Putting Education Reform To The Test

“Ballin’ On A Budget:” How A Miami Teacher Keeps His Library Stocked

Some of the books in Daniel Dickey's classroom library.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Some of the books in Daniel Dickey's classroom library.

Miami Northwestern High School teacher Daniel Dickey says there’s no silver bullet or secret book which will spark a student’s interest in reading.

Instead, he says he asks questions and listens.

“I sit down with that student and really figure out what is it that drives you?” Dickey says. “Why do you come to school? Why are you here every day?”

He asks them about their plans, their dreams.

“If you could envision yourself in five months, five years, fifty years, where would you be?” he says. “Why? What are your goals in life? And from that I usually assess which book would be best.”

Dickey has launched the Million Word Campaign at Miami Northwestern High School to get his students reading more. Dickey teaches writing, but believes students need to read in order to be good writers and speakers.

Dickey gets pizza for students who read at least 500,000 words. Usually, the leader board posted at the back of the class is enough to keep the top readers motivated.

Students take an oral quiz on each book. Dickey often reads a passage and asks the students why it’s important to the story. He asks about themes and meaning. He also asks students why they think it’s important to read.

Twice he sent students back to their books to read a little closer and come back again for another test.

Dickey stocks a library with a couple hundred books in his class. He says urban-themed fiction is usually the most popular — stories about young people overcoming a challenge.

The shelf for advanced readers includes "Lolita," "Farewell to Arms" and "The Kite Runner."

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The shelf for advanced readers includes "Lolita," "Farewell to Arms" and "The Kite Runner."

He’s got shelves for New York Times best-sellers, sports non-fiction, thrillers and shelf with books — such as David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” — only for those who’ve already read a half-million words.

The Million Word Campaign has spread from one class to school-wide, but Dickey says not every student is receptive.

He often starts those students with a magazine

Dickey says he does his best to bring in special requests.

“I’m going to have to get more books, If someone wants to sponsor my library,” he says. “I’m ballin’ on a budget. I’m buying Amazon Prime. I can’t afford all of them. I try to write grants.”


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