This spring, one of our 9th graders found a safe spot with us in the Camden Hills Regional High School Library. Eric is a self-proclaimed non-reader. He’s not a member of our Student Library Advisory Committee. But he is now one of our regulars: he pops in for a quick check-in before school, comes to visit during a study hall (when he’s not working in the Resource Room), or stops for a chat before Driver’s Ed. He’s got amazing ideas about improvements to the library space. As an active guy who loves to move, he got right on board with the idea of a FitDesk. Eric made such a successful pitch to our Wellness Team that they decided to fund it immediately. It arrived just ten days later, and Eric assembled it during one school day (mostly before school). He’s a charming, positive kid who loves to dance; he identifies as having anxiety (not around adults!), and has some learning challenges.
It Takes a Village
Eric also has reading avoidance issues. His English teacher reported to us that he asked a lot of questions, asked to get a drink of water, and tried to engage her in charming conversation, all to avoid in-class reading time. But this spring he made a reading connection with my talented Library Assistant, Beth Chamberlin. Eric came up to browse in the library one day because his class was entering a choice novel study. In this particular choice novel study, students select a book, then choose a literary analysis tool (or critical lens) with which to focus their reading, and finally, students choose how to share their learning and analysis of the text with their teacher (paper, presentation, artistic representation, fan fiction, etc.). As a self-identified non-reader, Eric was concerned with finding a book that would engage him for this project, as well as something he could finish in the time allotted. Beth and I immediately thought of novels in verse as a possibility. It so happened that Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down had recently been returned and it appealed to Eric. We also happened to have a second copy. Eric, always generous with his good ideas, suggested that he and Mrs. Chamberlin read this text together!
The Two-Person Book Club
Enter the Two-Person Book Club. As a motivation and accountability measure, Eric and Mrs. Chamberlin started by setting goals together. It took Eric a little time to get started on the book, but once he did, he couldn’t believe his progress. For Eric, making progress in the book was key to helping him sustain his motivation for reading. Twenty pages initially sounded like a big goal for one night, but fewer words on the page made it an achievable one for Eric. He felt good about himself as a reader, excited to share with Mrs. Chamberlin what he’d just read or talk through some of the intricacies of the storytelling structure or characters.
Halfway through the book, Eric waved his teacher over. With his book open, he eagerly announced, “I think this was written just for me!” When she asked him why, what was it about this book, he pointed out how far he had already read with a sense of pride. The story kept him reading, but it was the steady, visible progress that was also fueling his commitment to the book.
One of my favorite moments of this year was the day that Eric finished Long Way Down. He raced right up from English class to the library to discuss the ambiguous ending of the book with Mrs. Chamberlin. Recognizing the beauty of this shared reading moment, Mrs. Chamberlin dropped what she had been doing to sit down with Eric. When it was time to write his analysis essay (his choice), he shared his drafts and thinking with her as well.
One Reader at a Time
One way we encourage our learning community to keep reading over the summer is to check books out to them for the summer! Seems like a no-brainer, but it took me a couple of years to realize I could do this. During the summer, our students finally have time to read! So why should our books sit unread in the hot library? We started this last year with great success. Earlier this spring it was Eric who suggested we have a midsummer book-swap day in the CHRHS Library, so students and staff can swap their books out and get new ones. Of course, another no-brainer, and such a great idea! We will be open for 3 hours at the end of July for this purpose. Looking at three more years with Eric, we can’t predict the ways he’ll help us continue to improve our library space and user experience. In turn, we will do all we can to boost his reading confidence and self-perception as a reader. Because he is. Below is the stack of books he chose to take home for the summer.
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the CHRHS Library via Facebook (@CHRHSLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/CHRHSLibrary) or Instagram (@CHRHS_Library or https://www.instagram.com/chrhs_library).