BLTN Action Grant Funds Young Adult Book Club

Feb 10th, 2019 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Winter 2019

Kurt Ostrow
English Teacher
B.M.C. Durfee High School
Fall River, MA
Ken Macrorie Fellow

Last year, inspired by Nancie Atwell’s 2017 Drew Lecture at Bread Loaf Vermont, I dove deeply into the field of independent reading. I have grown, laminated, labeled, and sorted a classroom library of well over 400 high-interest books. I have built rich routines—culled from many experts, such as Atwell—conducive to student reading: We read at least 15 minutes every class, and students write letters to me about their books every other Friday. Then I write back to them, a chance to have intimate textual and personal conversations. We share “book talks” to generate enthusiasm about the books we love, and a poster keeps track of all the books we’ve read.

With my working-class seniors—most of whom did not grow up in word- or book-rich households—I frame the practice of choice reading as my attempt to cultivate a lifelong habit of literacy. I want them to read books they love before they graduate; if they don’t, the research shows, they likely won’t pick up a book again. I can’t let this happen.

For my first two years at Durfee, our school had no librarian, let alone a budget for books. The library fell into disrepair, acting as more of a living room for students. Our librarian, Timarie, arrived last year, coinciding with my enthusiasm for independent reading. I have since presented on the practice in my department, and many teachers have followed suit—with support from Timarie.

This year, Timarie and I collaborated to launch a Young Adult Book Club as another way to create a visible culture of reading at our school. So far, more than 30 students have attended our biweekly meetings. They voted to read The Hate U Give this October as our inaugural book, and we followed up with I’ll Give You the Sun.

In the fall, I won a BLTN Action grant, which is not only funding our new YA Book Club but also filling up the shelves of the classroom libraries at my school. I buy a set of books to loan to students; once we read them, I collect them back and distribute the copies to colleagues who’ve started independent reading in their classrooms. The dean of English happens to be one of the most faithful and zealous members of the club and is on fire for independent reading. She loves to see the practice spreading throughout the department. For Christmas, she gave every teacher in our thirty-person department a book, inspired by the work we’re doing in book club.

To be sure, it’s an exciting time for readers (and readers-to-be) at Durfee High School as we grow a culture of reading.

Here’s a picture of book club celebrating at our holiday party. We did a “Yankee swap” and although it was cutthroat, I think everyone left pretty happy.

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