Access to Books: A Scaffolded Program Creates Readers

Article excerpt

A summer reading program for disadvantaged, urban elementary school students provided scaffolded access to books by constructing a book-rich environment, as well as giving supportive strategy instruction for choosing and using reading materials. The program culminated in a book-buying experience in which students chose books for home libraries. Results showed that the students became more confident and willing readers. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that, when students were provided with books in their homes during a several month period after the summer program had ended, these books played an important part in their lives, and students' attitudes toward reading continued to improve.


Educational professionals are aware of the key role that the availability of books plays in reading proficiency and attitude. Access to books is critical to becoming a good reader (Brassel, 2000; Neuman & Celano, 2001; Neuman, 1999; NAEP, 1998). In fact, it is the most significant predictor of reading achievement when poverty level is controlled (McQuillan, 1998).

However, providing access to books involves more than simply having them in the environment. Classrooms and libraries nationwide are lined with unused books. For availability to be effective, students must know how to locate books, how to choose them, how to read them, and how to interact with text and illustrations.

Providing a book-rich environment for the children of poverty is particularly challenging. For these students, school and classroom libraries are often poorly funded and arranged. Public libraries are relatively inaccessible and, increasingly, open shorter hours. Bookstores are distant and expensive. Adult models of reading are often uncommon.

This article describes a scaffolded program that focused on access to books for a group of poor, urban elementary students with reading problems. The setting was an intensive summer reading program provided at a university in the city center. We tried to assure long-term results by focusing on immersing students in books. To do this, students were surrounded with literature and taught how to choose and use it. Then, they were asked to apply their knowledge by actually shopping for books. Students left the program with a small home library of self-selected books.

The results of this multi-pronged program were transformative. In fact, students' self-perceptions as readers changed so dramatically that attitudes toward reading improved during a several month period after the program had ended.

Access to Books at Entry

The twelve students we worked with were entering grades two through eight, and attended the same elementary school. When they began our program, access to books had been limited. Initial interviews revealed that there were few books or magazines in their homes. A spring tour of the students' school showed that classroom libraries provided few and often inappropriate books. The school library was similarly meagerly stocked and lacked a librarian. Getting to a public library required students to cross gang lines, and there were no local bookstores or other vendors that sold books (e.g., Walgreens, Target).

Providing Access to Books during the Summer Program

The summer Reading Clinic program lasted five weeks, four days per week, and three hours per day. Each graduate student tutor had a group of two students. Several scaffolded activities were used to achieve the aim of providing meaningful access to books.

Using the Clinic Library

The library in the clinic was the focal point of book choice. So, it was critical that it be arranged well and easy to use.

* Library Set Up: The clinic library was arranged attractively and accessibly. using buckets and propped up books to display front covers. To make it more approachable, the library was placed in the center of the room and surrounded by tutoring stations. …