After attending a meeting with a group of concerned community members, teachers, students, and Teach for America alums about a struggling middle school, I was shocked to hear about the struggles facing middle school students these days. The literacy issues were particularly concerning. Several people suggested I try to write something educational that is geared toward middle school students. High-interest, low-level materials are truly rare, but once you get into middle school territory, it becomes downright unfair. Why should a middle school student reading on a third grade level have to choose between a picture book and an early chapter book about a 7-year old protagonist?
My publishing company is facing a lot of cuts (who isn't these days) and funds for new books are hard to come by. I hope that will change as more states begin implementing Common Core Standards and use my Common-Core-Aligned book in their classrooms, but until then, I'm focusing on creating free content and entering the early draft stage of a few books that have been brewing in my head, just dying to be written.
I've never taught middle school. My experience in a somewhat rural middle school in West Virginia in the early 90s isn't really the experience of the average middle-schooler these days, and definitely not the experience of those I want to target. That said, I've called on the help of some former students that I've had the honor of teaching. They are in high school now, but they are some of the most eloquent, articulate young people I know and their ability to reflect and be honest with me is an opportunity I cannot take for granted. I've given them some homework, asking them to reflect upon their own middle school experience and provide some insight into the lives of middle-schoolers. At this point, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to nudge the final product all the way to binding, rather leave it online as a free ebook for teachers to download and use in classrooms, leveled to multiple reading levels so a variety of struggling readers can access it. I plan to address some tough issues in the book through fiction: bullying, teasing, academic struggles, etc.
I've lost touch with several of my former students in Atlanta, so if you're out there and reading this, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org...easy enough, right?) and tell me if you're interested in helping out or sharing your experience. I won't name names or violate privacy, so don't worry about that. And if you weren't one of my students but you want to share your recent or current middle school experience with me, please, drop me a line. That includes teachers! I'll respond, I'll probe your comments a bit, and you'll be indirectly helping struggling readers get through middle school-- one of the most challenging and awkward phases of their lives.