What Are Reading Advocates and How Do They Encourage Readers?

Topics: Community Partnerships, Early Childhood

“Nobody reads to me anymore,” said a first grader at Pleasant Ridge Montessori School in Cincinnati, Ohio. “I read to them!”

This unbridled declaration was emphatically blurted out by a first grader during a focus group discussion with students at Pleasant Ridge Montessori. The confidence evoked by the student in this statement is what early literacy champions strive to inspire in all students. But what does it take to help our children believe in their ability to read and enjoy reading, and what can we do to help them along the way?

As part of our efforts to help improve student outcomes, StrivePartnership has embarked on an exploration to tell the fuller story of how our kids are doing along the life path, and whether the ecosystem that surrounds them is effectively supporting them to thrive. When we look at early literacy, we’re trying to identify the factors that have positive impact well before the proficiency test results and graduation rates are released, so that more intentional programs and interventions can be designed to help students succeed.

We pursued the concept of a “reading advocate” and the role such a person plays in a child’s early literacy development, by asking the following questions:

  • Are kids being supported at home and their community when they’re reading?
  • What does a reading advocate look like?
  • When can you say that a child has a reading advocate in their life?

To field test the concept and the corresponding indicators that we’ve developed, a case study consisting of a series of interviews and focus group discussions was conducted at Pleasant Ridge Montessori, among students, parents and school proponents. In these conversations, we helped define the role of a reading advocate to better understand the importance of reading advocacy:

What is a reading advocate?

  • A reading advocate values literacy. They encourage children to read and model a love of reading. They know the importance of reading in the future development and success of children.
  • A reading advocate provides a literacy-rich environment. They provide children with environments wherein reading and writing materials are readily available.
  • A reading advocate reads with children. They read aloud to children, listen to children read aloud and discuss reading materials to children in thoughtful ways.
  • A reading advocate pursues opportunities for verbal interaction. They take every opportunity to engage children in substantive conversation; the quantity and content of conversations influence language and vocabulary development, both building blocks for later reading success

Our initial research into reading advocacy has given us valuable insights into what a community-based approach to early literacy can look like. And the feedback so far from students had been jumping-up-and-down-excited, and a slightly calmer but equally enthusiastic reaction from adults. As one of the school proponents said about how reading advocates could influence students, “Ultimately, the kids want to be assured that someone’s got their back.”

Work on reading advocacy has been pursued in close collaboration with Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado, former senior research fellow with StrivePartnership, Angie Okuda, senior manager for capability building with StrivePartnership, and Angela Robertshaw, the YMCA resource coordinator with Pleasant Ridge Montessori School.