Use Reading Surveys to Celebrate Readers and Kickstart More Reading | Donalyn Miller

Ask your students about book preferences, access, and more to create personal goals, plan spring lessons, and motivate for summer reading.

The beginning of a new calendar year often marks the midway point for traditional school calendars. This fresh start offers teachers and librarians an opportunity to check in with students about their reading experiences so far, and make reading plans. Students build rituals and routines for independent reading in the fall, and readers should gain more independence now. Summer is coming soon enough, and kids need strong reading habits to keep reading when school ends.

Students can reflect on their reading lives, celebrate growth, plan future reading, and set reading goals for the second half of the school year. Last month, I shared some considerations when designing authentic reading response activities. Reading surveys and other student response activities like written reflections and reading conferences provide discussion topics and inform whole class instruction and readers’ advisory. What would you like to know about your students’ reading experiences and identities at this point of the year? What questions can guide students’ self-reflection and planning efforts?

Administering Surveys

Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Kahoot, and other survey-building and data collection tools offer user-friendly and low-cost (or free) options for gathering students’ responses. Consider students’ age and access to devices and Internet service when selecting tools. Students should take the survey during the school day, so you can support and guide them as they consider and compose their responses. You can set the pace for completing the survey during language arts class or library time and prevent some kids from wallowing on specific questions or feeling overwhelmed. Work with students to develop manageable, personal reading goals matching their interests and needs.

An in-depth reading survey includes both a summary of reading experiences during the fall and a concrete plan for spring reading. Consider administering the survey in two sessions to give students some space for celebrating their reading accomplishments and growth before jumping into self-improvement plans. Never pass up an opportunity to communicate encouragement and praise. Keep it light and celebratory. We are learning about ourselves as readers!

When designing survey questions, study several models of reading surveys (hundreds can be found free online) and create one based on the needs and attitudes of your school community. No scripted survey template can capture the unique culture of your school. Be mindful of questions that probe students’ home lives or make assumptions about students’ access to resources, attitudes about reading, or lived experiences. Structure questions to focus on individual progress, not competition or grades, so that all readers feel respected and included. Consider if you need data for each student or if trends across student groups will suffice. Explain to students how the survey helps them grow as readers and helps you select materials and design programs and lessons for them. Be transparent about how you will use survey responses and who will see them. Students often worry that their answers reveal deficits in their reading ability or motivation. Model answering a few questions yourself.

Here are few sample questions focusing on joyful, independent reading:

Time: How much time do you spend reading in an average week?

Access: Where do you find books to read?

Choice: How do you select books? What is your favorite genre? Why? What genre is your least favorite? Why? (You can add more “favorites” questions, including authors, illustrators, series, and so on.)

Community: List two books, authors, or series you might recommend to classmates, friends, or family members. What makes them so good?

Identity: What is your greatest strength as a reader? What is your most important reading goal?

Remember that students need personal reading goals for independent reading, not just academic goals showing knowledge and skills acquisition. When readers develop internal motivation to read, they are more likely to remain readers.

Identifying Trends

You can learn a lot about your school or classroom’s reading culture by identifying and responding to larger trends in students’ survey responses. What do you notice? What confirms your understanding and what surprises you? Which topics, books, authors, genres, and formats seem popular with many readers? Where’s the appeal? Savvy teachers and librarians track popular culture trends and leverage them to engage students. More students would enjoy reading if the books and topics that interested them were accepted and respected by adults, too. How might this heightened interest spark lesson ideas, library displays, or resource purchases? What programming and curriculum needs emerge? How can enthusiasm for popular books forge relationships between readers across a classroom, grade level, or school community?

Advising Readers

While looking at commonalities across many students’ reflections and survey responses provides insight into popular interests and needs for a school population, readers need personalized support based on their unique reading preferences and experiences. Examine individual survey responses and other information such as circulation records and reader’s notebook entries. Is this student finding books they enjoy? What preferences do you notice? What books and reading experiences disinterest them? Why? Identify potential reading goals by valuing their tastes while challenging them to read more widely.

Frequent opportunities for students to reflect on their reading and determine reading plans build agency and independence. When we seek students’ opinions about their reading experiences, we communicate that we value their input and respect their reading lives, too. Consider other opportunities to solicit feedback from your school community. Surveying caregivers and parents about home book access or literacy events often reveals additional interests and needs you might not have considered.

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Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) is an award-winning teacher, author, and staff development leader.

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