Reading Motivation that Worked!

June 26, 2013

Sliding - blogIntensive Reading grades 8-12 – a YA novel that brought classes to life. A reading strategy that truly motivated and built skills.

The book – Sliding Beneath the Surface, Book I of The St. Augustine Trilogy – paranormal & historical.

Motivating some teens to read is a tough job, to say the least.

The kids I’m talking about here are often the ones who fail statewide assessment tests and end up in reading classes. Exasperated parents and teachers everywhere live with this situation on a continuous basis.

Having taught for many years in grades 7 – 12, I experienced the frustration of trying to get certain students to read anything.

These days though, I come at the problem from a writer’s viewpoint—a writer of teen fiction. And I’m sending out this post because I recently participated in a very rewarding experiment that showed how it is definitely possible to interest even the most reluctant teens to read.

In fact, I’m still basking in the warm glow of what happened.

Kathy S. #2

Teacher Kathy Snyder early in her well earned retirement

It all started near the end of the 2012-2013 school year with one very smart and extremely dedicated teacher by the name of Kathy Snyder. At the time, Kathy taught intensive reading to 11th and 12th graders at a high school near where I live in Central Florida.

After reading and reviewing the first book in my young adult series titled, The St. Augustine Trilogy, she contacted me. Kathy felt very confident that the book, Sliding Beneath the Surface, would interest her students and she hoped to use it in all of her classes.

This was her final year in teaching and she wanted to make one more big push to motivate her kids before retiring.Well, she did that and a lot more.

Once we got a class set of books ordered, Kathy and I decided to make her classroom use of my work a full-blown teacher/author project.

I would donate my time and book resources to help her and she would write-up a study guide as well a detailed report about the project’s results.

We were both excited about the possibilities and couldn’t wait to get started.

Castillo watch Tower1

The Castillo de San Marcos

At this point in my post, I think I need to give you a little background information on my book series. In that way, you can get a better feel for what attracted Kathy to it:

1. It’s called The St. Augustine Trilogy because St. Augustine, Florida is the physical location for the plot.

2. I created the trilogy with at-risk youth in mind because I spent the last 10 years of my career as an educator working full time helping such kids and their families.

So many of those young people had huge “victim” mentalities and blamed others for their problems that I wanted to do what I could as a writer to counteract those thought processes. That’s why the trilogy premise is this: You Create Your Own Reality.



Fifteen-year-old Jeff Golden, the main character, is a composite of the   many at-risk kids I worked with over the years. And it is his growth over time in taking responsibility for himself and others that is a primary thread throughout the trilogy.

3. Each character, Jeff, his girlfriend Carla and old Lobo represent the three main cultures that built the city of St. Augustine: Jeff is white, Carla is African American and Hispanic, and Lobo is Native American.

4. I use the paranormal as a hook to pull kids into the plot. My real life experiences with such things as described in my nonfiction book, An Explosion of Being: An American Family’s Journey into the Psychic, are the prime material for developing the more exciting, unusual and spooky events in the book.

Now back to the project itself.

Photo courtesy of Greg Dillon - Photography by Greg

The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. Photo courtesy of Greg Dillon, Greg’s

Photo courtesy of Greg Dillon – Photography by Greg

Kathy did a fantastic job of introducing her students to St. Augustine and its history way ahead of time. In doing so, she really paved the way for those kids to feel comfortable as they encountered things that might be unfamiliar.

As part of this process, I sent her a CD packed full of photos—St. Augustine locations, historical reenactments, the cover for each book of the trilogy, my picture, etc. Then using the book trailer (see below) to introduce the project, Kathy launched into a full schedule of students rotating the reading of Sliding Beneath the Surface aloud in class.

The details of what she did will be forthcoming. If you wish to be on a mailing list to receive that information when it is ready in September, just email me by using the contact button on this website.

Here’s the book trailer created by Cheri Crump, a fan.

Day-by-day, Kathy explained to me via email how increasingly interested her students were becoming in the book and how many of them even wanted to read ahead. Students who rarely paid attention, or rarely spoke at all, did the opposite as their readings continued. Other teachers reported how those same kids were talking about their literary adventure outside of the reading classroom.

Needless to say, Kathy was thrilled. Her hard work was really paying off. Then in an email about halfway into the project, she asked if I could come visit her students once they finished the book.

And since her school isn’t very far from where I live, and it would be fascinating to participate in the project firsthand, I agreed to spend the day at her school.

Dade blog 4

Annual reenactment of the Dade Battle that began the Second Seminole War in Florida-1835

What a great time I had! And Kathy did too.

Those kids—those non readers—were so attentive and knowledgeable about the book I found it hard to believe I was in an intensive reading classroom. When I asked them questions about the plot and characters, they had the answers—things even Kathy didn’t  know they had absorbed.

Lots of kids greeted me as they came into the room at change of class, some even giving me a hug—including a few of the guys! In high school? I was stunned.

Pine Ridge 2.1And around the room, Kathy had attached 100 pictures to the walls, one from each of  the students. Their assignment was to pick a chapter in the book they liked and a line or two from that chapter.

They were then instructed to write that information on a piece of paper and illustrate the meaning of the chapter/sentences by drawing some kind of picture. And they did beautiful work. I’ve included some of those drawings here because I think they are so important.

When I got home that evening, I had an email from Kathy, thanking me for working with her students. But it was her final comment that really got to me.

This is what she said, “This day was the best one of my entire teaching career.” Those words really hit me because  as an educator and a writer, I too felt that day with Kathy’s kids was the best one of both my careers. How tremendously rewarding.

Pine Ridge 3.1

At the end of the school year, Kathy packaged all of those pictures and sent them to me. What a treasure.

Along with the pictures, Kathy sent me thank you notes from some of the kids. Here are some excerpts from those priceless, and often telling, messages:

  • I really enjoyed your book and can’t wait for the others.
  • I love your book. Write more.
  • I hope you continue to write your stories. I love how many details you include. They made me picture my old house.
  • I hope we meet again someday.
  • Thank you for being the first author I’ve ever met and the most Pine Ridge 7.1interesting too.
  • Yesterday that you were here the period went by fast.
  • I was really pleased how your book turned out.
  • Your book was full of suspense that made me want to keep reading.
  • I wanna get back in touch. Email me at . . .
  • I have to say that the book was very entertaining. It felt like I was really in the story . . . it sent chills down my spine.
  • You have a very interesting book and I think that St. Augustine would be a very nice place to live . . . or the Keys. (Don’t you love it?)

And finally, I close out this unusually long posting with a message to the teacher who made all this possible:

Kathy, I want to thank you publicly for giving your students and me so much in so very many ways. Yes, your students seemed to like my book, but it was you who made it all fit together in a truly viable package.

Your obvious love for those kids, your unrelenting drive to get them resources and your professional skills were so apparent during all the time we worked together. It was a pleasure being your colleague even if it was for a short time.

I know you will enjoy your retirement greatly but I sure wish you were still out there doing such great things with young people.

UPDATE! After writing this post, Kathy and I got together and created a teacher guide for using Sliding Beneath the Surface in the classroom. Click here for the new Teacher Resources section of my website that allows you to download a free copy and gives other useful information.

Trilogy GraphicFurther Links for Reading and Language Arts Teachers About Using This Book in the Classroom

Reading Teacher Sparks Student Interest  An article from teacher Kathy Snyder about her experience.

At-Risk Students and Reading

Quotes From Sliding Beneath the Surface Book Reviews 

Book reviews for Sliding Beneath the Surface on Includes  reviews from reading and language arts teachers.

A Book Series for the Reading Classroom The multiple themes and threads that make the series of value.

A Multicultural Book Series for the Reading Classroom

Plaza at Christmas

St. Augustine’s Constitution Plaza at Christmas

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.

Description for The St. Augustine Trilogy

Teaching History Through Young Adult Novels

Teaching Resilience Through Young Adult Novels

St. Augustine Cathedral and Bell Tower - blog

The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica

Sample Photo Galleries – Historic St. Augustine, Florida

The Castillo de San Marcos (The old Spanish fort)

Historic Cemeteries

The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica

Spanish Soldiers of the 18th Century

Cannon Firing

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum

The Dade Battle Reenactment, Part II (The trigger event that started the Second Seminole War)




Cyndie July 1, 2013 at 8:03 PM

So excited to hear about Kathy’s reading adventure with her students. I had no idea this was going on! Such great news for Kathy and her students and the school. I worked with Kathy for several years. It is sad she has retired…. But she is enjoying her time off so much! Now that I have learned about these books I want to read them myself. My daughter and son in law live in Vilano Beach so we are very familiar with St. Augustine. I can’t wait to get these! Nice job Kathy….. Miss seeing your smiling face at school!

Doug Dillon July 1, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Hey Cyndie,
Yes, it was a joy to see Kathy having so much fun and feeling so good about her efforts. Can’t wait to see her final report but I’m delighted she’s having a relaxed summer.

Vilano Beach, eh? Ha. I reference that locale in the trilogy from time to time. Just finished giving the manuscript of Book II to my editor. Looks like it will get published wither in late September or October.

Patrick DELSAUT July 6, 2013 at 1:48 PM

Dear Doug,
you’ve found the solution to make love reading to the kids…
You have offered them your writing talent!
You’re a fantastic author of the paranormal literature!
The kids have immediately realized.
Thank you and congratulations!

Patrick, a French friend

Doug Dillon July 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

Thank you for the kind work, Patrick. Very much appreciated.


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