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Equity & Diversity Opinion

The Boys Book Club Experiment: Day 11

By Marilyn Rhames — May 07, 2014 3 min read
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Ok, it’s officially the Warriors Boys Book Club now, not the Reading Warriors Book Club. That’s the first thing my ten middle school boys wanted me to get straight. “Reading Warriors” sounds corny, like something from fourth grade. They call themselves “Warriors,” for short because it sounds more like a sports team. In fact, a few boys prefer to call it the WBBC, which is reminiscent of the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation.

Boys.

All the fuss over the name is proof that this sweaty, goofy, manish group of young men is a bona fide community of readers. After two weeks and13 graded assignments, nine of the ten boys were earning averages in the 70s and 80s. This from boys who had almost always disrupted class and/or failed in reading. On Monday, the nine of them enjoyed a popcorn and frozen fruit bar party during the first 15 minutes of class.

The tenth boy solemnly watched his buddies eat, though he didn’t complain. He’ll need more individualized attention, as he never developed the school work ethic that will help him acheive—though many teachers before me have tried.

Here’s my incentives plan:

* After week two (eight days, since we don’t meet on Fridays): Students at or above 70 percent, popcorn and frozen fruit bars

* After week four: Students at or above 75 percent, free Subway combo lunch

* After week six: Students at or above 80 percent, trip to the local Target with a gift card

* After week eight: Students at or above 85 percent, trip to comic book store and free comic books

* After week ten: Students at or above 90 percent, potentially walk across the stage at graduation and avoid mandatory summer school

My school’s only given me a $205, so I can’t get too fancy. The boys only know about the grade requirements for the rewards, not the prizes, so please don’t spill the beans! For most of them, their very graduation from 8th grade is on the line.

After hours of torturous inner-debate (so many texts, so little time) I settled on beginning the book club with Holler If You Hear Me by Gregory Michie. I remember reading portions of it while in teaching school eleven years ago, so I knew it would be an interesting read. I hesitated, though, mostly on principle: Michie is a white middle class man writing about his experience teaching African American and Mexican-American students in Chicago. Could this be a genuinely enabling text for my Latino boys? I wondered what Alfred Tatum, author and reading specialist for Black adolescent boys, would say.

Michie is a male author, yes, but not the Latino voice I was looking for. The book is endorsed by Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street) and Luis Rodriquez (Always Running), so I their reviews reassured me that the Mexican culture would be conveyed accurately. I took a chance, and it’s been a huge hit!

So far, I’ve used Holler to teach the boys how to close read through multiple lenses; how to annotate the text as they read; how to ask and discuss good book club questions; and how to identify the tone and mood.

With so many athletes and sports enthusiasts in the room, I had to interrupt Holler to provide a couple of days of video and print commentary on the L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s private but racist remarks. Talk about high interest! I’ve never seen these boys read so fast and have so many thought-provoking things to say!

Today I will show them a tear-jerking clip of Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant’s NBA MVP acceptance speech. He just gave it yesterday, and they absolutely LOVE Durant and the whole OCT team. We will follow up with an article about him.

My book club is turning into a bit of a Petri dish. The guidance counselor, Mr. Avila, who happens to be a Mexican American man, comes in the room everyday to observe the boys and to chime in every now and then. My instructional leader drops in much more than usual, as does the literacy manager. I had an outside visitor observing yesterday. Many of the teachers in my school—many who I didn’t even know read my blog—have asked me how the club is going and given me valuable instructional ideas. Every now and then I’ll ask someone to video the class.

This Petri dish, aka Warriors Boys Book Club, is killing the bacteria of adolescent male indifference to reading, while growing microscopic boy brain cells. Still, it’s too early to call it a cure.

Click here to read the Intro blog to and Day One of the Boys Book Club Experiement series.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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