Laura Younkin

Laura Younkin

By Laura Younkin

It’s pretty easy to get in a rut in teaching. Teachers can get into the habit of covering the same topics the same way year after year until the years blur together.

Really good teachers don’t get into a rut, though. At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, my friends – Michelle McKelvy and Ellen Bond, who teach 10th-grade English – decided it was time to take some risks. I’m glad they did.

I’m the library media specialist at Ballard High School and the three of us worked this past year to help make reading a passion for their sophomores, not an odious task.

One of the first things we did is show students a book summary and review database called NoveList on the Kentucky Virtual Library and let them decide what new books the library should order. The students researched topics and authors that interested them; the list they created included books on basketball star Stephen Curry, horror stories and a guide to being a hobo.

The books meant more to the students because they had ownership. Those books were added to the library’s collection. Once the books came in and were processed, the students could check out the ones they’d requested.

Students who had hated reading, who insisted reading was a waste time, were begging for more time to read in their classrooms. Michelle and Elle said there were days students would hurry through other assignments because they wanted to have time to read the books they’d selected.

Michelle had a student who told her he was very picky about books and he didn’t really like to read. He read the graphic novel “Yummy,” which is based on a true story, in one day and then was recommending it to his classmates.

“For this student, this was HUGE!” Michelle said.

When Michelle gave him a book written by rapper 50 Cent, he was excited to read it. Within three weeks, he had read two books and he was ready for more. Since Michelle trusted her students to know what they wanted to read, she saw how much they could love reading.

Elle had a similar experience. One of her students is lively, not fond of sitting and focusing on one thing – that is, until the two Stephen Curry biographies he wanted arrived. This reluctant reader couldn’t wait for class time to read.

Keeping with the spirit of reading being fun, not a chore, the teachers and I decided to try something different than traditional written book reports. Students performed book talks to help convince other students to read their book. Michelle’s class used Vine, so they had 6 seconds to sell viewers on their books. Elle’s class opted for Instagram videos, where they had a more lush 15 seconds to tell their story.

The students were engaged and interested in the projects. They had to distill their book down to its very essence and try to explain why other teenagers should read it. They worked hard on their writing and presentation skills.

For a generation that has grown up online and with selfies, the students were surprisingly fragile about being filmed. They worried about how they looked, how to pronounce certain words and how to make their reviews interesting. Elle’s students’ reports are posted on a JCPS-Teen-Reads Instagram account and the students have started checking out their own and their classmates’ Instagrams.

The students also got the chance to be the ones in charge. While we adults sometimes stumbled with technology that was new to us, the students were quite familiar with Vine and Instagram and could troubleshoot immediately.

Michelle said it best when she said “It’s not easy to plan lessons and units that require me to think outside of the box. However, the payoff is definitely worth it. My students have embraced reading and have discovered reading IS fun!”

Laura Younkin is the library media specialist at Ballard High School (Jefferson County). 



Laura Younkin,

Michelle McKelvy,

Ellen Bond,