While trying to get an overview of library services offered in my area, I spoke with a high school librarian who brought up an idea that seemed revolutionary to me. The librarian had previously been a special education teacher, so she purposely made her library services welcoming to this population.
Note: This particular high school still has a “Special Education” program. Most schools are inclusive, so students attend classes together, and those who have learning disabilities or special needs may have a tutor for certain subjects, or attend other learning activities to get extra help.
Because of her background, the librarian reached out to the current English teachers to form a book club for students with disabilities. She wanted to hold a weekly book club in the library during English class. Holding programs during school hours can be difficult, because there is already so much to do during a school day. But it increases participation, since many students ride the bus or have other after-school obligations, and often can’t stay late.
For the book club, students chose a book from three the librarian suggested—no required school reading, but instead books that were of an appropriate age level, deemed “fun” reads. She read aloud one chapter a week, and they were responsible for reading the next two chapters on their own, to discuss at the beginning of the next week’s meeting.
The librarian used the rest of the period to relate the book to skills that would help the students in English class. Sometimes they would have informal quizzes to help with reading comprehension. Students also learned how to pick a thesis and write a short critical essay, which the teacher accepted at the end of the semester for bonus points.
This program sounds a little stuffy, but it is an excellent template to engage students with disabilities in reading. If the class can’t come in during English class, see if they can come in during lunch once a week, or even once a month! If it’s in your budget, order a pizza so they don’t see the book club as giving up their freedom, but rather as a fun club with lunch provided. Seek feedback from the students to ensure you’re meeting their needs and interests.
Instead of giving quizzes to encourage reading comprehension, try trivia games with questions about the book’s characters and actions, with themed bookmarks as prizes. Have students speculate about what they think might happen next, jot down their ideas, and save them for the next meeting. Once students read further into the book, go over what they thought would happen and see how well they guessed.
Using this time to help students write critical papers is a great idea, because that can be a difficult concept for high schoolers to grasp, and practice always helps. But consider adding a creative element into the book club as well. Have the students write reviews to post on the library’s blog, and encourage the discussion to continue online in the comments. Help students make a book trailer for the chosen book.
Book clubs should be fun, and this doesn’t change just because one is held during school hours! It’s important to listen to the teens in your book club and help the program highlight and stimulate their interests, as stated in “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action.”
Tips and Resources:
Check out themed booklists and sample book trailers from the YALSA wiki.
The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies has information about various disabilities, so you can make sure your program is accessible to everyone.
Explore the Serving Disabled Teens resources on YALSA’s wiki.
Build cultural competence skills to help ensure you’re comfortable working with students from different backgrounds.
Check out posts from The Hub related to reading and disabilities