Want a Model For Getting the Most Reluctant of Male Readers to Read?
Deb Hanson — who made some kind remarks about my book Race in the comments box — had heard me and Chris Crutcher speak at the FAME conference this fall. She was inspired to create a program in her Lehigh Acres Florida middle school aimed at boys. But she set a challenge for herself — she asked teachers to suggest 6th-8th grade boys based on two strict criteria: they had to be the very worst readers — which meant the 8th graders might be as old as 15, having been held back once or even twice — and they had to be leaders, boys who were somehow dominant in their classes. She then invited the boys to come to a reading program — this was entirely voluntary. Here is her report on the first meeting:
"After a week of sleepless nights, several weeks of planning, and too much fretting over my first Guys Read club meeting, we had our first meeting this morning. I was so worried that they wouldn’t want to come to this meeting or ever come back if they did come, simply because the club was about reading… Twenty-four wary, reluctant, non-reader middle school boys showed up after I had hand-delivered personal invitations to them yesterday. Six of my nine committed adult male mentors attended, too.
We fed them breakfast and asked each boy to write his "thoughts about reading" on a sticky note and put it on a chart. We did not process this – just left it. I’ve listed their responses below (and I’ll use this same technique later in the year to get a sense of progress).
I did a quick intro to tell the boys why they were selected for the club (may or may not like to read and demonstrate leadership qualities) and then asked each adult male mentor to say a piece. They each spoke briefly about their own personal experiences with reading as young adults and about their current interests and commitment to this group of boys. You could hear a pin drop while they each spoke. The boys actually applauded after each man’s story. We then gave the boys a chance to tell us what they were interested in and what they liked to do and learn about, and we had them rank those interests. (Football, basketball, cars!!) We then gave them a handout describing the club and meeting dates and sent them on to class.
The adult mentors were excited, and I was hopeful. The boys had been tuned-in and contributed to the conversation with their ideas.
Within a couple hours, I was hearing back from teachers and students… the boys were excited, some already designing a logo for our club (a challenge I had written on the handout but had not mentioned in the meeting), others were saying things like
“If I’m being watched and seen as a leader, then maybe I should make better decisions.” and “If I’m a role model, I better be doing my work.” I had a half dozen other students ask if they could join the group. Many of the most reluctant boys went back and thanked their homeroom teacher for convincing them to attend this first meeting.
I’m sighing a big sigh of relief and excitement tonight. Ready to help plan the next meetings and let the men take over in their mentor roles. We have been able to secure free subscriptions to ESPN Rise magazine for each boy. I showed them a sample issue I had and the two high school ball players on the cover are actually going to be here in town for a tournament over winter break."
What a terrific start — Deb will keep us posted, and if anyone else tries something similar, let us know.