Author Helps Kirby Middle School Promote Literacy in the Digital Age


Brownie Spires, an English teacher at Kirby Middle School, is constantly looking for new ways to enrich students’ reading and writing experiences. When Spires learned that all of her seventh grade students had read Angie Thomas’ book, The Hate U Give, in their 6th grade English class, she was inspired to reach out to the author. Spires sent Thomas a message but never expected that the author would reply and record a special video message to her class. “I definitely freaked out like a fangirl when Angie Thomas responded back. I could not believe it,” laughed Spires.

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To showcase the video, Spires decided to launch a reading club called ‘Sweet Reads,’ where students could come together to discuss books and share their love for reading. “Reading is very important in the lives of students, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. So we do many things to help promote literacy and Sweet Reads has been one of those events.”

Inspiring a Love for Reading

Spires and her peers work collectively to help students deepen their literacy skills and develop a love for reading. At Green Dot, our educators meet students where they are by providing personalized instruction and the support needed to best engage them in their learning.
“We've got to meet them at their interest level and get books that are attractive to them. We're starting at ground zero with some of these students. So to convince them that books are worth their time, maybe not as convenient as the phone, but that it’s great to read,” said Spires.

It’s why Kirby has invested in elevating student voices and incorporating student choice. “We ask the students for book suggestions like, ‘What would you like for us to add to the library? We'll order it and you'll be the first student to get to check it out.’” Interest has a great impact on students' ability to engage with a text. Access to high level literature motivates struggling readers by introducing them to reading material that resonates with them and helps them build vocabulary, comprehension, and interest in reading.

English teachers at Kirby are also leveraging technology to improve students’ literacy. “In a world full of technology reading is getting lost, because it's not instant. So I share with students that they have opportunities to read on their phones or their devices,” said Spires. She makes it a point to introduce her students to Libby, a free app that allows users to borrow ebooks from their public library. “I want them to know that there are benefits to reading, it's not just a form of entertainment, it can also be a form of relaxation. If we can increase their literacy, everything else goes up too.” Over the summer Spires plans to collaborate with the local library to help more students sign up for a library card and take advantage of the Memphis Public Library system’s electronic resources. By connecting students with literature over the summer, Kirby is helping students avoid the so-called ‘summer slide,’ the phenomenon where students lose some of the skills or achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

We’re proud of educators like Spires who go above and beyond to help our students succeed. We’re thankful for Thomas, whose kind gesture helped stoke the fire of literacy and has led to the creation of a new tradition at Kirby.