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Old 08-30-2009, 10:40 PM   #1
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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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Originally Posted by Turn Prophet View Post
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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