This spring, one of our 9th graders found a safe spot with us in the Camden Hills Regional High School Library. Erica is a self-proclaimed non-reader. She’s not a member of our Student Library Advisory Committee. But she is now one of our regulars: she pops in for a quick check-in before school, comes to visit during a study hall, or stops for a chat before art club. She has amazing ideas about improvements to the library space. As an active person who loves to move, she got right on board with the idea of a FitDesk. Erica made such a successful pitch to our Wellness Team that they decided to fund it immediately. It arrived just ten days later, and Erica helped us during one school day (mostly before school). She’s a charming, positive kid who is a talented gymnast; she identifies as having anxiety (not around adults!), and has not always loved school.
It Takes a Village
Erica also has reading avoidance issues. Her English teacher reported to us that she 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 she made a reading connection with my talented Library Assistant, Beth Chamberlin. Erica came up to browse in the library one day because her 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, Erica was concerned with finding a book that would engage her for this project, as well as something she 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 Erica. We also happened to have a second copy. Erica suggested that she and Mrs. Chamberlin read this text together!
The Two-Person Book Club
Enter the Two-Person Book Club. As a motivation and accountability measure, Erica and Mrs. Chamberlin started by setting goals together. It took Erica a little time to get started on the book, but once she did, she couldn’t believe her progress. For Erica, making progress in the book was key to helping her sustain the 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 Erica. She felt good about herself as a reader, excited to share with Mrs. Chamberlin what she’d just read or talk through some of the intricacies of the storytelling structure or characters.
Halfway through the book, Erica waved her teacher over. With her book open, she eagerly announced, “I think this book is perfect for me!” When asked why, what was it about this book, Erica pointed out how far she had already read with a sense of pride. The story kept her reading, but it was the steady, visible progress that was also fueling her commitment to the book.
One of my favorite moments of this year was the day that Erica finished Long Way Down. She 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 Erica. When it was time to write her analysis essay (her choice), she shared her drafts and thinking with Ms. Chamberlin 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 Erica 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 Erica, we can’t predict the ways she’ll help us continue to improve our library space and user experience. In turn, we will do all we can to boost her reading confidence and self-perception as a reader. Because she is. Below is the stack of books she 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 Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).
Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models
What a heart-warming article. How lucky this student is to have you and your assistant, along with his English teacher, working so closely and supportively with him. This is a great reminder of why we’re all in the profession in the first place. I think it’s really important to remember that making these personal connections with our students is the foundation for their growth and learning. Good for all of you!