Edustaff sub motivates kids to read through online video series


May 22, 2023

As a Premier Substitute Teacher for Edustaff, Phil Blum spends a lot of time with students who aren’t confident readers. On the days when he’s not substitute teaching in a classroom, he often works one-on-one with students to help them with reading, math, or homework.

He noticed that many of the fifth- and sixth-grade students he works with read only graphic novels – if they read at all.

“I just got to thinking,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with graphic novels, but there’s got to be a way to build interest in some of these other chapter novels.”

He thought back to the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when he kept in touch with his grandchildren by reading to them over Zoom. Soon his new video series, “The First Chapter with Mr. Blum,” was born.

“I thought maybe if I read a synopsis of a book and a first chapter, it would be appealing enough for the students to check out a type of book they wouldn’t normally have read,” he said. “I tried to find main characters that students could relate to.”

His first video featured the book “Scar Island,” by Dan Gemeinhart. Since then, he’s introduced kids to a variety of classic stories – a dozen so far. After some of the students read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in class, he followed up with videos on more of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. When students were studying westward expansion, he featured a book called “The Captain’s Dog,” which told the story of Lewis and Clark’s expedition from the viewpoint of a dog.

After finishing a new video, he sends it to the school librarian, who puts it on the school’s Schoology page. The videos can also be found on YouTube.

“They seem to have been well received,” he said. “Every now and then a student will ask if I have made another video. The teachers have mentioned that they appreciate having them there.”

Blum started substitute teaching with Edustaff after retiring in 2017 from his job as a line coordinator at Pfizer. He initially signed up to work in nine different school districts, but this year became a building sub at Nickels Intermediate School in Byron Center, Michigan, reporting to the same school each day. It’s an enjoyable way to spend his retirement, he said.

“It has really been a good experience. I have enjoyed the one-on-one interaction,” he said. “This is the kind of thing I can do to keep busy, as opposed to just binging TV.”