High school students who fail a state reading test can be hard to motivate, but teacher Kathy Snyder in Florida found a way, right at the end of the school year.
Her brilliant work in using a young adult novel I had written got her kids involved in reading that was nothing short of astounding. I visited with those students, all of them, and was amazed at how deeply involved they were with the book, how much they truly understood it and how beautifully receptive they were to my visit.
As an old history teacher who has worked full time with high risk kids, my experience of collaborating with such an exceptional teacher and seeing the excellent results firsthand was the highlight of both my educational and literary careers. And I don’t say that lightly.
Kathy and I eventually created a teacher guide for using my book, Sliding Beneath the Surface so that if other educators want to do what she did, they will have the benefit of all her guidance. Click here for the new Teacher Resources section of my website that allows you to download a free copy and gives other useful information.
Below, you will find a letter to all educators from Kathy about her successful project so you can hear it from her directly. And if you would like to delve even more deeply into this model effort, there are a series of links at the bottom of this article that will allow you to do so.
A Message From Kathy Snyder
One morning at school when I started my computer I saw an e-mail from author, Doug Dillon, inviting me to read and review a young adult book he had written.
Since I love to read and was looking for a book to use with my 11 and 12th grade intensive reading class, I agreed to read and review Sliding Beneath the Surface. I enjoyed the book and further felt that my students would enjoy it as well. So, in addition to writing a review for Amazon I also obtained a class set to use with my students.
The story takes place in St. Augustine, and although my school was located in Central Florida, I knew that many of my students either had never been out of our county or had come from out of state and would not be familiar with St. Augustine or its history. Since the story deals with the history of St. Augustine it was important to “front load” to prepare them to read the book.
I was able to find information on the “web” and Mr. Dillon graciously sent me a CD with the book’s promotional trailer and photos of places in St. Augustine that were mentioned in the book. This was invaluable and I know this may have been the “make or break” element in this experience.
We were in a testing period at the time and I needed some activities that students could complete independently as they were going to be in and out all week due to the testing schedule. I let the students break out their “smart phones” and do some research on various topics introduced in the book. This created interest as well as sustained it in the book as they encountered these ideas in their reading.
I had been teaching for 31 years (I am since retired) and had never had a group of students so interested in a story before this. I had to lock the books away in the back closet when I was out or on days we couldn’t read.
The biggest surprise to me was how the students started asking about the author and expressed interest in meeting him. A visit from Doug Dillon was arranged, and the response was enthusiastic. Students were knocking on my door during lunch hoping to meet Mr. Dillon before their class met.
At this point most classes had finished the book and a culminating activity completed prior to the visit was displayed around the room. The students proudly pointed out their efforts to Mr. Dillon when he came to each class and were anxious to introduce themselves to him.
This was my last year of teaching. I had been a reading coach for 8 years and opted to return to the classroom for the last 4 years. It is a decision I will never regret but I knew it was time to retire. I am very glad that this last year was a rewarding one in terms of the success of my students. They had a very enriching reading experience in the last half of that year and I am grateful for that. Nothing can make a reading teacher happier than to see students excited about a book. I am glad I answered that email.
Reading Motivation that Worked (The initial article about this project right after its completion)
A Book Series for the Reading Classroom (The multiple themes and threads that make the series of value)
The St. Augustine Trilogy and America’s Oldest City (The setting for the series in St. Augustine, Florida and how that provides a fascinating backdrop for action)
The St. Augustine Trilogy & Historic Events (Specifies the actual historic events that happened in America’s oldest city that are woven into the series)
Sliding Beneath the Surface book trailer (Fan created)
Book reviews for Sliding Beneath the Surface on Amazon.com (includes reviews from reading and language arts teachers)
Sample Photo Galleries – Historic St. Augustine, Florida
The Castillo de San Marcos (The old Spanish fort)
The Dade Battle Reenactment, Part II (The trigger that started the Second Seminole War)