Back in 2011, while volunteering as tutor at a high poverty school, I was introduced to a third grader who could barely read a half dozen words and who had already managed to accumulate a thick disciplinary file. The literacy specialist sent him to me because he was disruptive and belligerent in class, displaying little to no impulse control. No one knew what to do with him. For privacy, we will call him Dion.
I tried various strategies and finally developed the read a book, earn a book approach. Dion felt empowered because he choose which book to read, he developed delayed gratification because he had to earn the book over time, and he developed trust because he saw me every week and learned that he could depend on me. Eventually Dion felt so confident he asked if we could record his reading so that his mom could see “how good” he was. I told Dion that not only would I record his reading, I would coach him on how to read with flair and style. He was thrilled.
Later I heard that he participated in a community theatre production.
Three years later, while reading with a new student at the same school, I heard my name called out “Ms. Miller! Ms. Miller!” I turned… and there he was. This young man ran up and threw his arms about my waist. Overwhelmed, I said “I haven’t seen you for so long… I thought you had left the building! How are you?!” He drew up his shoulders, crossed his arms, leaned back and nodded “Staying out of trouble!” I said “That’s what I wanted to hear!”
That was the beginning of Read a Book, Earn a Book. A safe, supportive reading environment that builds self-control, confidence, and memorable relationships.