Castle Librarian

Reluctant Readers Breakthrough

In Librarianship, Reading on March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I work with the epitome of reluctant readers – a boys high school in an Arab country. Boys tend to be less interested in reading than girls. Add to that, an oral tradition culture and the challenge gets bigger. They don’t grow up with books in the home. They don’t encounter books until school and then books tend to be source of labor and boredom. So, when they come to me at age 13, it is difficult to open the door to the wonder of reading. Did I mention that they are learning English as a second language? The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. They prefer true stories. So, culture, language level, interests all add up to one librarian scratching her head trying to come up with a solution.

One to the most heavily used books in the library is the Guinness Book of World Records. It is opened almost everyday and boys gather in a group to page through and look at the oddities. As I was cataloging The Elephant Man graded reader, a lightbulb went on. The result was a two session read aloud that got their attention.

I started by telling them that it was a true story. “Yes, miss.” But, after hearing the first chapter, they found it hard to believe. Even the photographs from Wikipedia didn’t convince them. By the end of the first reading they were hooked. They wanted to know why Joseph Merrick was disfigured. Why did he die so young? With one class I forgot to write down what page we ended on. I needn’t have worried about where to start. They came in asking if we were going to read more of the story. When I said “yes” a student called out “chapter 6!”

When I finished reading the story to the last class, they begged for more stories “like this one.” Now, my challenge is to find another book. It’s a good challenge to have.

Vicary, Tim. The Elephant Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 9780194789042

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  1. What a wonderful teacher you are! That was a brilliant choice. Those of us who admire Joseph Merrick really appreciate your telling his story and keeping his legacy alive.
    Mae Stroshane
    Researcher
    Friends of Joseph Carey Merrick Foundation

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