–By Chad Everett (@dcseverett), a member of The Educator Collaborative
There is no shortage of research affirming the fact a reading achievement gap exists between boys and girls, a gap that is even wider when data are disaggregated according to race (Robinson & Lubienski, 2011; Stiefel, Schwartz, & Chellman, 2007). And in the age where there is no shortage of companies offering programs touted as silver-bullet solutions to the reading achievement gap, we must remember one simple but significant principle — readers read. Readers read regularly. Readers read for pleasure. Readers read to learn. Readers read to connect. Readers read.
I walked into a classroom filled with the sound of fifth graders having conversations with one another about Tuck Everlasting; never missing an opportunity to talk about books with students, I jumped into the conversation. As I talked with the students, I noticed a young man who didn’t seem particularly interested in Tuck or anything else. He stretched after I had asked a question and I quickly said, “Oops, looked like you raised your hand, what do you think?”
He gave me a quick answer and the discussion continued.
Around twenty minutes later, I was working at my desk when this young man appeared in my doorway. He didn’t say hello. He didn’t say “Mr. Everett, I need to talk to you.” Instead, he took a deep breath and started talking, “Mae Tuck hit the man in the yellow suit in the head with the shotgun!”
I talked with him for five minutes and then began to wonder how he managed to find his way to my office without a note. After a little investigation, I discovered his class had been standing in line outside my door and he seized the opportunity to talk to me. As he stood there, eyes full of passion as he discussed the book, I wondered what had brought about this sudden change in interest.
He was reluctant to even open his copy of Tuck Everlasting in the classroom, but now, he could not stop talking about it. Was he now interested because an adult other than his teacher showed in interest in his reading? Maybe he was interested because he saw his friends excited about reading and wanted to see what all the hype was about? More likely, he now realized that boys read, too. Many of the male students in that classroom, and in classrooms across the nation, have never seen a reading life modeled by a male. They have never seen anyone who looks like them show a deep passion for reading.
The first time I walked into that classroom, I did so with the intention of simply saying hello, but I walked out determined to awaken a passion for reading in each one of the dormant readers, as Donalyn Miller calls them in The Book Whisperer, especially the male dormant readers.
Later that day, I walked back into the teacher’s class and said, “We need a boy’s book club.”
She gave me a side-eye and dismissive, “Ok, Mr. Everett.” I have been known to propose some lofty ideas that don’t always fit within budget constraints.
I replied, “No, I’m serious, and I think I know where I can get some books.” Now I was a man on a mission.
Each year, Literacy Mid South, a local literacy non-profit, distributes thousands of books to schools, non-profit organizations, churches, and afterschool programs – all working to improve literacy in Memphis and the surrounding areas. I believe it is vital that community organizations come alongside schools in their efforts to improve literacy. This work is too important for schools to bear the burden alone. I emailed a contact at Literacy Mid South and she graciously offered to provide us with books.
Two days later, I was walked back into the classroom with thirty copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. The teacher whose classroom I had visited prepared a copy of a reading calendar with book club meeting dates, and we met with the boys to discuss how the book club would work, develop expectations; etc. I must admit, at this point most of the boys were more excited about having food at book club meetings than they were about books. That was until we gave them the books and time to read.
Later that day, I returned to the classroom to take a picture so we could tweet a thank you to Literacy Mid South, and the excitement among the boys was palpable.
“Mr. Everett, Mr. Everett, I’m already on Chapter 3.”
“Well, I’m on Chapter 5!”
“Mr. Everett, I think Ellie’s mom is a hippie!”
“What makes you think that?”
“The book said she wears tie-dye shirts and bell-bottom pants.”
If I were the crying type, a tear would have slid down my cheek at that moment. I was excited to see the boys fired up about reading. Little did I know this was only the beginning.
— Chad Everett (@dcseverett) March 26, 2015
While waiting in the hall to use the restroom, the boys in the book club began telling their friends in a class down the hall about the cool book they were getting to read and that they were part of this new book club. Immediately, the boys in that class asked their teacher why they couldn’t have a book club. Her response, “Ask Mr. Everett.”
Fortunately, Literacy Mid South was having a second book giveaway; because when students – especially boys – ask for more books, you find books. A second book giveaway was also a good thing because the first group of boys had far surpassed their initial reading goals. As a matter of fact, most of them finished the book after a couple days. The same boys, some of whom had been completely dormant readers, were excited about reading.
The first group of boys was kind enough to pass along their copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish to the second group of boys.
Seeing the boys devouring books was exciting in and of itself but in talking to them it became clear there was another reason to celebrate: the passion for reading was beginning to spread beyond the school.
“Mr. Everett, I read like five chapters this weekend.”
“Yes, sir. My grandma was reading her book – she really likes to read – and I went and got my book and we read together.”
“Chris, how do you feel about the book?”
“I like it.”
“What has been your favorite part?”
“I like Ellie’s grandpa. He’s funny.”
“My mama has been helping me. Like when I have trouble with some of the words, she tells me to sound it out and we read together.”
Another student’s mom asked the teacher if she had an extra copy of the book she could send home because if he is that excited about reading, she wants to read the book and discuss it with him.
As I looked at each one of those boys, I saw myself. I thought about all of the teachers who worked to help me develop a passion for reading and all of those who didn’t. Through reading, those boys found new ways to connect to themselves and others. They realized reading should be part of their identity. Most of all they realized readers read.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What about the girls?” Fret not, we added a girl’s book club, too.
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