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Rekindling Readers

IMG_2372Books for the Students First Classroom Library collected so far this summer; some were donated from relatives, others sent by supporters from Virginia, a bunch I bought – all are meant for the readers of room 236. 


Twelve weeks into last school year, I was so excited. Finally, I was going to actually establish a classroom library. This idea was my hidden dream – I supposed I was meant to be a librarian and not a teacher…but I had to do it. I just had to…

Way back in the fall, I attended Illinois Reading Council’s Day of Reading Conference where I was enthralled by Kelly Gallagher. Not only have I read a few of his books, Readicide, Teaching Adolescent Writers, Deeper Reading, but I knew this guy knows his stuff simply because he still teaches. He’s with those of us who try to make a difference. each and every day. He’s real…not one of those who now speaks all day long telling me how to teach, while being clueless with what’s really going on these classrooms. Students’ eyes constantly glued to a screen. Their fly-like attention demanding the answers to opinionated analysis questions. Clueless parents unsure about the person I am contacting them about.

Gallagher’s practical, no-nonsense approach ignited a spark that had lingered below the surface – How do I get reluctant teens to read? In particular, since the majority avoid reading as if it were some sort of virus or nasty bug.

I make time for them to read for the first 10 to 15 minutes of every class, every day.

And guess what? They read.

Well…it’s not that easy…

The whole point of having the classroom library is that I know what books are in there. I know a bit about the books shelved in the school’s library, but not with the intimacy needed to really connect a student to a book.

Many students are so distant from reading that they have no idea what to do with a book once contact is made. When at the library, I’ve tried coaching them through the process. Look at the cover. Read the back side. Skim the first few paragraphs. I’ve even given book talks.

To avoid reading, reluctant readers may respond to this idea by falling asleep, refusing to detach from the phone, and even acting out in an aggressive manner. As long as I keep my cool and remain positive by asserting my objective, they eventually comply simply due to peer pressure.

In the classroom, I coach students to disconnect from the madness of passing period, and whatever goes on in their day. I guide them to tuck their phone away, and then shop the three books I put on their desk. I assure my students that as long as they make the effort by giving those books a chance, they earn the two points for that day. (Each day is worth two points: one for bringing the book, one for reading.) If none of those three books work, then I give them another set to try the next day, until something peaks their interest. They do not even have to read the entire book; if it’s not working half way through, pick up something else.

Now don’t think that these first few minutes are just filled with fake reading.

Nay…nay. I keep them accountable by meeting with each student over the course of a week’s time, or every other week, by recording the title of the book and what page they are on. Often, I do have brief conversations with them to determine their liking for that book or not. I make notes on the book to remember when I need to make another book/student pairing and when looking for new additions.

Keep in mind that students are encouraged to read outside of class for another 20 minutes. This is the main reason why I expect them to carry the book around – so they might be so hooked to that book that nothing else can consume their attention.

Once students find the right book, or books, they are able to get to the purpose for them; the idea of connecting to other’s life experiences. This time is the best part of my class period since these minutes are well-spent and highly regarded unlike some journal entry or daily sentence that they won’t remember later that day, let alone long after they have left the school.

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