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An introduction to school librarianship
An introduction to school librarianship

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2 Reading role models

Some students need persuading to pick up a book and read. So far in Sessions 4 and 5, you have considered some of the strategies you can employ to encourage reading and literacy in your school. In this section, you will focus on one strategy in particular, namely, the enlistment of role models to your cause. Positive role models have the power to influence, motivate and inspire and as such, they can help elevate the status of reading. This makes them valuable assets in your mission to create a reading-rich culture in your school.

The use of role models is especially important for boys, particularly those from single-parent households. Not only are single-parent households more likely to face economic hardship (IFS, 2022, pp. 41–3), but according to recent data, 88% are headed by a woman (ONS, 2021). This is significant, as for many boys reading is seen as a feminine activity (Cho, 2020). Even for boys with fathers in the household, research has shown that those whose fathers don’t read to them are significantly less likely to read for pleasure than those whose fathers read to them for 30 minutes a day (Mullan, 2010). However, where fathers do indeed read, the positive impact on the child actually increases as the child gets older (Toivonen, 2018). Such is the transformative potential of male role-models that in 2012, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy recommended that weekly support from a male reading role-model should be essential for all school boys (National Literacy Trust, 2012). An acknowledgement of socio-economic status is, therefore, crucial to understanding and addressing the inequalities of male reading.

Celebrity role models can be particularly useful to librarians as their reading habits can be something students look up to and try to emulate. Some celebrities such as Zoella [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and Reese Witherspoon even have their own book clubs, which can be a useful tool for encouraging students to read. This trend of sharing what you read is also popular amongst YouTubers and social media influencers on Instagram, many of whom may already be familiar to students in your school. Footballers can also make useful reading champions. Marcus Rashford’s Book Club is worthy of special note for teenagers; and for younger students there are plenty of football-related reading resources on the Premier League Primary Stars website.

Equally, including books in your collection that have been written by celebrities can draw students in, whilst posters displaying their favourite books can be used as both a talking point and a source of inspiration. Even a quick search on the internet can provide you with endless quotes and inspiration from famous people, which you can use to create bookmarks and posters to engage reluctant readers. Collectively, these have the potential to make a huge contribution to raising literacy.

You needn’t stop at celebrities though; you can readily find reading champions within the walls of your own school. By identifying who's highly regarded in your school's community and associating them with reading, you can exploit their appeal to promote your library and its resources. Teachers who are held in high esteem, for example, can infect others with their love of books, offering book recommendations, writing book reviews and inspiring students to broaden their reading. It is especially useful to use male role models who have enormous potential to engage boys who are reluctant to read. Whether they're featured reading a book in your poster campaigns or invited to read book excerpts in your library during breaks, popular teachers are a valuable commodity you should routinely take advantage of.

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As well as celebrities and teachers, peers can also be excellent reading role models, as Nick suggested in Video 2. Sports captains and students with special educational needs, for example, can help to build a whole community ethos around reading and using the library. Do you have any role models in your school?

Activity 3

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Provide two examples of potential reading role models you can use in your school. Why have you chosen them?

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There are no right or wrong answers to this task, but below are two examples of role models you may have chosen.

  • Colleagues’ partners who do jobs all students can relate to. Getting a fireman, police officer, nurse or farmer, for example, to discuss their reading habits and its importance to their jobs, provides students with real life context for reading beyond school.
  • A local celebrity, for example a politician, successful business person, or athlete. Visits by celebrities, no matter how minor, will always cause a stir so getting them to endorse reading can change attitudes and give books wider appeal.

In the next section, you will discuss the importance of promoting non-fiction resources, as well as look at how working collaboratively with colleagues can ensure that your collection management is relevant, supports the curriculum and helps satisfy students’ intellectual curiosity.