're interested in and publish texts
that all their friends and family value and can't wait to read;
and when test scores of struggling readers soar for the
first time ever and lots of people take notice and realize,
'We're on to something here.' It's the best school story of all,
kids becoming readers and writers for their own purposes choosing
to read and write for pleasure and information in their free time
and all the time, in and out of school, because they want to."
For children to become successful readers, to
read for pleasure and purpose, to read to broaden their perspective
of the world in which we live, to read to make informed decisions
and come to new understandings, they must have instant access to
books. A love of reading is the greatest educational gift that
we can offer a child.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2. Gerlach, J. M., & Rinehart, S. D. (1992). "Can
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is copyright 2001 by Mike Oliver and Julie Christensen
here by permission of the authors. All rights
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