Choice and Reading

I showed my students this video and asked them to journal their reactions to it. Here are some selections from their journals:

I think every high school student relates to these students in some sort of way. As time goes on, and hew and more entertaining technology is invented, reading becomes more tedious than entertaining. If I am forced to read a book that I can’t relate to or understand, of course I will get bored and most likely give up on it. Now on the other hand, I read books on programming and starting businesses all the time, and really enjoy reading them. Just like these students, I would have to say, if teachers gave students the option to choose what they read, kids would enjoy reading a lot more and become better readers. Because of school, reading has gotten a bad name to kids and even some adults. If it wasn’t for my father introducing me to my first book on programming and first book on how to start a business, I don’t think I’d ever pick up a book in my life.

A great example of finding a niche you enjoy, I think.

I think the reason that teenagers around the world do not read as much as teenagers used to read in the past is because of the new and advanced technology. Teenagers go on Facebook or watch TV on their free time instead of reading and it definitely takes a big amount of time (and doesn’t have time for reading). Personally, I wish I could read more because I love it and I think it helps me to widen my knowledge and think of aspects in life in a different way.

Personal note of pride: that last student came into my English class two years ago in February of her 9th grade year with no English. None.

I agree with the fact that it is more enjoyable to read something you’re interested in or chose yourself. Another point I would add is that reading on your own is nicer because you can read at your own pace and when there is no pressure I tend to read more.

As I slow reader myself (I often really did want to finish books assigned in school and couldn’t), I can relate to this student. What do we do about that problem in light of the limited time we have in school?

I stopped reading in 8th grade, too. Then I picked books I was interested in (10th, 11th grade) and books were an amazing source because if you forget a part you can go back to it which is just the opposite of what you can do when listening to someone talk. I completely agree with the students in the video. I think what stops people to read is that they are filling a cup they do not have. That cup is the interest and without it your energy is used for something you think is pointless. I started out reading Frankenstein [a recent required read in my Brit. Lit. classes] with apathy and then I started thinking, why not enjoy this? So I took the info. and used it to gain knowledge and expand my thinking.

This student’s cup analogy is interesting in light of the image of futility it provides.

The message in this video was that forcing people to read books that they do not like then they will not read them.

  • Teens need to read.
  • People read more if they like the book.
  • People use SparkNotes if they do not want to read or use what their peers say.
  • More important to read than read classics.
  • People who like the books will read more of them.
  • Classics are okay but what you like to read is better to read.

This student really summed up the video’s main points well because I think he agreed with them though he didn’t say so explicitly.

I believe that the video was very true. I never read for fun. I think if the teacher would let the kids read what they would choose to read, more kids would read. I read all 3 summer reading books for the first time ever, the books were all boring but I still read them. I usually read 1 or 1.5 summer reading books just because they are so boring & I have better things to do.

I do pick up on a feeling of accomplishment regarding completing freshmen year summer reading.

The video is very true. I read books quicker when I like it. The Things They Carried [a summer reading selection] took me forever. Even though I was at camp, I could never get into it. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time took me not even one night & Saturday morning to read. Though it was shorter, I enjoyed reading it more and it made me enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter what we read because reading in general stimulates our brain cells and benefits our writing and the way we think. Classics might help teach morals & provide philosophical ways of thinking, but they are overrated.

The first thought that leaps to mind is that if this poor student of mine has been convinced somehow that classics should be read so that we can learn morals and widen our philosophy, it’s really no wonder he doesn’t like them.

I also have some students who were more critical of the video:

I do not trust the credibility of this video for the following reasons:

  • The data gathered for this video was taken from only one high school.
  • Never showed an interview where a child actually read the assigned books.
  • In the video the person who didn’t read the book talks about how they understood what happened by gathering information from what people in said in class discussions. This means that someone in that class read the book and understood it enough to discuss it.

Even though the credibility of this video is in question, I do believe that they are trying to get across a valid point. If someone likes what they are reading then they will most likely read the entire thing. Also if you let them choose what they are going to read they would likely read it.

I love the way that student really thought carefully about the validity of the message, even though he agreed with it.

In my opinion, these students are whiners. I honestly think that classics are important as they reflect the time in which they were made. You don’t want to do math, but you do it anyway. Reading is made out to be such a chore these days. Reading is television for the mind. What is wrong with that? Come on, people. Grow up and just read the darn book! I mean, my God! Complain! Complain! Complain! Now how do I, who is not a genius, manage to read books for skill and books for fun at the same time?

While I admire this student’s sentiments and have shared them from time to time, is it me, or does reading sound like medicine you need to take, so it’s better to just man up and take it?

Our school is examining ways to bring more student choice into the curriculum. We have no plans to eliminate required reading as a class, but more independent reading reflecting student choice and literature circles are options we are exploring. What is your school doing to encourage more reading and foster lifelong reading habits?

15 thoughts on “Choice and Reading”

  1. Yes! I can see where your doubts about the credulity of this video are valid, but in my experience, all students need is class time to read + choice in what they're reading (even if it's a whole class read) + read alouds/ modeled reading to make students into readers. My at-risk high schoolers read and read and read. And, guess what? They get excited about books and don't need to rely on sparknotes or the comments of others to know what they're talking about in reference to what we're reading in class. Great video! I plan to share it with other educators.

    1. I just want to clarify that it was my student who expressed doubts about the video's credibility. Great comments about reading—a great approach!

  2. Hi Dana – I love this post and would like to include it in the next Carnival of Educators, which I'm hosting, if that's okay with you?

  3. I like to use young adult literature in my classroom. I have used it as a bridge to the classics and as just a student choice in an independent reading assignment. I have used the bridge to the classics idea in both 9th and 10th grade classes, but I haven't used it with my 12th grade British lit class, mainly because I haven't found a young adult novel that I thought would work as well as those for the other classes. But I'm still looking! I also have conversations with my students about the young adult books I've read or am reading. I think they respond so much better when they know that I read books written for them because it gives me credibility. My teenage daughter also helps me find good books. We read them together. I don't promise that my tactics always work, but I believe that trying them is better than not trying.

    1. I just read an article, "Monsters' Ink: How Walter Dean Myers Made Frankenstein Fun" by Nathan Phillips (from the May 2003 English Journal). I had forgotten that I downloaded it! It's all about this teacher's success with using Myers' book in connection with Frankenstein. I will definitely check out the YA book.

  4. My school has recently made a change in the reading choices for freshmen. We felt that we were losing students by requiring books like Great Expectations, so we ordered new novels that were all high interest and low difficulty. This has been both good and bad. Good, in that more students are actually reading assigned novels. Bad, in that the better readers feel like we've lowered the bar. One student told me this year that her brother in 4th grade was reading the same book she was reading. Didn't help her self esteem at all.

    Personally, I've been finding trouble finding a reason to teach novels at all and have been doing things much similar to the video and having students read independently with novels they choose on their own. I use short stories to teach techniques, terminology, and parts of stories.

    1. My sentiments exactly. I've gone to using short stories, non-fiction articles (usually articles from magazines such as Atlantic Monthly, Walrus Magazine, etc) which are challenging and poetry as the required reading/whole class discussion pieces.

      I've had to speak to a few of my Grade 11s who consistently choose novels below their ability, but not many. I had one girl this year say "If I finish this book, it will be the first one I've read on my own in high school". A sad commentary.

      When I have chosen to do a whole class novel, I've had great success listening to them with the class. We generally listen to difficult section and then they read other on their own. This helps keeps the class together so that we can discuss the ideas, themes, etc. It also encourages attendance as they have to read on their own if they're absent!

  5. I have been reading Nancie Atwell lately and have been trying to find ways to incorporate some of her principles into my college classroom. I've written about my thoughts on this here:

    In my English course for Child Studies majors this year, we read two novels: Franny & Zooey (which most of them dislike) and the first Harry Potter book (which most of them love). A good portion of the course is taken up with discussing the questions "What makes a book good?" and "What is the purpose of reading books that are difficult/don't immediately grab my interest?" Answers to both of these questions seem to intrigue them, and I'm always interested to hear what they have to say.

    Many students acknowledge that there are good reasons to read some books even if they're difficult/boring. However, if students have gotten to college without ever learning to love reading, then what should our priorities be? Challenging them, or helping them to learn to love books? It's a conundrum.

  6. This is a great video. I will be showing it to my 8th graders and see what their reflection is. We are trudging through "Walk Two Moons" and they are miserable. I am going to jigsaw the remainder of the book so we can get it over with and do an interactive project for an assessment.

  7. I really liked this video too and have shown it to a few students who identify with the sentiments expressed by the young people in it. It really does correlate with the OECD research (PISA) that has found that student choice is a big factor in engaging young people in their reading and this engagement has a big bearing on their literacy.

  8. The key is to keep a balance. Choice is important, but many kids, especially elementary kids, don't vary their choices enough to get a good foundation and understanding of literature. I'm going to continue with the choices, but I'm also going to give my 3rd graders a required list of books at their individual levels, that must be completed each quarter.

  9. What I have not read in the commentaries is WHY we are having students read. It is not just about English and certainly not about "teaching the book or novel". We have learning targets that use a certain novel or other reading material to help students master those targets. Reading is an essential part of chemistry, biology and other subjects. Students need to be able to gain information and understanding through text of all types. Please center on that idea. While it is great to read for fun, we also need to be able to read for comprehension which is an essential part of learning all content.

    1. True, but don't you think reading for pleasure and choosing books to read, which according to this anecdotal evidence at least means students read more, that we are more likely to comprehend? Anything we practice, we do better.

      1. Yes, and there is research that shows a strong correlation (although causation has yet to be proven) between students who read for pleasure and those who do well in all areas of school. So it may be that "reading for fun" has very far-reaching consequences – that they are better learners and have stronger academic skills in general.

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