Busload of Books Research Project

Any children’s author or illustrator will tell you that school visits create tremendous excitement, positive energy, and engagement—while spurring reading, creativity, and collaboration for students and teachers alike.

But any teacher, school administrator, or literacy advocate will tell you how difficult it is to quantify the impact of these visits when trying to secure funding or write a grant proposal.

In spite of being sought by many, data demonstrating the effectiveness of author/illustrator visits has long been elusive—because it can be difficult to measure something that only happens once, especially at the necessary scale.

The Opportunity

One of the most exciting (and potentially far-reaching) aspects of the Busload of Books Tour is the related research project being conducted by education and sociology scholars from Washington College to scientifically measure—for the first time ever at this scale—the impact of author/illustrator visits on elementary student attitudes regarding literacy and creativity.


As we traveled the country presenting to 25,000 students, teachers, and administrators at Title I schools in all 50 states, we collected a massive, demographically diverse, national data set that allowed a rare glimpse into:

  • How K-6 students and educators think and feel about reading, writing, and drawing
  • How these attitudes and beliefs vary according to social, cultural, and economic factors that shape literacy experiences in the classroom, school, and community
  • How an author/illustrator visit and book giveaway impacts these student attitudes, beliefs, and practices. In short—does the experience make students more likely to read, write, or draw?


The impact of this research will be particularly important for students in Title I-eligible public schools, for whom there is a demonstrated achievement gap and opportunity gap when compared to students at more affluent schools (Loeb & Bassok 2007, Borman 1996).

Opportunities for such enrichment experiences as author/illustrator visits come with a range of associated costs—from speaking fees and travel expenses to books to instructional materials—that often put these experiences out of reach for low-income students.

Demonstrating the benefit and impact of these experiences could help many students, teachers, administrators, grant writers, and literacy advocates by promoting sustained funding for future literacy programs and legitimizing their integration into school curricula as standard learning experiences.

This research will yield insights that help teachers best foster student interest and engagement with reading and lifelong learning—while disrupting the narrative that learning disparities are the product of unmotivated or disengaged learners.

Borman GD, D’Agostino JV. Title I and Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of Federal Evaluation Results. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 1996;18(4):309-326. https://doi.org/10.2307/1164335
Loeb, S., & Bassok, D. (2007). Early childhood and the achievement gap. In H.F. Ladd & E.B. Fiske (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy (pp. 517-534). Routledge Press. 


Over the course of the year, the research team collected 11,000 surveys from more than 5,000 students and teachers—and the results were incredibly exciting.

Data is still being crunched and official results have not been published, but we’re able to share that across all age groups and all three categories—reading, writing, and drawing—there was a statistically significant “assembly affect”, meaning bumps in engagement and interest in the wake of our visit.

Inside of bus showing bench seats and kitchenette

The Work Continues

Throughout the 2024-2025 school year, we will visit twelve more Title I elementary schools across the country—collecting additional surveys, expanding the data set, and broadening the project’s impact and reach.

The Research Team

Sara Clarke-DeReza

Sara Clarke-DeReza

Assistant Professor of Education; Director of the Museum, Field, and Community Education Minor

Sara spends her research-life trying to figure out how to create amazing learning experiences in the places where schools meet communities. In her teaching-life, she’s worked in middle and high school classrooms, as a curriculum coordinator, and even (briefly!) as a school principal. At Washington College, she teaches courses in the historical, cultural, and psychological foundations of American education. In her life-life, she’s a mom, a dog-mom, a maker-of-things, and a collector of thrift store art.  

Bridget Bunten

Bridget Bunten

Associate Professor of Education; Department Chair; Coordinator of the Elementary Education Program

Bridget’s path towards being an educator began when she was a student in a middle school Spanish classroom. It was the energy and passion of her teacher that inspired Bridget’s interest in language, learning, and teaching. Before coming to Washington College, Bridget taught students ranging from 5 to 80 years old as a Spanish immersion teacher, an elementary classroom teacher, an ELL teacher, and an adult ESL and citizenship teacher. Educating future teachers to meet the myriad needs of the culturally and linguistically diverse student population in today’s public schools is Bridget’s focus in the college classroom. Beyond the classroom, she enjoys staying active by running, biking, or chasing one of her three young daughters with the help of her husband.

Nick Garcia

Nick Garcia

Assistant Professor of Sociology

Nick loves two things: telling dad jokes and solving mysteries. Sometimes solving mysteries just means asking the right questions. Sometimes it means finding the right evidence. As a research methodologist, Nick has surveyed, interviewed, and mapped the world to investigate everything from the effects of the Americans with Disabilities Act to professional wrestling. At Washington College, Nick’s Sociology courses address social inequalities, environmental justice, community development, and food insecurity. He’s always asking how communities shape and are shaped by underlying inequalities. In this project, Nick will collect evidence from the Tour, complemented by US Department of Education and Census datasets, to examine how sociocultural factors impact literacy and creativity.

Erin Counihan

Erin Counihan

Coordinator of Secondary Education; Lecturer in Education

Erin is pretty much all about books.  At work, she teaches about and researches books and literacy and language, and she teaches her students how to teach about books and literacy and language—all with an emphasis on what it means to be a good reader and communicator in the 21st century. Before she joined Washington College, Erin was a middle and high school English teacher . . . teaching about books. She even reads books and talks to people about books for fun! When she’s not reading books with her two cats, Erin likes to spend time outside with her husband, often chasing turtles.

Photo credit: Pamela Cowart-Rickman


Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson

Elementary Education Field Experience Coordinator

Michelle loves to think about how people learn. At work, she teaches students who want to be teachers. Her students learn how to teach math and science. They also learn how to teach students who may think and learn differently. Before she came to Washington College, Michelle taught elementary school in Washington D.C. and loved to take her students on walking trips to museums and parks. When she is not teaching, she likes to spend time reading, crocheting, and video chatting with her three children.

If you have questions about the research project, please contact the research team directly by clicking the button.


This short-term longitudinal survey project had three measurement points:

  • Before Robbi and Matthew’s school visit and book giveaway (within 1-2 days)
  • After their visit/assembly (same or next day)
  • 30 days after their visit.

Students participated in all three surveys, teachers completed two, and key administrators completed one.

The student surveys measured shifts in student attitudes and beliefs regarding literacy and creativity—as well as satisfaction and enjoyment—related to Robbi and Matthew’s presentation.

The teacher surveys measured teacher preparation and follow-up from the presentation, teacher literacy and creativity attitudes and beliefs, and teacher perceptions of student literacy attitudes and beliefs, as well as satisfaction/enjoyment related to the assembly. Teacher surveys will be paired with student data for classroom-level analysis.

The survey for school administrators, librarians, and other instructional support staff—which was completed one month after Robbi and Matthew’s visit—measured preparation and follow-up to the assembly, literacy and creativity attitudes and beliefs, and logistical concerns and considerations related to author/illustrator visits.


This study has the potential to quantify (for the first time at this scale) the positive impact of author/illustrator visits on Title I communities—while providing a host of insights to help teachers prepare students to best take advantage of the opportunities these experiences present.

The impact could be transformative.