Lincoln Elementary Turns Reluctant Boy Readers into Voracious Page Turners

By Donalyn Miller, 6th grade teacher at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, TX

Lincoln Elementary Turns Reluctant Boy Readers into Voracious Page Turners! Michael Shaffer, Principal,
Lincoln Elementary School
Elementary school boys often prove to be the most reluctant of readers. In fact, as Principal Michael Shaffer discovered, getting the boys at Ft. Wayne, Ind. Lincoln Elementary School to read was about as easy as herding cats. 

“All last year, we kept wringing our hands and saying, ‘We need to create some excitement to get the boys involved in reading. Maybe it’s time for us to take some big steps in that direction,’” Shaffer said. 

The first step was the creation of a “Boys Read” section in the school library, funded with monies from the school district and Scholastic Book Fair proceeds. The school has been able to raise $15,000, stocking the section with books that appeal to boys from kindergarten through middle school, including war novels, books about trucks and motorcycles, monster books, and biographies about sports figures, movie stars and other celebrities.

“In total, we packed more than 16 book shelves,” Shaffer said. “Boys can now find the books they want quickly, without wandering through the entire library.” 

Boys reading club
Shaffer and his staff also decided to start a Book Club for Boys – called BC4Boyz – for the school’s fourth- and fifth-grade boys. Boys who join the club give up their 25-minute recess on Fridays to participate in book talks in the library or gymnasium and do “guy stuff.” During each club meeting, boys talk about their favorite books and authors and explain why their selection is a great book for boys to read. 

To make the talks more fun and entertaining, the boys agreed at the outset to have a few ground rules, including no sissy books allowed, pick a book that fits you, only speak from the throne (a designated place to stand or sit while talking), and always have fun. The really good talks are often followed by guttural expressions of praise.

“If the boys like a book, they all let out a manly grunt … you know, the Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor grunt …”Arr Arr Arr,” Shaffer said. 

A new experience every week
During a recent club meeting, Shaffer, decked out in motorcycle gear, greeted arriving club members on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, with his stereo blasting music from Ozzy Osborne’s "Crazy Train" throughout the gym. 

“On this day, the Harley was the throne. So I let the boys sit on the Harley to do their booktalks while we took their pictures,” Shaffer said. “Then I started up the Harley – and it was horrendously loud – as the boys cheered, screamed and stomped their feet.”

Shaffer has been able to dream up various promotional gimmicks to get the boys excited about upcoming book talks. For example, one club meeting featured a teacher and former body builder, who talked about nutrition and competing professionally.

The book club has been a sensational success, igniting a renewed interest in reading among formerly reluctant male readers, Shaffer said, “I have kids coming up to me in the hallway and saying, ‘I have a new book, and I’m going to bring it to the book club on Friday.’” 

The BC4Boyz talks and special library reading section for boys also have been a big hit with parents, according to Shaffer. 

"Parents absolutely love what we're doing and say their kids are reading like crazy. Boys are lining up in the library. And we now have 70 boys from fourth and fifth grade who are skipping recess to come to the library to read," Shaffer said.

BC4Boyz is now on Facebook, too, and open to anyone who wants to join.

"In fact, the reading club has become so popular that next year we might hold it at the end of the day so that the boys don't have to miss recess,” he added. “And we're thinking about expanding it to a half-hour or 45 minutes." 
Donalyn Miller is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/). Her articles about teaching reading and education policy have appeared in such publications as Educational Leadership and the Washington Post.
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