In the old days, we assigned reading then gave a quiz or something the next day so students could show they read what they were supposed to the night–or class–before. If we wanted students to do independent choice books, we assigned reading logs. The problem with these “assessments” is that they were making reading a chore, a hoop that students had to jump through for a grade. And how many students were actually doing the reading? How many students later said, “yeah, I never actually read The Great Gatsby. I just listened in class and copied someone’s study questions. That is all you needed to do to pass the quizzes.”?
Look at what else students are “assigned” to read: nonfiction accounts of historical events, scientific jargon, math explanations, and then we add a stuffy piece of “canonical” literature to that pile and we wonder why they don’t want to read anything.
Every year during the first week of school, I ask my students the same things: “Do you like to read, and if not, was there ever a time you did like to read? When was that and why did you stop liking it?” I would say routinely about a third of my students like reading, a third once did but stopped when reading became required and wasn’t a choice anymore, and a third claim to never have liked it.
The students who never liked it are almost all students who struggle with reading and/or are way below grade level in all reading comprehension scores. We hand them books that are way over their comprehension level, tell them they will be graded on their understanding and analysis of the book and its themes while on a set time table that is the same as everyone else. They receive failing scores and we wonder why they don’t like to read and shut down.
Ok, most of us don’t wonder. We know. But what can we do? We are told we need to teach certain pieces of literature and assess a certain number of times a semester. Reluctant readers are going to turn into non-readers if this is the path we continue down.
Look at what makes someone a reader according to both Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller:
- choice in what they read
- a list of books they want to read
- knowledge of where to find books they want to read and/or get advice about what to read next.
- excitement for reading
- a discussion with others about what they read
This school year, I decided to make the jump to using the Reader’s Workshop model I’ve been reading about and attending workshops to learn how to implement. While my list of things to tweak is long, the standout triumph of the year was how many non-readers became readers and how many reluctant readers now classify themselves as loving to read. And I owe it all to choice and accessibility to books that teens want to read.
I have a classroom library of over seven hundred titles, but our school’s media center is well-stocked with great, recent titles thanks to a media center specialist who is very involved in YA literature and what is hot with teens. Every week I showcase books in my library with Book Talks so students can hear what plots are available to them.
Then I let them choose. Many students clamor for the books I talk about in class. When those get all checked out, they want to know what else is like that book, so I direct them to something in my library or I make them a list to take to the media center.
Then I give them time to read. When students have the time to get into their books in class and are given the precious time to read, they are more willing to try. I also give them permission to “quit” books. If it’s not working, return it and try something new.
Some of my students who were already avid readers decided to take the chance and branch out from what they usually read. I had students making the choice to read The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Road, and Life of Pi among other books considered to be literature and definitely considered to be “above” an eighth or ninth grade reading level.
I had much more engagement and more students reading the required literature this year than I have in the past as well. We had a culture of reading in our classes. Because most reading was driven by force, when we all read the same thing, it felt like a giant book club. Students were more apt to at least try reading the required pieces and share why the didn’t like it or “quit” reading.
Summer is coming though. Will students continue to choose to read? My students will be making summer reading lists of books they think they might like to read. Whether or not they get to the library or the bookstores is on them. But I have hope that they will.
Summer Reading for Teens
Books in a Series:
The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
The Selection series by Kiera Cass
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
Gone series by Michael Grant
Blueford HIgh series published by Townsend Press
Matched series by Ally Condie
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Winger by Andrew Smith
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Wonder by RJ Palacio