In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.
Since beginning our service at P.S. 154 in the South Bronx, my City Year New York teammates and I have been placed in classrooms to offer support to students and teachers. Half of my team works in math classrooms, and the other half are in English language arts classrooms. I work with a fifth grade ELA class, and twice a week I run a book club with five students.
The book clubs are chosen based on the students' reading abilities and are designed to improve their reading, comprehension, and discussion skills. Giving students as many opportunities as possible to practice reading is critical since many are reading below grade level and aren’t prepared to move into middle school ELA classes.
At our first book club meeting, I explained the structure of our sessions and tried to get them excited about the idea of reading one extra book for school. Our first selection, Zach's Lie by Roland Smith, was an action filled tale of the life of a young boy and his family who have to deal with very sudden changes in their lives. All I heard though were groans and whines.
"Ms. Robin, I hate reading! Why do I need to be here?' one girl called out.
"This is boring, can I go play on the computers?' said another student as he stood on his chair and motioned toward the door.
For them, reading meant homework, and homework is boring.
After I finished with my introduction, I asked them to read silently for the duration of our hour together so I could get a sense of everyone’s reading pace. Several times I had to ask them to stop talking, refocus, and continue reading, Before we parted ways, I asked everyone to read 10 more pages for our next meeting. This request was met with rolling eyes and more groans. Reading our book was the last thing they wanted to do.
At the second book club meeting, I discovered that no one had read the 10 pages, and no one was past the first chapter of the book. I wondered how I was ever supposed to complete one whole book with my students, let alone several over the course of the year.
I'd already read the book and I knew that if the students could just get past the second chapter, the plot could hook them. Suddenly, inspiration hit: I offered to read the chapter out loud if each student promised to follow along and raise their hand if they did not understand a particular word.
I cleared my throat and opened to the first page of the second chapter. I recalled my days of high school theater, and spoke as dramatically as I could. As I read, and the plot grew more exciting, I peered over my book and saw that each student was buried in their own, following along with their fingers, and quickly turning each page along with me. When I finished the chapter, which ended with a cliffhanger, I did not have time to close my book before the students erupted with their reactions.
"Oh my gosh! What even just happened?" one girl exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air.
"It was like, my whole mind was blank, except for a movie screen playing the story you were reading!" another girl said.
I was elated at their enthusiasm. The book was no longer another boring homework assignment. They each begged me to keep reading out loud. I agreed to read another chapter if they each promised to keep reading more for homework, to which they happily agreed. By the time our session was over, we had read and discussed two chapters, and the students couldn’t wait to keep going.
During our after school program, I spotted one of my students pull the book from his backpack and read quietly while other students around him were playing games and goofing around. The joy of reading has entered these students' lives, and I will do my best to make sure it remains.
Students in class reading photo via Shutterstock