As part of our commitment to highlight quality literacy work happening in Nashville, we visited Croft Design Center Middle School to attend a Project LIT Book Club. This program is possible at Croft because of the dedication of several exceptional teachers. Brandy Kuhlman, seventh-grade ELA, Abby Ashford-Grooms, eighth-grade ELA, and Colin Hunt, eighth-grade ELA and social studies, heard about the growing Project LIT Community, started originally by Jarred Amato and his students at Maplewood High School, and brought it to their school. Now, Croft Middle is one of the most consistently engaged chapters in Nashville, meeting each month and reaching a continuously growing number of students.
Here’s what we saw that we loved – think how you could apply some of this to your school or program:
High-quality texts about relevant and important topics
Last month, students, teachers and others from the community gathered in the Croft Design Center Middle School library to discuss “Refugee” by Alan Gratz. This book, while an accessible text for young to young-adult readers, is anything but light reading. The novel follows the stories of three children and their families in different parts of history – Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Cuba in the 1990s and Syria in the present day – all experiencing a similar problem: They must flee the homes they have always known in order to stay alive.
Despite the heavy topic of this novel, the mood at Croft’s Project LIT meeting was fun and high-energy. Students and adults were engaging in deep discussions on their reactions to the book – How would you feel if you were forced to leave your home country? Would you have made the same decisions as the characters? Which story could you relate to the most? – as well as reviewing important information in order to prepare for the main event: the trivia contest. At Croft, Project LIT exposes students to stories that expand their worldview while they are having fun.
Letting students choose to love reading
Oftentimes, we think the best way to get kids to read is to require it. What Project LIT has found, however, is that letting kids “choose” to participate or “opt in” gets a far better result. When kids choose to participate, they are more engaged and excited. Ashford-Grooms shares that, for a lot of her students, just knowing there are extra books they can check out and read outside of a school assignment is a big motivator. Many students at Croft are reading the Project LIT books each month even if they cannot attend the meetings themselves. Because of this, Kuhlman and Ashford-Grooms say they want to continue to build up Project LIT at their school in order to be as inclusive as possible. This is why some meetings are in the morning before school and some are after school, so that students who participate in athletics or other clubs after school can still participate.
Adults and students talking with each other instead of at each other
These meetings also provide a great opportunity for students to engage with teachers and other adults in the building outside the everyday classroom scenario. Rather than the traditional school day in which teachers talk and students listen, Project LIT at Croft makes intentional time when students and teachers work together as a team of learners and book-lovers. At Project LIT meetings, all team members interact as equals – everyone contributes, and everyone has fun.
Creating a community of readers in school and beyond
Simply by having a single book that many students and teachers at Croft are reading at once – even by those who are unable to attend meetings – brings individuals together. Students can see another student walking down the hall with this month’s books and immediately know that they can relate to them and have something fun and meaningful to talk about.
Another goal of the program is to show students that the shared reading of these books each month is “bigger than just Croft,” Kuhlman and Ashford-Grooms say. By inviting community members – anyone is welcome – to meetings, students see reading and literary discussions taking place beyond who and what they may see in the typical school day. Croft Middle also partners with Overton High School, the zone high school in the same cluster, to create a larger sense of community.
Check out the great work that Croft Middle is doing here. If you would like to learn more about the greater Project LIT Community, a grassroots movement that now includes more than 150 chapters across the country, please click here. And above all – think about how you could create opportunities with complex text, that give kids a chance to “choose” to read, and an opportunity to engage with other adults on a peer-to-peer basis to discuss the book. These same principles can be applied to an after-care program, a summer camp, a church and more.
If you know of other “bright spots” – great things happening in schools or organizations across the city, contact [email protected].