hed #2 hed #1The Rain Gutter
Literacy Revolution


By Mike Oliver with Julie Christensen

        Barbara Bush Elementary, Mesa, Arizona

PAGE TWO

"W"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.
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 Following are comments from individual subjects describing the effect of rain gutter book displays in various print environments.
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 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."
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   "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."
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   "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

   Molly Thede, grade 4 teacher, reports that her students use her classroom library as a primary source for book access since installing rain gutters: "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 library books."
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   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 way:
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   "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!"
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   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!"


"A" grade 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!"
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   Janet 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!
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   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!"
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   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."
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   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."
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   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."
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   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."
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   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."
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   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."
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   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.
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   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."
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"S"urprisingly, 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 bedrooms.
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  The following letter was received from a parent who understands the relationship between the reading climate and success in reading:

Dear Mr. Oliver,

l 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.
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   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.
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   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.
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   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."
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   Sincerely,


   This parent, as described in the following letter, has formed a possible relationship between the reading environment in her home and vocabulary development:spacer

Dear Mike,

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!
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   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.
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   Sincerely,


Summary

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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 achievement.
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   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."
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   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 learn — 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."
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   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.

  1. 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.
     
    References


    1. Coody, B. Using literature with young children. Dubuque, Iowa: Brown, 1973.
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    2. Gerlach, J. M., & Rinehart, S. D. (1992). "Can you tell a book by it's cover?" Reading Horizons, 32, (4), 289 - 298.
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    3. Gerlach, J. M., Rinehart, S. D., Welker, w. A., & Wisell, D. L., (1998). "Would I like to read this book?: Eighth graders' use of book cover clues to help choose recreational reading." Reading Research and Instruction, 37, (4), 263 — 279.
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    4. Harmes, J.,Lettow, L. (1986). "Fostering ownership of the reading experience." The Reading Teacher, 40, 324 — 333.
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    5. Huck, C. S. Children's Literature in Elementary School (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 1976.
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    6. Jenkins, M. (1959). Self-selection in reading. In J. Veatch (Ed.), Individualizing your Reading Program (pp. 181 — 191). New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
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    7. Kragler, S., & Nolley, C. (1996). "Student choices: Book selection strategies of fourth graders." Reading Horizons, 36, 354 — 365.
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    8. McQuillan, J. (1998). The literacy crisis, false claims, real solutions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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    9. McQuillan, J. (1998). If you build it they will come. A book flood program for struggling readers in an urban high school, 4.
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    10. Morrow, L. M., & Weinstein, C. M. (1982)." Increasing children's use of literature through program and physical design changes." The Elementary School Journal, 83 (2), 131 — 137.
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    11. Routman, Regie. (1996). Literacy at the crossroads, crucial talk about reading, writing and other teaching dilemmas. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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    l2. Sutton, R., (1986)." Judging a book by its cover". School Library Journal, 55.
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    13. Swartz, M. K.. & Hendricks. C. G. (2000). "Factors that influence the book selection process of students with special needs." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43: 7, 608 — 618.
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    14. Trelease, Jim (2001). The Read-Aloud Handbook (5th edition). New York: Penguin.
     
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