I had one particular group of 8th graders who were some of the most reluctant readers I had ever taught. Getting them to read was beyond a challenge. In my remedial reading class, I would usually give them a choice of three novels that I had multiple copies of and have them vote on the one they’d like to read together.
So one morning, after returning back from attending a full day workshop with a librarian who book talked the most current and exciting middle grade novels in existence, you could say I was pumped up. I spoke to my students about one particular book that this man raved about and I have to say my kids were captivated. They wanted to know what happened at the end. Of course never being one to spoil a book’s ending, I told them they’d have to read it.
“Can we read it together?” they asked. I was caught off guard because, quite frankly, I was shocked. They actually wanted to read a book. That book. That “rough around the edges” book. I was tempted to say yes even though I’d probably be out a job. But instead, I went to my principal and asked if I could read it with them. I told him what type of students I was dealing with and how excited they became at the prospect of reading this book with me. He asked for the book. He read it. He returned it. He said YES.
The next day I made my students raise their right hand and repeat after me:
“I promise to read this book without ever complaining no matter how hard some of the parts may be. I will stick with it until the very last page. So help me God."
They were true to their word. And they didn’t ever complain. I take that back. When we didn’t have time to read a chapter of the book some days, they were inconsolable. They also got very angry at me when I didn’t choose them to read a part aloud. We read most of the book as if it were a play so they felt that book come alive before their very eyes. And they LOVED the feeling. Reading wasn’t a passive process any longer. It was real life only in words.
About six years later, one of the 8th grade girls in that class came to Open House for her younger brother. She popped inside my classroom to say hello. We hugged and I asked how she was doing. We reminisced about that reading class she was in. She remembered quite a bit. But what she shared with me next really gave me goosebumps. She said, “Mrs. Calabrese, when we read that book , I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. From that day on, I started to like reading. I never knew that there were books like that.”
I will always be grateful to my principal for providing me with the things I needed to get my kids motivated. Believe me, some of my far- fetched schemes were out there. But he knew that my resistant readers needed to be coaxed out of that dark place where reading was considered a lackluster activity and something they would avoid whenever they could. I thank him for seeing the value of granting permission to read that book with my students —a book that they chose to read.