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Old 08-30-2009, 10:40 PM   #1
HobbyHorse
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Question Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

I thought that this article could generate some interesting discussion as there are teachers and readers in the Lounge.

From the NYT: The Future of Reading: Pick Books You Like

An excerpt:

Quote:
But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.

Among their choices: James Patterson‘s adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series of comic-book-style novels...

The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on.
The argument is that kids will be more engaged and enthusiastic about reading if they are allowed to pick their own books and, in the end, improve their standardized test scores as they read more due to their increased interest in reading.

So, what do you think? A viable approach to let students pick their own books - although the article does note that the teacher encouraged her students to read more challenging stuff than Harry Potter and/or Twilight (though some kids started with these books)? Would you have wanted to choose your own books to read in school?
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Old 08-30-2009, 10:47 PM   #2
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

The intent is good, but in my experience it does not work. Students either like to read, or they don't. They will either choose to participate in class or not. Letting them choose what to read makes little to no difference.

Parents are the biggest factor, not teachers. If the parents don't read to the kids when they're young, or the parents don't read recreationally, there is a pretty big chance the kids won't, either.
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Old 08-30-2009, 10:47 PM   #3
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

The books I didn't read in high school were not read because I didn't want to do it at that time. Having the option of picking my own book certainly wouldn't have helped in my particular case.

Part of our requirements in our English curriculum are that students read 8 books independently over the course of the year and write reviews or some alternative assessment for each. One assessment that I intend to use is a book club discussion sort of thing, like the article references.

The issue I see coming is that students aren't going to be that much more likely to read, even if it's their choosing. Let's face it, kids these days aren't reading because of other forms of entertainment. I think it's way more that than it is that students don't want to read Steinbeck. Hell, Steinbeck is more interesting than Twilight no matter how you cut it. It's just a little harder to read (a little).

For what it's worth, for their eight independent books, I approved some very easy reading material in hopes that they'll actually do this first one. After this on, though, they're going to have to read age appropriate stuff. I'm cutting my freshmen off at like level 8 reading.

Scatter thoughts, but there is something I hope someone can respond to.
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Old 08-30-2009, 10:48 PM   #4
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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Parents are the biggest factor, not teachers. If the parents don't read to the kids when they're young, or the parents don't read recreationally, there is a pretty big chance the kids won't, either.
And this. Instead of ranting as I always do about student/parent relationships, I'll just say that I agree with Turn Prophet on this.
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Old 08-30-2009, 10:58 PM   #5
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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The intent is good, but in my experience it does not work. Students either like to read, or they don't. They will either choose to participate in class or not. Letting them choose what to read makes little to no difference.

Parents are the biggest factor, not teachers. If the parents don't read to the kids when they're young, or the parents don't read recreationally, there is a pretty big chance the kids won't, either.
I'm don't really agree with this. I think it's possible to become more interested in something because it now resonates with you. To use myself as an example: I never was all that interested in plays and the theater until I read Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie as a junior in American English. Then, I wanted to read all of Williams' plays and it just progressed to other playwrights from there. I'd read plays before for school but none of them ever affected me like that one - for whatever reason, I don't really know.

(This was something that we were assigned to read for class BTW, but I was just trying to point out that I don't think this is such an "either/or" issue in that students can develop and discover new things that they may like through school...isn't that what education is all about - self-discovery?)

Last edited by HobbyHorse; 08-30-2009 at 11:05 PM.
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Old 08-30-2009, 11:14 PM   #6
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

Your example would be good if you weren't an avid reader.
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Old 08-30-2009, 11:22 PM   #7
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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I'm don't really agree with this. I think it's possible to become more interested in something because it now resonates with you. To use myself as an example: I never was all that interested in plays and the theater until I read Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie as a junior in American English. Then, I wanted to read all of Williams' plays and it just progressed to other playwrights from there. I'd read plays before for school but none of them ever affected me like that one - for whatever reason, I don't really know.

(This was something that we were assigned to read for class BTW, but I was just trying to point out that I don't think this is such an "either/or" issue in that students can develop and discover new things that they may like through school...isn't that what education is all about - self-discovery?)

But that's sort of the point of "forcing" them to read certain things, no? If you let them choose their own books, many of them (and, most likely, those to whom this move is targeted, the uninterested) will choose books they've read before or otherwise have some familiarity with (the next in a series or something), and won't discover that hey, plays don't suck, or the Lord of the Flies is pretty cool. Fwiw, they did this in my school in at least two grades (in small doses, though; there was probably still some assigned reading), and I just skimmed Dune again and most of Angela's Ashes, both books I had already read elsewhere. Choice only really give kids more ways to game the system and avoid reading either more often or anything of substance (or both). I don't think it will help much as a general policy. It also seems to limit the group discussion options, and I imagine is a bit of a strain on the teachers. I guess I agree that parents need to stop sucking if they expect their kids not to suck.

Edit: I don't think it's a terrible idea or anything; the students may very well enjoy reading books of their own choosing more than those assigned them. But I don't think it will be very effective in getting them to read more, or getting them more interested in the whole literary world.

Last edited by Zutroy; 08-30-2009 at 11:27 PM.
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Old 08-31-2009, 12:30 AM   #8
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

Although I don't think it's a bad idea, I do see some problems. The problem with this idea as I see it is that schools are going through a revolution and the way things are taught now would never have been dreamed of years ago. Teachers today are expected to develop a curriculum that is both rigorous and relevant to the students of today. If the students are allowed to choose their own books then the curriculum would be changing from year to year and it would hamper the teacher's ability to be creative in lesson planning. Even more of a problem than hampering a teacher's creativity would be that lessons would die from year to year and could not be expanded to include the very different needs of each unique learner. Teachers, or at least the way I imagine them in today's "style" of teaching, need to have the ability to improve upon their lessons from year to year so that everyone is active and engaged in the learning process.

Also, interdisciplinary units is kind of a buzzword in education circles now and is being implemented by school administration. Interdisciplinary units require an enormous amount of communication and planning within different departments of each school. If I find an article on friendship in a psychology magazine and relate the psychology behind friendship to say [U]Of Mice and Men[U], I need time to develop the necessary lessons by communicating with the psychology teacher to see what they cover in order to make the curriculum flow together as a whole. The curriculum in general should be organized around thematic units that (as I stated) must be relevant to the world today and rigorous enough to challenge students to think about this world.

Now, I'm not saying students should not be allowed to choose their own books or that curriculum should never change, but the above issues must be addressed by each teacher and each school. I think the development of lessons and overarching curriculum in general would be devastated by content that changes so rapidly.
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Old 08-31-2009, 12:32 AM   #9
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

HH, I just think you're far too optimistic about kids reading today. Many of them haven't touched a book outside a classroom since they were 8 years old. They loathe reading and find it to be a monumental waste of time.

That isn't going to change just because you let them choose. Here's another reason why.

We went to the library to pick out books. Most of the non-reading guys just picked up either the shortest book they could find or a book related to the sport they're interested in. They have nothing invested in it. Even if they enjoy the baseball book, they're not going to become big readers.

Classic literature is classic for a reason and taught in schools for a reason. While I don't always agree with the trees selected, I sure do believe in the forest. I'm with Zutroy. Give them some stuff to read that's good and eventually something will hit. I mean, after all, how'd that Tennessee Williams piece treat you?


Edit: Also, I've definitely had a large number already ask me, "Can I reread something I've already done for this project?" They're all about cutting corners. As I was at that age.
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Old 08-31-2009, 12:44 AM   #10
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

Also, reading is a cross-disciplinary thing and should be done in all classes, not just English classes.

If an English class is reading Call of the Wild or something and the student is very interested in survival in the wilderness or something related there is no problem with allowing the student to read about survival in another book or journal.

In terms of writing, immersion reporting exists in which the student can write all about an experience of something related to the text.

Allowing the student to choose their reading is a baby step. Getting them active, involved, and wanting to read is another issue entirely.
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Old 08-31-2009, 01:12 AM   #11
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

They can choose from a list of books (with descriptions) the teacher has approved. This way they get some choice and the teacher doesn't have to mark 32 book reports on Twilight.
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Old 08-31-2009, 02:05 AM   #12
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

If I get to choose my books, I don't read anything and bull**** using whatever I find on the internet
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Old 08-31-2009, 02:12 AM   #13
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

Quote:
Originally Posted by HobbyHorse View Post
I thought that this article could generate some interesting discussion as there are teachers and readers in the Lounge.

From the NYT: The Future of Reading: Pick Books You Like

An excerpt:



The argument is that kids will be more engaged and enthusiastic about reading if they are allowed to pick their own books and, in the end, improve their standardized test scores as they read more due to their increased interest in reading.

So, what do you think? A viable approach to let students pick their own books - although the article does note that the teacher encouraged her students to read more challenging stuff than Harry Potter and/or Twilight (though some kids started with these books)? Would you have wanted to choose your own books to read in school?
This is one one of my pet peeves in life. People do no really read anymore,especially younger kids. I actually know people who have never read one book in their whole life. I myself love reading and this is probably a good idea. I think it is better choice to read something and not read anything at all.
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Old 08-31-2009, 05:24 AM   #14
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

If adults won't read and follow through with the book clubs they start, how can we ask these illiterate kids to read real books? Give these kids comic books and candy. We wouldn't want to ask too much of them.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:06 AM   #15
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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If adults won't read and follow through with the book clubs they start, how can we ask these illiterate kids to read real books? Give these kids comic books and candy. We wouldn't want to ask too much of them.
Maybe those adults are busy shaping the future of America!
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:43 AM   #16
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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I actually know people who have never read one book in their whole life.
Ditto; it's very scary.

While I think some of the books I was persuaded to read in English classes were boring/outdated/whatever, I don't think total freedom is for the best, because you're going to get book reports and essays on meaningless garbage a lot of the time - like, say, Twilight. Some kind of compromise where there are, say, 10 books the students can choose from each genre (or something similar) seems like the best idea - students can choose to a significant extent (and a far greater extent than they currently can) what they want to read, but a certain 'quality' of book is guaranteed.
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Old 08-31-2009, 02:40 PM   #17
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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The intent is good, but in my experience it does not work. Students either like to read, or they don't. They will either choose to participate in class or not. Letting them choose what to read makes little to no difference.

Parents are the biggest factor, not teachers. If the parents don't read to the kids when they're young, or the parents don't read recreationally, there is a pretty big chance the kids won't, either.
I can identify strongly with your last paragraph. The reason I did so well in school was because reading was part of the culture of my family. Being surrounded by peer pressure that reading was geeky and fruity wasn't enough to dislodge the good examples and plain joy in reading that daily reinforcement from my parents gave me. I am sure if I had grown up in the kind of house in which there were no books, or worse yet in a house in which parents thought it was fruity or a waste of time to read, it would have been far easier for me to just say to hell with it and neither do well in school nor care about developing my mind independently. It certainly would have been the more popular and easy choice.

I believe teachers can occasionally rescue a kid, but it is not strictly their job to do so, and that's much too much to expect of them. It must be hard enough already to create and maintain an environment conducive to learning and then see that some learning gets done, especially when that learning involves more than mere mechanical memorization and problem solving. It's the broader context of and influences in a kid's life which will be the most determinative factors in how a kid lives and thinks. If a teacher manages to become one of them, hopefully that teacher will handle it right and not actually turn a kid away from the love of reading and learning in general.

Last edited by Blarg; 08-31-2009 at 02:46 PM.
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Old 08-31-2009, 03:21 PM   #18
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

We did this in my 10th grade English class. There were short stories or whatever in class and you had two read 4 books of your choosing outside. They had to be approved but, I didn't hear of anyone needing to pick another book. You didn't have to read old classics either, for example one kid read Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. It wasn't a school policy, but just how this teacher ran his class. I think it worked well for him because he was an amazing teacher and class was always enjoyable.
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Old 08-31-2009, 06:20 PM   #19
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

I never read any book I was assigned to read in school. I basically looked up the first page, last page and the back cover. Then I went to internet to look summarized reports on that piece of ****.
With this info I wrote an analysis on the book. Worked out well every time.

The books I was free to choose I did try to read. See, I even tried! I think I even read a book once, almost atleast. It made some difference but as you can see not much. I'd still vote for the option to choose your own books

Edit: Nowadays I read from time to time. So disliking reading in HS/lower grades did not carry on.

Last edited by testaaja; 08-31-2009 at 06:30 PM.
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Old 08-31-2009, 06:54 PM   #20
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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Parents are the biggest factor, not teachers. If the parents don't read to the kids when they're young, or the parents don't read recreationally, there is a pretty big chance the kids won't, either.
I have to disagree with this my mother read to me all the time as a child and she is always reading a book then and still does. I hate reading Books I can read a Magazines, Poker/Music Forums and I skim through poker books,

But I really dont enjoy reading a Novel I have read some books, When I lived on NYC and used to take public transportation but I can't just sit home and read a book.


I wonder what a Teacher would think about a book report on a poker book. Imagine a kid handing in a book report on Matasow's Check raising the Devil. (which I actually would like to read but it would be a red flagged book)
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Old 08-31-2009, 07:03 PM   #21
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

At least you had a chance to be inspired by books though. Nobody said you had to take it. It's not that kind of thing, and I don't think that's what Turn Prophet was saying.

It's hard to be a self-starter in life, much less do sometimes difficult or time-consuming things that other people around you don't value, or make up a value system out of whole cloth on your own. Having role models makes most things much easier, and can turn things you might never even have considered seem possible, achievable, or interesting. It can be a big leg up in life. A parent is the strongest role model a young child has, and most of what they know for a while. Their direction and example can do a lot for a child. But of course there is no guarantee of anything. It's a matter of influence, not certainty.
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Old 08-31-2009, 07:09 PM   #22
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

I think for a lot of kids that turning reading into an assignment immediately = do not want. I know when I was in high school I would read in my spare time, but I was pretty determined to not give a crap about anything they gave me. And it wasn't any sort of f the system type thing, it was just that making reading work took all the enjoyment out of it. So I think for most of the non-reading crowd that it really doesn't matter if it's some dusty old literature or Harry Potter; if they have to do it for school it's prob not going to get done.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:28 PM   #23
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

In my school, we had a mixture of old and new style. Approximately 75% of the reading and reporting we had to do was from required reading with the other 25% coming from literature we could select on our own.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:48 PM   #24
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

From Elementary through High School we always had mandatory "Summer Reading" projects where we had to pick a book out of a dozen or so to read over the summer and do a project on that was due at the start of the next school year. It still never made me want to read.
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Old 08-31-2009, 10:41 PM   #25
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Re: Should Students Be Allowed to Choose Their Own Books to Read in English Classes?

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The curriculum in general should be organized around thematic units that (as I stated) must be relevant to the world today and rigorous enough to challenge students to think about this world.
This strikes me as very key, and key to a lot of problems in the world. Not everything is supposed to be fun. Much of life is about learning to do what needs to be done anyway. Your job, your wife, your kids, your dog, your friendships, getting along with the neighors, the maintenance of your house, your saving for retirement, your handling of your bills ... the world is full of expectations for you and situations you have to handle by thinking about things you don't want to, making plans that irritate and don't interest you, and following them through so you can do what you don't want to do. It is not possible for that to change. You just have to learn to deal with it.

That's part of what school is supposed to prepare you for ... thinking ... the adult world ... doing stuff that is difficult and takes concentration and time.

Making kids comfortable or happy is not always the greatest good, in education or otherwise. The rewards of not stretching your boundaries are not always the greatest ones to be had and shouldn't be the most sought after. You gain a lot in life from having to think thoughts that are new to you, think hard, hit a few brick walls, perhaps think originally, and scramble about in unfamiliar territory as you try to figure things out. I'd go even further, to say that encountering the difficult and unfamiliar and attempting to deal with it, learning how it is done -- as well as how to handle the feelings its stirs up -- in a mature and productive way, is not just tangential to education, but a primary purpose and virtue of it.

There is the entire rest of the world and rest of your life to try to get comfortable with. It's not the obligation of schools to make you like your work, your responsibilities, or yourself. School is supposed to be hard, and give you something to strive for intellectually whether you like it, or know or care what's important, or not. Even your struggles and potential failures in it are gentle lessons compared to the rough handling you get when you leave it. Especially if you have yet to learn to do what is hard, dull, and takes longer than you'd like.
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