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April 4, 2016

“Read Like a Teen” --- A Fun New Book Club

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Recently, the teachers at Warren Middle School in New Jersey have been gaining attention for their book club, "Read Like a Teen." Each month they select a new teen or young adult book to read, review and share with their students and fellow staff. Their hope is that this will provide kids with an incentive to read and show them that it's not just reserved for teachers or librarians. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cynthia Cassidy, a middle school teacher who spearheaded the program and got it off the ground. In this post, Cynthia talks to us about starting Read Like a Teen, how it works and what she --- and her fellow teachers --- have learned from it.

Teenreads.com: We all know about the DEAR “Drop Everything and Read” program in elementary schools, but you have a very interesting reading program in your middle school called “Read Like a Teen,” which is a teacher book club. How did the program get started?

Cynthia Cassidy: One of the frustrations I have as a middle school librarian is that I don’t always see students often enough to truly get to know their reading interests. I kept thinking that I needed a way into the classroom, as well as a way to increase my reading capacity. I came up with the idea of asking staff members to join a book club where we read what our students are reading. I thought it would help me reach more students, minimize the pressure I feel to read every book, and empower staff members to help students more effectively. I knew I wanted our students to see that reading wasn’t something that was only important to the librarian and language arts teachers.  I wanted them to see that all of their teachers are life-long learners and readers. I then mulled over the idea for several months, during which I asked several staff members if they would be interested. I was worried that my colleagues would feel like they didn’t have the time to dedicate to this type of project. In retrospect, this should never have been a concern! Our staff members are loving the fact that they have an excuse to read middle grade fiction!

TRC: How does “Read Like a Teen” work?

CC: Each month, staff members select a book from the library collection. During the month, they read the book and create a short review on our shared Padlet. The Padlet allows each staff member to post text and an image of the book. At the conclusion of the month, staff members meet in the morning before school to share their reviews with other staff members. We each spend about a minute summarizing the story and make a connection to the type of student who may enjoy the book.  

TRC: How do the teachers select what they want to read?

CC: Before each meeting of Read Like a Teen, I wander through the shelves, pulling out a variety of books. I choose popular books, books that rarely get checked out, and some books that I haven’t read. I then arrange them on different tables with labels. One month I might arrange them by genre, the next I might choose to arrange them by the type of reader that might like the book.  The staff members then spend some time previewing the selections before they check out a book.

TRC: Are they exclusively Young Adult books?

CC: The books used for Read Like a Teen are primarily books we have in our school library.  Some of them are young adult novels and others are middle level books. We are reading every genre - nonfiction, biography, fiction. There really aren’t any restrictions. Recently, staff members have begun to get recommendations from their students and the result is that now staff members are recommending some of these books for our library collection.

TRC: If a book has more mature content in it, how do you note that, or is a title not recommended if it has content that is beyond the level of a middle schooler?

CC: The books in our school library that are young adult novels have a young adult label on the spine. This allows students to easily locate books that are at their interest level, while also giving students an easy way to determine if a book has more mature content. The Padlet notations serve as reviews for our students so they can make up their own minds about what books they want to read.   

TRC: How are these books then shared with the students?

CC: At the end of each meeting, staff members write their names on post-it notes which are stuck to the books before they are put on display for our students. Students can come in at any point of the day to review the display and select a book. The students also receive a link to our Padlet through email and our school website. Often, however, the books are placed directly into the hands of an eager student by a staff member who has been talking about the book in class.  

TRC: Do students recommend books to the staff members as well? If so, what are some that they have recommended?

CC: As the students at our middle school begin to see every staff member as a reader, it has been interesting to see our students take on the role of reviewers and book promoters. One of the books that has been recommended from students to staff members is BACKLASH by Sarah Darer Littman. It is a story about bullying and social media that has resonated with many of our students. Other books that have been recommended to staff members include BURNING MIDNIGHT by Will McIntosh and WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart.

TRC: Can you share some books that have resonated with students after hearing about them from the teachers?

CC: THE IRON TRIAL by Holly Black, the I Funny series by James Patterson, and the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham have become very popular as a result of Read Like a Teen.  There are also long waiting lists for all of the books by Jenny Han and Jennifer Nielsen’s books, particularly MARK OF A THIEF, have been circulating regularly.  Students are also reading more nonfiction, and more graphic novels as a result of the recommendations of their teachers.