Rawson Community Comes Together for Book Covers

book cover
Rawson Teacher Experiments with Book Covers
Reading is the most important skill a school can teach. For some, it doesn’t come easily. For others, without intervention, they might not learn to read at all. 

Rawson Elementary School is experimenting with an idea to overcome a barrier that their developing readers are facing – being embarrassed or put down about the book they are reading.  

Children’s books are geared to reading levels and ages, but if a student – say a third grader – is moving slower than his peers, a second-grade book might be just right for growing their reading skills.

This year each Rawson student will get an elastic book cover that will stretch over most books to keep what students are reading private. All students will be encouraged to use the covers.

The effort, spearheaded by teacher Jennifer O’Brien, recognized that social pressure can be a barrier to learning.

“I remember what that was like,” O’Brien said. 
“When I was a kid I struggled with reading. You knew you were in a lower group. I made it my mission as a teacher not to do that. At the core of this project is the goal of building lifelong, joyful, and confident readers. As much as we do as educators to embed equitable practices in our classrooms, students will still look to compare where they are in relation to their peers. This project is for ALL students, regardless of need or ability.”

O’Brien is no longer a classroom teacher – she’s now an Interventionist whose job it is to help students grow as readers, despite their starting point. 

From Kindergarten to second grade, students typically learn how to read, she explained. From third grade and on, students read to learn. If a student needs support, O’Brien steps in. For each student at Rawson, the goal is to grow each year as a reader, no matter where they started from.

“Overall, reading is hard. For some people, it comes very easily and for others, it doesn’t,” she said. “It’s my job to dig deeper into these relationships to figure out what’s holding them back.” 
Some students struggle with dyslexia, some are missing key skills. On top of that, there’s a lot of self-esteem that comes with reading – and not reading.

“A big part of growing as a reader is confidence, practice, perseverance, and knowing what to do when stuck,” O’Brien said. “But, even when students make more than a year’s growth – and a lot of them do –they may still feel “less than.” I was finding it really difficult to help boost their confidence as they were often comparing themselves to others in their class.” 

If everyone uses the book covers, sharing what you are reading becomes a choice for the student and makes those ability/level comparisons harder to make.

The book covers, which cost $540 to give one to each student at Rawson, were purchased through an online fundraiser O’Brien started, and adding the Rawson logo to each was paid for using money raised at a school dance last year. 

Students paid $1 for a strip of duct tape (donated by South Milwaukee ACE Hardware), which was used to hang Principal Nick Anton from a wall. Local business Styled Aesthetic created the design for free.

“Our goal at Rawson – and as a school district – is to remove barriers to learning. Learning to read is critical. If adding some privacy to book selections can make a difference, we’re going to try it,” Anton said. 

“What I love about this project is that kids helped make it happen and the PTO got behind it, too. It shows as a school community we care about each other and want everyone to learn to read at whatever level they need to be at.”