Surrounding Yourself with Books....

Surrounding ourselves with books we have not read has been recommended as a way to remind us of how much more we need to know or how little we actually know. Friends at Facebook have made me aware of an article in Inc. written by Jessica Stillman: Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time to Read. An overstuffed bookcase (or e-reader) says good things about your mind. Stillman's article has been shared hundreds of thousands times. Of course, there are a lot more ways that are a lot cheaper that may keep ourselves honest about how much we realy know. Still, I have a feeling that some are actually sharing the article because of their belief that having books help motivate people to read. After all, even education researchers have correlated the presence of books at home with academic achievement. Thus, it is important to ask the question of whether surrounding ourselves with books really help us learn. This thinking obviously distills the problem of education into one thing, lack of access. Not surprisingly, the answer from research is "no". Our children will not learn to read by simply providing them books or encouraging them to read. Books are necessary but not sufficient. 

This is shown by an experiment done by Susan Neuman at the New York University. The study published in the Elementary School Journal looks at whether flooding child daycare centers from low-income households with information books helps in young children's academic outcomes. Not only are hundreds of books (more than 500 for a group of 20-30 children) made available, but services of a librarian and a specialist have also been provided. The article describes the intervention:

Libraries were staffed with a 20-hour-per-week librarian. To bring more attention to the library assets, the librarian scheduled weekly book-reading sessions for each classroom at the center, using books on topics similar to the text sets. To enhance their collaboration, librarians and preschool specialists (described below) were trained on similar strategies to promote information book reading...
...The librarian would begin with songs and rhymes, then read three information-related books to the children, pointing out new words (e.g., considered essential to story understanding), asking questions, getting children to predict events, and holding a brief discussion... ...Children were then encouraged to check out a book after the reading (e.g., open choice) for the week.
At the same time, a preschool specialist was assigned to each center to provide support to teachers and paraprofessionals on informational book reading and to foster collaboration between the school librarian and teachers, modeling informational book-reading techniques. Preschool specialists had been early childhood teachers and were currently earning their master’s degrees... ...Working under the librarian’s supervision, the preschool specialist visited each classroom three times weekly to read an information book with the children...
...Last, parent workshops were held monthly, followed by an information book distribution for all children at the center. Focusing on a particular theme, the librarian would share an information book (similar to the weekly story hour with children), highlight for parents certain read-aloud strategies, and discuss the importance of reading to children and how information book reading in particular may support children’s readiness for schooling. This was followed by a hands-on activity to engage both parents and children....
The above is indeed a tremendous intervention which run for a year. And the results are:

  • There are no effects as measured by scores in the following tests: Vocabulary (word naming, word meaning, and words in new context), Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test; and Concepts of Comprehension Assessment.
  • There are no significant effects on parents' reading activity to their children

This is certainly a discouraging picture.

We often equate poor academic outcomes to lack of access. We even use the number of books in a home as a proxy for learning support at home. Perhaps, the problem is really much more complicated.


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