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The Place of Student Choice in Reading Messages in this topic - RSS

Shelley Harwayne
Shelley Harwayne
Posts: 2


9/11/2009
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  Shelly Harwayne, Author of Lifetime Guarantees
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In preparation for the Fox and Friends appearance, I attempted on very short notice to pick the brains of a few great minds. In addition to rereading Nancie Atwell’s thoughts on choice, I spoke to Donna Santman, Maureen Barbieri and Hindy List. I also read Linda Rief’s suggestions via Maureen’s e-mail request. Unfortunately, the segment was so brief that I did not get to share many key ideas. I have listed some of them below and thank all those smart folks for their contributions.

Teachers can’t possibly be meeting the needs of 30 students if they are all reading the same novel at the same time. What about the struggling reader, or the sophisticated, bored or reluctant one?

Many students do not engage, remaining glazed over throughout the whole-class reading of a so called classic.

Many students simply pretend to read the book, resorting to Cliff notes, Classics Illustrated, Wikipedia summaries or teachers’ handouts in order to pass the class quiz.

How many novels does a student “read” each year when the titles are determined by the teacher and presented to the whole class at the same time? Perhaps they plow through ten a year as compared to the students in a reading workshop who might very well read 20, 30, 40 high quality books a year.

The use of whole class novels often results in weak teaching practices including vocabulary worksheets, questions at the end of the chapters, round robin reading, etc.

When teachers host whole class novel study, they usually do all the hard work. They are the ones noting character development, exploring symbolism and making inferences. When students read books of their own choosing, they learn to navigate texts and build meaning for themselves.

The really big question is, “What are our goals?” Are we teaching Moby Dick or are we teaching students? Is our goal to tick off a list of titles or is our goal to raise competent, confident, passionate readers, kids who will be reading when they are not asked to read?

If I were a nutritionist asked to speak to students about improving their eating habits, making changes that would last a lifetime, should my goal be to make everyone eat brussel sprouts or to help students appreciate the value of vegetables and discover ones that are pleasing to their tastes?

When we force feed the classics to disinterested students we turn the reading experience into drudgery, ruining fine books forever in these students’ minds. They can say they “read” Moby Dick, but at what cost???

Reading time is so precious in students’ lives, how can we dare to waste it on assignments that promote student passivity?

Students should read the classics when they are ready to savor them, not when they feel compelled to roll their eyes at them.
These fine books will be around forever and if we do things right, young students can look forward to a lifetime of reading pleasures.

In a well-designed reading workshop classroom library, students can choose to read classic novels.

We do a disservice to the classics when we dissect these books, preparing endless handouts to make them more accessible to students. What would Charles Dickens say if he saw how A Tale of Two Cities was being handled in many whole class settings?

The notion that reading workshop teachers give up all their decision-making is a false one. The teacher has a very strong presence in the classroom, guiding students to books that will help them grow as readers, writers, thinkers and problem solvers. The teacher pulls alongside the student and makes decisions about what to teach that student that will help that student become a more skilled and passionate reader. The teacher makes decisions about the whole-class reading of carefully selected short texts in order to share explicit information about books, authors, literary elements, crafting techniques, as well as what it takes to be a successful reader. The teacher makes decisions about how to create literature circles, how to host in depth conversations about books, how to encourage students to talk wisely about the books they have read, how to demonstrate effective written response to reading, and so on.

My opponent was concerned about students not having a core knowledge base and not having a common literary heritage. Not too long ago I read an Anna Quindlen column about the Bernie Madoff mess in which she refers to the emperor wearing no clothes. If you had never heard of that fairy tale and you were a skilled, passionate reader, you would make inquiries about the reference or perhaps even choose to read it. Then too, there are many folks who have never actually read the fairy tale on their own, but “own” it because they have seen a version of it in play, puppet show or television cartoon, or perhaps they heard it read aloud or performed in a storytelling session. When classrooms are designed to encourage rich talk by students and teachers about the books they have chosen to read, students become familiar with many, many more wonderful texts, than if they were limited to a prescribed list of titles.
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Tom Newkirk
Tom Newkirk
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Tom Newkirk
Tom Newkirk
Posts: 1
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  Tom Newkirk, Author of Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones
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1. School is a place for classic literature—students can read the more popular literature on their own. The evidence is that they don’t read on their own. Voluntary book reading actually declines in middle school and high school—in the current system of mandated reading, a small minority develops the habit and love of reading. Even the National Endowment for the Arts has documented this decline.

2. Students actually read the classics they are assigned. The dirty secret is that a great many students find ways to “fake” this reading—through SparkNotes, listening to discussions, selective reading. Any serious interviews with high school students will establish this fact. In my view many students do this because they are “overmatched” by some classics—e.g. teaching Great Expectations in 9th grade.

3. In a reading workshop there is no place for required reading of classical literature. This is not an either/or question—but one of balance. Studies show that there IS choice in elementary school but it dries up in middle and high school. It is perfectly reasonable to have common texts, but that reading should be balanced by a rich opportunity to choose texts. In reading as in life, we are often more committed to the choices we can make.

4. Choice means anything goes. The teacher has a major role to guide students to a rich mix of popular and classical literature—often through book talks. In classrooms like Nancie Atwell student are challenged to try new and more complex texts. In other words the teacher is not simply passive.

5. The best way to teach literature to high school students in through a literature survey. I have always thought there was something backward in this approach: you begin by presenting students with the literature most remote from their own times. Contemporary literature is surely the best starting point, the best way in.

6. “Creating life-long readers” is too modest a goal. My question is: how can we accept a system where so many students become alienated from reading, so many decide that book reading is not for them. This is what we have. A lifelong reader will find his or her way to good literature, fiction and nonfiction. Extensive reading builds fluency, vocabulary, confidence, loyalty to authors, and even the cultural knowledge that opponents of reading workshops advocate. In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell talks of the 10,000 hours of practice that real experts need. Nancie Atwell’s students get that practice—and are ready for the classics when they meet them. The non-reader, confronted by a book like The Scarlet Letter, doesn’t have a chance.
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Pat Shannon
Pat Shannon
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Pat Shannon
Pat Shannon
Posts: 1
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  Pat Shannon, Author of Reading Against Democracy
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1. Children are born evil.
Some concern seems to be directed at children making choices for themselves before they are prepared to make the "right' ones. This stems from a Christian view that people have a general tendency toward sinfulness because they embody the original sin of Adam's fall. Without constraint on their choices, children and youth will be tempted toward the dark and away from the light. Historically, this concern was represented directly in both school law and children's readers. The first legislation on schooling in America was the Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 and as early as 1680 the New England Primer began "A - In Adam's fall, We sinned all". Selection of texts for children and youth in schools was meant to remind readers of their assigned identities and to direct their actions throughout their lives. Censorship of adult literature (denying choice) is based on this same premise - no amount of education or training can overcome this tendency toward sinfulness in order to permit anyone open choice of reading material or courses of action. Monitors of temptation must always be vigilant.

2. You can educate democratic citizens without permitting them to make choices.
Democracy is based on informed participation in the decisions that could affect our daily lives. It is impossible to predict what information is appropriate to inform that participation. Perhaps, that's why the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution considers the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Citizens have rights to produce, consume, and act peaceably on any information that they deem necessary to live democratically. While the U. S. courts have denied students and children the rights of full citizenship, schools are one of the sites in which they are to learn to be citizens. Choice of what to read and how to read it are fundamental to that development, despite its obvious tension with other views.

3. The diversity of American culture can be captured in a canon of literature.
Selection of texts for students to read at school is not necessarily bad, but it is dangerous because it must valorize some texts, ideas, and groups over other texts, ideas, and groups. With transparency on the criteria for selection, students could read with those limits in mind and respond accordingly. After all, much of post-colonial and feminist literature is based on visceral responses to the Western canon of literature. Reading the selected books is not bad. However, the criteria and process of selection must represent only a portion of the ideas and groups within America. Those that are omitted, even with stated cause, become reduced in value within an official institution, implying, if not enforcing, government sanction. The selection, then, endangers the flow of information and the participation needed within a democracy, thus, limiting what ideas should be in considered and who are the valued participants.

4. Adults know the meaning of the books in that canon.
Restrictions on choice of texts in or out of school are based on faulty understandings of meaning and communication. First, it is assumed that the texts carry fixed meanings that are delivered to readers (to various degrees) as they work their way through the text. Good readers are defined by how much they catch the agreed upon meanings. (Of course, we should acknowledge that even among those who make this assumption, the meaning of texts are always negotiated within the next English dissertation.) Books then, are selected for students to read because they will deliver good ideas and messages, leading to good actions. Yet, reading researchers and theorists deny that meaning resides in text or that it could be delivered even if it were. Rather meaning is constructed by readers as they consider the text, their past experiences and knowledge, and the circumstances in which they are reading. These constructions are both personal and social, but never fixed or portable. Moreover, readers use the texts and ideas, rather than consume them, in order to create identities for themselves and social forms with others. The meanings made while reading selected texts cannot be calculate, and the actions they invite are not necessarily predictable.

5. Reading is about books.
In the 21st century, choice in English language arts should not be limited to printed texts. Student and even adult lives are much more multi-modal, working across written and oral language, visual, auditory, tactile, gestural and spatial representations, and various media. In order to develop social competence, students must learn to read and compose using multiliteracies, if they are to become informed participants in the decisions that affect their lives.
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Harvery
Harvery "Smokey" Daniels
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
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  Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, Coauthor of Comprehension & Collaboration and Mini-lessons for Literature Circles
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Misconception: Adults who are dedicated and skillful readers today got that way mostly by reading the classics as kids.

If you would describe yourself as a fairly engaged lifelong reader, take a thoughtful and honest look back at your childhood and teenage experiences as a reader. Where did your love of reading, your skill with reading, originate? What kinds to texts did you read as a child? What were your very favorite books (or other texts) at the age of age 2, 6, 9, 12? Among those favorites, did someone assign them to you? Or did you select them yourself?

Many proficient adult readers, even those with advanced degrees and challenging jobs, realize when looking back that they chose many of the books that made a difference to them as kids. Let’s be honest: most of us oldsters have some Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or comic books in our reading closets. Perhaps our younger friends have Harry Potter, graphic novels, or Twilight hiding in there. But indisputably, part of building strength as young readers includes choosing books we can read, want to read, and will devour.

But don’t assume that when kids choose, they’ll only select dead-easy series books or cartoons. With gentle nudges (or book gifts) from loving adults – or entirely on their own – many kids will gravitate to recognized books of merit. Under my own bed from age 9 to 15, for what it is worth, were two thick volumes: the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle and of Mark Twain. I read from them year after year, never stepping into the same book twice.

What was under your bed?
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Teri Lesesne
Teri Lesesne
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Teri Lesesne
Teri Lesesne
Posts: 1
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  Teri Lesesne, Author of Reading Ladders (forthcoming, January 2010)
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1. Classics have somehow always been "classic". CLASSICS were the contemporary literature of their time periods. Sometimes I think simply staying in print makes a book a classic.

2. Classics are developmentally appropriate for younger readers. They were written for an adult audience, not for children or teens. Many of them have protagonists who are adults. Teens have not had these life experiences. This makes it difficult for younger readers to understand the thoughts and feelings of the main characters.

3. Contemporary literature (YA) does not possess the same literary quality of classic literature. Not all YA is serial fiction/Gossip Girl/movie of the week writing. Look at Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK or THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING by Tobin Anderson for "classic" writing in contemporary books.

4. Reading classics leads to a lifetime love of reading. I have thousands of reading autobiographies from grad students that talk about how they lost their love of reading during their teen years because of being forced to read books from the canon.

5. Studies have indicated that there is not a common core of books university profs want students to have read before they arrive at college. Most profs ask that they be sent students who love to read.
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Penny Kittle
Penny Kittle
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Penny Kittle
Penny Kittle
Posts: 1
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  Penny Kittle, Author of Write Beside Them
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I want every student to “read like a wolf eats,” as Gary Paulson said. I want every high school student in my school to have the stamina and interest for Hamlet and Huck Finn. There are layers of complexity and wise lessons in literature that I want every student to pursue. We need readers to understand what happens in great writing--to see beneath the surface of plot to author’s intention and craft. When we see that design, it can create a hunger for more. From Pride and Prejudice to all of the novels of Jane Austen; from Middlemarch to biographies of George Eliot to better understand the social conditions of her time. I want discerning readers, to read with enjoyment as well as a critical eye. But mostly, I want that world of books we see when Beauty enters the Beast’s library, and the gasp of pleasure that follows. I want hunger. I want students that exhaust our school’s library and press us for more. I want dozens of teenagers at our next school board meeting demanding books--memoirs from Iran (like Things I’ve Been Silent About) that can show the inner workings of a country most adults or children cannot find on a map, or last year’s Booker Prize winner The White Tiger which puts you in a cab racing along the streets of modern India as the driver narrates conflicts in class. I want students inhaling life in the pages of books, gathering experiences like shells at the beach, each one worth a careful look, but always dozens more in every direction.

And I want that not just for the readers who come to us with this hunger and a history of pleasure in reading, but for every student in school. This week the ninth grade class will enter our rural high school and 25% of them do not read at grade level. That means if we begin with To Kill a Mockingbird (a book I cherish) it will be a casual stroll for about 25% of the students, a moderate workout for 25%, taxing and difficult for 25%, and a marathon for the 25% who do not have the stamina or the discipline to believe that the work of each page will be worth what’s at the finish line. And what happens when we place literature so far out of line with ability? Kids don’t read. They try, they tell me; they stumble along for a page or two feeling restless and frustrated, forgetting who the characters are and what is happening. They travel along behind their teacher, but only with a leash. They stop reading and start faking it, turning to one of the many web sites that offer plot summaries and analysis to prepare them for class discussion. They don’t read literature, but each day most pretend they do.

And some people will say this exposure to the great works of literature through listening to their teacher and classmates find joy in the layers of a novel is more important than a student’s personal love of reading. Some would say that passing on even a cursory understanding of The Great Gatsby is more important than turning a kid into a lifelong reader, or that one will lead to the other. Some would say that they had just that experience: through being forced to read Twain, they became passionate about literature. It happens. For some. But somehow we write off all of those not reading as acceptable collateral damage in our charge to teach the classics.

I believe our mission is joy. Joy first. First, let us spend every dollar and every ounce of creative energy we have to match individual kids to books. Books that keep them up at night, racing to the end. If we spend part of each school year matching books to kids and showing them how reading strategies help them get past confusing parts or to see beyond plot to theme, we can nurture a reading habit that can feed them their whole lives. Teach students to find books they love. Introduce them each day to a book they’ll likely never hear about if you don’t tell them, like Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, that takes you on a medical mission into the most desperate regions of Haiti. Then put that book in a student’s hand and give them time to read.

If we build stamina and fluency through connecting our students to books they want to finish, we can then gather around a classic text together and students will use the strategies they’ve practiced in books they love in one that is a reach for their skills. They’ll try. It is folly to believe we can just march through the classics and somehow charm all kids into a deep and lasting relationship with literature. If we care about the reading futures of 100% of those seated before us, we have to balance classics with choices. We have to see our students as the individuals they are, some destined for graduate degrees in literature and some to fine-tune the engine on a hybrid, but all readers. All welcomed into a lifelong relationship with books and encouraged to read voraciously, to travel the world beside a wise narrator and be so fulfilled by this journey in reading that they simply must share it with their own children.
Our mission is to find the balance that welcomes the diversity of readers and nurtures them one at a time.
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Releah Lent
Releah Lent
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Releah Lent
Releah Lent
Posts: 1
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  Releah Lent, Author of Engaging Adolescent Learners
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1. Students will find the easiest, most exciting (or titillating) text to read when left on their own, thus losing any motivation to advance to higher-level reading.

In fact, the opposite is true. Students who are given choices read more extensively and hone the skills they need to tackle more difficult text. They also become more confident readers, gaining self-efficacy and the intrinsic motivation to approach higher-level texts. The peer factor is a powerful motivator as well. When a friend begins talking about A Lesson Before Dying, for example, a student who may never have attempted to read the book will pick it up. Additionally, a skilled teacher who is knowledgeable about her individual students and their interests and abilities knows how to move them toward increasingly more complex texts.

2. Even if students choose to read classics or more challenging books on their own, they are unable to analyze the text independently; they simply don’t have the skills to do so. Just as with any difficult subject (such as math or science) students must be taught how to approach difficult texts.

This argument assumes that everyone who ever read and understood a classic was taught to do so in an English class. Most adults acknowledge that they read classics in school that they neither appreciated nor understood. In fact, many adults report that they were turned off to reading by moving lock-step through study guides that corresponded to a particular novel that everyone had to read. A teacher who understands reading workshop will teach students what they need to know through mini-lessons, conferences, and differentiated instruction.

3. Students will not be sufficiently prepared for college if they are given choice in their reading. Besides, it sets a bad precedent. Colleges don’t allow this type of “I’ll read what I want” approach.

Students most prepared for college are those who have a wide range of reading experiences in various genres. In place of reading a few novels per year (chosen by the teacher), students who have read poetry, popular novels, traditional classics, and nonfiction have a wider span of reading experience. They are better able to adapt their reading practices to meet the challenges of whatever is required of them in college or elsewhere. Also, many colleges, citing research such as Guthrie’s, are offering increased choice in assignments, texts, and methods of learning.

4. Giving students choice is actually giving in to self-indulgent behavior. They need to struggle through difficult books and feel the satisfaction that comes through engaging hard work.

Reading should not be likened to chores which we might find distasteful but must do to build character. Reading is a complex, individualized process and the resultant comprehension comes from our own unique set of experiences, attitudes, and responses. While To Kill a Mockingbird may transform my perspective on racism forever, it may be little more than a boring tale to someone else. It is our obligation as educators to allow students the opportunity to discover text that challenges and moves each individual reader.

5. Reading with choice is an educational free-for-all, an easy way for teachers to get through the day.

An effective reading workshop is a structured, pedagogically sound practice that requires planning on the part of the teacher and accountability on the part of the student. Instead of spending their time making up worksheets, lecture notes, or activities from a single work, workshop teachers come to know their students as well as a wide variety of text. They understand and practice differentiated instruction and are adept at progress monitoring. Workshop teachers spend their time engaging students in reading rather than planning activities for reading.
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Deborah Appleman
Deborah Appleman
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
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  Deborah Appleman, Author of Reading for Themselves
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1. When left to their own devices, students won't read challenging texts. My experience in ten years of working with elective school book clubs has taught me not to undersell students' literary ambitions. When left to their own devices, students chose to read books such as The Life of Pi, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, The Color of Water, and East of Eden. After 35 years of reading books with kids, they still leave me breathless with their natural hunger for reading challenging texts.

2. When teachers encourage choice, they abdicate their pedagogical responsibility as literary guides. The kinds of classrooms modeled by Ms. McNeil and Ms. Atwell actually require even a greater level of skill than a traditional text-centered classroom. Teachers who encourage student choice in literary texts animate a deep knowledge about reading levels, tastes, and predispositions of each of their students as well as a wide-ranging knowledge of both classic and contemporary literature. They also must be well-versed in the delicate art of teaching students to become responsible for their own learning, a core tenet of the kinds of teaching and learning that is illustrated by teachers who offer student choice.

3. Student choice replaces the classic literature curriculum. Most teachers use student choice win concert with classic texts. It is too simplistic to think of it a an either/or proposition. Many teachers favor a paired text approach, where two books, one classic on contemporary share similar themes, settings or subjects (See, for example, Heinemann's Barbara King-Shaver's When text meets Text.) The balanced literature classroom included a variety of texts read for different purposes.

4. It's good for students to read books they hate. They'll eventually come to appreciate them. This is the castor oil approach to literacy education. It might not taste good, but eventually it will be good for them. This doesn't work with literature. When students are required to read a book they neither like nor are ready for, they not only come to hate the treasured book, but they'll also come to hate reading.


5. Literature is a stable school subject with specific content to be mastered. Cultural and educational fundamentalists like Diane Ravitch believe that literature delivers content like a static history textbook and that content is part of cultural knowledge that hall kids must have. Experienced educators know that knowledge is dynamic and contextual, and deeply rooted in the collective lived realities of particular students, classrooms, schools, and communities.

Books like To Kill a Mockingbird are not content to be mastered; rather they are an invitation to a way of learning and thinking about the world we share. It is the learning that matters more than the specific invitation. If another book can do it better, why not extend that invitation?
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Nancy Allison
Nancy Allison
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Nancy Allison
Nancy Allison
Posts: 1
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  Nancy Allison, Author of Middle School Readers
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1. Teachers in choice classrooms are only concerned about teaching their students to love reading. The truth is that in order to love reading, students must be competent at it. Even the National Reading Panel Report acknowledges that there is clear evidence that students who read more are higher achievers. We know without a doubt that the more kids read, the better they become at reading.—but because kids are kids, they will only increase the time they spend doing something if they actually enjoy it. By exposing students to a wide variety of texts, guiding their book selections, and supporting them as they read what they want to read, teachers are insuring that students become both proficient and joyful readers so that no child is ever left behind. We cannot teach kids to love reading if we are not teaching them to be good at it as well.

2. Allowing student choice “dumbs down” the curriculum. When choice is coupled with support and accountability, the curriculum begins to evolve as it meets the needs of every student in the room. Through peer discussions and teacher conferences, students are asked to consider why authors have made various choices in their books, why certain characters behave as they do, what themes and archetypes recur in literature, and which books will stand the test of time. Teachers in choice classrooms use excerpted short texts, including classics, as the basis for modeling through minilessons—and the books they use in these lessons are usually the ones students ask to read. Students are then held accountable for practicing the habits and skills of accomplished readers by responding in authentic ways that show their personal interpretations of the texts. Choice coupled with accountability increases the depth of thinking students do each day; the curriculum is accelerated, not “dumbed down.”

3. One book can meet the needs of all students. The typical classroom today is filled with students of varying degrees of proficiency and engagement. When teachers choose one book to meet the needs of all these students, they are aiming at the middle. What happens to the students at either end of the continuum? If the book is too difficult for them to read, they won’t read or understand it. If it is too easy, they will be bored by it. And many students for whom the book is not an interest-level match will avoid reading it altogether, relying on guides such as SparkNotes to let them know what happened in the book and what to think about it. The truth is that the bulk of these students only pretend to read, a reality documented in Anne Reeves’s 2004 research (see Adolescents Talk about Reading: Exploring Resistance To and Engagement With Text) and in the experience of many teachers. Students only become more knowledgeable consumers of texts if they are actually reading them with the intention of finding something meaningful in them to think and talk about. Because they are given the freedom and guidance to choose books at their appropriate interest and reading levels, this real reading happens far more often in choice classrooms.

4. Teachers in choice classrooms just turn the kids loose to read whatever they want, so students feed themselves a steady diet of easy, pointless books. Carlsen’s research has documented the stages every reader must go through to become a proficient and dedicated reader. Students who have never learned to love reading must start in a stage he calls “unconscious delight,” where they read series books such as Junie B. Jones and Goosebumps—and, yes, even Captain Underpants. These books, while far from great literature, help developing readers understand how texts are structured and what to expect from texts. These books are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. English-language learners who have had limited exposure to English texts also need simpler books such as these to learn the syntax and vocabulary that will help them tackle more difficult books. Effective teachers in choice classrooms continually monitor their students’ book choices and push them constantly to try more and more challenging texts. They have high expectations for their students—and support them every day as they choose books that will in the end help them meet and even surpass those expectations. They do not allow students to continually read books that will not help them grow, so even the highest readers are pushed to greater heights than they might otherwise have achieved.

5. It is culturally important for today’s students to read the books generally accepted as part of the canon—and this won’t happen in a choice classroom. The world is a far different place from what it was when the canon was first developed. Before students can come to the realization that characters in classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Great Expectations are actually very much like themselves—traveling through a world fraught with problems they must garner the strength to overcome—they must first see these problems and issues through a lens they understand, the world they know. Then they can be guided and supported as they choose to look at this same world through the lens of another time or place. It is important to remember that, as Thomas Friedman declares, today’s world is flat. As citizens of the 21st century, we must learn to understand cultures very different from our own whose beliefs and actions and history impact our world. These cultures are not well-represented in the classic canon. Louise Rosenblatt reminded us many years ago that literature is exploration, a way to look safely at a world that often confounds and frightens us. By allowing students to identify the types of problems they want to explore through literature, the effective teacher in a choice classroom can help them choose books that will broaden their understanding not just of the past and of a single culture, but of the world as it exists today. They are not steered away from reading the classics; they are just not limited to them
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Regie Routman
Regie Routman
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Regie Routman
Regie Routman
Posts: 1
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  Regie Routman, Author of Reading Essentials and Reading to Understand
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Based on 40 plus years of teaching reading, which includes never failing to teach a child to learn to read, here are the greatest misconceptions I see:

1. You can't trust students to select worthwhile books.
The truth is it doesn't matter what students read as long as they read and are guided to choose interesting reading material they can actually read and understand. I read romance comic books throughout my teenage years and I'm a very good reader today. In fact, it was reading and enjoying "lesser" fare, and getting it out of my system, that helped me graduate to more literary texts, which are the staples of my reading life today.

2. Activities about reading will teach kids to read.
In my continuing work in schools around the US, students in today's classrooms spend the majority of their reading time on phonics work, in a reading group, or doing "seat work." While, of course, you have to teach students how to read, and this includes explicit phonics, our end goal needs to be the self-directed, self-monitoring reader who reads with deep understanding. The often missing and undervalued component in the reading program is ensuring students do a massive amount of reading, most of which is self-selected from a well-stocked classroom and/or school library. I've never seen a student become a prolific, engaged reader from a "skill and drill" approach. Students need to read whole, meaningful, engaging texts--lots of them--even when they are just learning to read.

3. Having kids love to read is not an important goal
If students are going to voluntarily read for pleasure and information throughout their lives, reading has to become an enjoyable habit. When you love something, you invest more time and energy in it. Kids in too many classrooms dislike reading, largely because they have so little choice in engaging reading materials and too little time set aside to read them
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Carol Jago
Carol Jago
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
Carol Jago
Carol Jago
Posts: 1
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  Carol Jago, Author of Classics in the Classroom
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1. That teachers can't offer student choice in reading and provide instruction in literature. In every one of the 32 years I taught middle and high school, I always gave students the opportunity to choose a book to read with their peers at the same time as they read and studied a book with me. Developing the habit of reading and the skill of choosing books is every bit as important as learning how to read and interpret Shakespeare.

2. That students don’t have time to read. If students complain that they don't have time to read two books at once, I remind them that the average teenager spends 6 hours a day connected to a digital communication device, “often to several simultaneously” (Tapscott, 2009). If one of those hours were to be redirected to reading – unplugged from all devices – students have time for such a curriculum. My goal from September to June is for students to read 10 books of their own choosing and 10 books that I select.

3. That teenagers will always choose the path of least resistance. As with adult readers, students choose books for any number of reasons. Maybe the cover calls out to them. Maybe the teacher gave a particularly effective book talk. “I think you’ll like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. It’s about a girl whose goal is to finish high school without getting pregnant.” Or, “If you liked Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, you are going to love Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The author says right in his introduction that his inspiration came from the Mowgli stories.” Maybe a really cute girl just joined the group reading Wuthering Heights. I often challenge students to try a book that may seem daunting but that I know will ultimately pique their interest and open up new worlds to them. One year The Count of Monte Cristo spread like wildfire through the class. Why? A couple of charismatic boys could not stop talking about how much they loved it. The same thing happened later that semester when one of those boys started passing around Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone.

4. That students don’t always have choice. Many of my students are relentless readers. They gobble up their literature circle book before the rest of their group, read ahead in the novel we are studying together, and are still hungry for something to read. I spend many lunch hours recommending books and listening to students’ recommendations for me. These teenagers would look at you as though you had two heads if you suggested that they didn’t have choice in their reading. The problem isn’t the lack of choice; the problem is finding something good to read.

5. That students have easy access to books. One of the great scandals in American education is that every English classroom isn’t equipped with a teaming library. How can we hope to engage students as lifelong readers if we don’t surround them with appealing titles? A good school library is important but not enough. I want my students, particularly those who don’t have many books at home, to have hundreds of books at their fingertips that they can borrow with a minimum of fuss. If I were in charge of the world, I would give every English teacher in America $1,000 a year to seed and renew their classroom libraries. Seems like a nugatory sum given the potential payoff.
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Jennifer Serravallo
Jennifer Serravallo
Posts: 1


9/11/2009
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  Jennifer Serravallo, Coauthor of Conferring with Readers
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Using a reading workshop (RW) approach does not mean making a decision to eliminate a "common ground" with some core pieces of literature. This is where Read Aloud, an important complimentary balanced literacy component, could come in. RA gives students access and exposure, as well as creates class community, around some key pieces of literature across the year. Though some of the works traditionally used as whole class novels might not make the best RAs (ie. Charles Dickens, Shakespeare) surely a teachers could find some current, relevant literature that will be great to read aloud (ie Spinelli's Star Girl)

Reading conferences are critical. Though they may look like casual chats or page # checks to an untrained eye, they are actually carefully tailored individualized teaching opportunities. One-on-one and small group reading conferences allow teachers to meet individual student needs -- which isn't just about the book they're reading but who they are as readers (their skills, strategies, and habits).

RW is not about carpet squares and rocking chairs.

RW is not only for a certain kind of student. I find that critics who teach G&T kids say that this approach might work with kids who read below grade level, but their kids should have access to classics. And then teachers who are critics who work with strugglers say that it might work for kids who are gifted and therefore naturally independent, but it doesn't work with their kids. I work with all kinds of populations of children and teachers who have found incredible success with this approach. The common link is that at the root of all of these success stories is a dedicated, knowledgeable teacher. RW is research-based and it is effective.

There is curriculum in RW. Many teachers work in Units of Study that are genre-based or skill-based. They create a scope-and-sequence that is both planned and responsive, and the minilessons that begin each workshop period keep the class on the same page despite the fact that each child is reading a different book.
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Michael Ford
Michael Ford
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9/11/2009
Michael Ford
Michael Ford
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  Michael Ford, Coauthor of Do-Able Differentiation
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1. Choice doesn't matter
John Guthrie's work with CORI (Concept oriented reading instruction) suggests that choice was one of the biggest contributors to improve performance and achievement.

2. Required texts are needed to challenge students
Sally Reis's work at UConn Center for Gifted and Talented in the SEM- R (School Enrichment Model in Reading) suggests that students need to be guided in their choices to select challenging texts but that assigning texts may not produce the same results. Assigning texts vs guiding choices may actually cause less reading and more negative attitudes about reading. Sally's new book is called "Joyful Reading" Where SEM-R has been used (which is a supportive workshop model) increases have been seen in performance and achievement.

3. Choice will only lead to reading "easy" books
Juliet Halliday's (now at Vermont) work suggested that some second graders actually had greater accuracy, understanding and more postive feelings about books when allowed to choose more difficult texts than reading books at level. How children want to be seen as readers and how they see themselves as reader may cause more challenging books to be more attractive.

4. Assigning a text = the book will be read
In the end, it is the student's sense of identity and agency that will most likely determine if the text will be read. The lack of choice and the limitations of a single text appealing to all children may reduce agency for some especially those who are resistant to begin with especially with older readers. This seems to be at the heart of research by folks like Leigh Hall (UNC).
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Frank Serafini
Frank Serafini
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9/11/2009
Frank Serafini
Frank Serafini
Posts: 1
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  Frank Serafini, Author of Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days
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1. Choice means anything goes - this is not true. I would not let a student read Catp Underpants all year long. It is a structured choice with teachers acting as advisors, recommenders of texts and provider of new resources.

2. All that students read in the reading workshop are novels. Nancie's new book over emphasizes reading of fictional novels. As an avid reader of novels myself, my reading life means that I read about 50% at MOST novels. Our students need to read magazines, essays, poetry, non-fiction etc.

3. Choice does motivate readers (like Guthrie said). But getting students to read is only one part of what we do. We also have to teach them how to read and analyze texts. This is vary hard to do if students don't read.

4. Students are getting worse and worse every year. In the article they cited on person that wrote a book about how TV and the internet are leading us down the wrong path. I think Socrates once wrote an essay decrying the new generation. Steven Johnson and James Paul Gee have also written books demonstrating the cognitive abilities necessary to play video games and watch TV. I just isn't that bad in normal doses. The problems are in the extreme.

5. We actually have enough books in classrooms to provide students with REAL choice. If they are picking up Capt Underpants, is it because there is nothing else interesting available. The ALA has recommended 20 books per student per classroom as a minimum. I think it need to be much higher maybe 50 or 60 per student. That way a class of 20 student has access and opportunity to really choose.

To the FOX news viewers: As you are reaching for the remote on the coffee table, what is sitting next to it? James Joyce's Ulysses? Faulkner? Dickens? Probably not. Readers Digest went belly up, maybe even conservatives need more choices. As you reach past the People magazine, the National Inquirer and the TV Guide to change the channel to watch Glenn Beck or Bill O' Reilly, ask your self how many classic novels you've read recently.
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Sharon Taberski
Sharon Taberski
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9/11/2009
Sharon Taberski
Sharon Taberski
Posts: 1
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  Sharon Taberski, Author It’s ALL About Comprehension
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My first reaction to the New York Times article “A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like” was “Oh no, here we go again.” I feared a flare up in the finally-put-to-rest reading wars of the 1990’s and based on the blog responses to Rich’s article, I was right to be concerned.

Back in the 1990’s when I taught at The Manhattan New School in NYC, the phonics-versus-whole language wars were raging. It was assumed (or manipulated to appear) that the whole-language teachers didn’t teach kids letter-sound relationships, and that the phonics-first folks seldom bothered to read aloud to children. However the truth of the matter was that neither perceived extreme represented what was actually happening in the vast majority of classrooms across the country. In most classrooms, there was a balance.

In fact when an NBC reporter and camera crew visited my classroom to interview me and film my reading workshop, the crew thought they were filming in the “phonics” classroom. They didn’t expect to see the “whole language” teacher and children rereading a familiar poem and listening for words with the /er/ sound, listing the different spelling patterns for that sound on a chart, and then categorizing them by spelling pattern, i.e., -or, -ir, -ur, -er, etc. They were surprised when they shouldn’t have been. But balance doesn’t sell newspapers or get viewers to tune into network television, and so the reading war fires were fueled. And they burned on for many years.

And now over a decade later, we’re tempted to embark on yet another scrimmage. From my own experiences with the reading workshop and from what I’ve learned from the thousands of teachers with whom I’ve worked, children in most elementary-grade reading workshop classrooms do not get to self-select each and every book they read. Instead they receive explicit instruction on how to choose books with the expectation that over time and after scores of lessons on how to choose and read just-right books in a variety of genres and sub-genres, they’ll be able to do a good job of choosing and reading them on their own.

There are also plenty of times when children’s choice will be narrowed, such as when they’re studying ocean animals and must select the marine animal they want to read more about. Or when their teacher selects a text, such as Kate DiCamelo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, for the entire class to read or offers it as a literature circle selection because it helps build community and inspires thoughtful conversation. In most classrooms, there’s a balance between student-choice and teacher selection of reading material. Few things in life are either-or.

So let’s not make the mistake of engaging in either-or thinking regarding whether or not it’s best to allow children to choose their own reading material. Neither is best and both are can be good depending on the situation. We have more important things to do than fuel this false dichotomy. Our kids need us to teach them how to read and motivate them to choose to read when they don’t have to.
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User 417335
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9/15/2009
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Shelley Harwayne wrote:
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  Shelly Harwayne, Author of Lifetime Guarantees
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In preparation for the Fox and Friends appearance, I attempted on very short notice to pick the brains of a few great minds. In addition to rereading Nancie Atwell’s thoughts on choice, I spoke to Donna Santman, Maureen Barbieri and Hindy List. I also read Linda Rief’s suggestions via Maureen’s e-mail request. Unfortunately, the segment was so brief that I did not get to share many key ideas. I have listed some of them below and thank all those smart folks for their contributions.

Teachers can’t possibly be meeting the needs of 30 students if they are all reading the same novel at the same time. What about the struggling reader, or the sophisticated, bored or reluctant one?

Many students do not engage, remaining glazed over throughout the whole-class reading of a so called classic.

Many students simply pretend to read the book, resorting to Cliff notes, Classics Illustrated, Wikipedia summaries or teachers’ handouts in order to pass the class quiz.

How many novels does a student “read” each year when the titles are determined by the teacher and presented to the whole class at the same time? Perhaps they plow through ten a year as compared to the students in a reading workshop who might very well read 20, 30, 40 high quality books a year.

The use of whole class novels often results in weak teaching practices including vocabulary worksheets, questions at the end of the chapters, round robin reading, etc.

When teachers host whole class novel study, they usually do all the hard work. They are the ones noting character development, exploring symbolism and making inferences. When students read books of their own choosing, they learn to navigate texts and build meaning for themselves.

The really big question is, “What are our goals?” Are we teaching Moby Dick or are we teaching students? Is our goal to tick off a list of titles or is our goal to raise competent, confident, passionate readers, kids who will be reading when they are not asked to read?

If I were a nutritionist asked to speak to students about improving their eating habits, making changes that would last a lifetime, should my goal be to make everyone eat brussel sprouts or to help students appreciate the value of vegetables and discover ones that are pleasing to their tastes?

When we force feed the classics to disinterested students we turn the reading experience into drudgery, ruining fine books forever in these students’ minds. They can say they “read” Moby Dick, but at what cost???

Reading time is so precious in students’ lives, how can we dare to waste it on assignments that promote student passivity?

Students should read the classics when they are ready to savor them, not when they feel compelled to roll their eyes at them.
These fine books will be around forever and if we do things right, young students can look forward to a lifetime of reading pleasures.

In a well-designed reading workshop classroom library, students can choose to read classic novels.

We do a disservice to the classics when we dissect these books, preparing endless handouts to make them more accessible to students. What would Charles Dickens say if he saw how A Tale of Two Cities was being handled in many whole class settings?

The notion that reading workshop teachers give up all their decision-making is a false one. The teacher has a very strong presence in the classroom, guiding students to books that will help them grow as readers, writers, thinkers and problem solvers. The teacher pulls alongside the student and makes decisions about what to teach that student that will help that student become a more skilled and passionate reader. The teacher makes decisions about the whole-class reading of carefully selected short texts in order to share explicit information about books, authors, literary elements, crafting techniques, as well as what it takes to be a successful reader. The teacher makes decisions about how to create literature circles, how to host in depth conversations about books, how to encourage students to talk wisely about the books they have read, how to demonstrate effective written response to reading, and so on.

My opponent was concerned about students not having a core knowledge base and not having a common literary heritage. Not too long ago I read an Anna Quindlen column about the Bernie Madoff mess in which she refers to the emperor wearing no clothes. If you had never heard of that fairy tale and you were a skilled, passionate reader, you would make inquiries about the reference or perhaps even choose to read it. Then too, there are many folks who have never actually read the fairy tale on their own, but “own” it because they have seen a version of it in play, puppet show or television cartoon, or perhaps they heard it read aloud or performed in a storytelling session. When classrooms are designed to encourage rich talk by students and teachers about the books they have chosen to read, students become familiar with many, many more wonderful texts, than if they were limited to a prescribed list of titles.
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9/15/2009
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Tom Newkirk wrote:
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  Tom Newkirk, Author of Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones
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1. School is a place for classic literature—students can read the more popular literature on their own. The evidence is that they don’t read on their own. Voluntary book reading actually declines in middle school and high school—in the current system of mandated reading, a small minority develops the habit and love of reading. Even the National Endowment for the Arts has documented this decline.

2. Students actually read the classics they are assigned. The dirty secret is that a great many students find ways to “fake” this reading—through SparkNotes, listening to discussions, selective reading. Any serious interviews with high school students will establish this fact. In my view many students do this because they are “overmatched” by some classics—e.g. teaching Great Expectations in 9th grade.

3. In a reading workshop there is no place for required reading of classical literature. This is not an either/or question—but one of balance. Studies show that there IS choice in elementary school but it dries up in middle and high school. It is perfectly reasonable to have common texts, but that reading should be balanced by a rich opportunity to choose texts. In reading as in life, we are often more committed to the choices we can make.

4. Choice means anything goes. The teacher has a major role to guide students to a rich mix of popular and classical literature—often through book talks. In classrooms like Nancie Atwell student are challenged to try new and more complex texts. In other words the teacher is not simply passive.

5. The best way to teach literature to high school students in through a literature survey. I have always thought there was something backward in this approach: you begin by presenting students with the literature most remote from their own times. Contemporary literature is surely the best starting point, the best way in.

6. “Creating life-long readers” is too modest a goal. My question is: how can we accept a system where so many students become alienated from reading, so many decide that book reading is not for them. This is what we have. A lifelong reader will find his or her way to good literature, fiction and nonfiction. Extensive reading builds fluency, vocabulary, confidence, loyalty to authors, and even the cultural knowledge that opponents of reading workshops advocate. In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell talks of the 10,000 hours of practice that real experts need. Nancie Atwell’s students get that practice—and are ready for the classics when they meet them. The non-reader, confronted by a book like The Scarlet Letter, doesn’t have a chance.
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Mrs. V
Mrs. V
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9/15/2009
Mrs. V
Mrs. V
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I feel fortunate to work for a school that aligns with my personal teaching philosophy, allowing me to have a reading workshop model. Every day I have the pleasure of watching my students enjoy great books and improve as readers. This year I am still teaching my 6th grade class from last year for language arts and social studies. It is amazing to see the gains that they made over the last year. I can't wait to see how much they continue to grow throughout the rest of their middle school years.

A common theme among many of the literacy books I read was to make sure that as a teacher I had my students doing authentic literacy activities. I always try to keep in mind if what I am doing in my classroom matches up to what readers and writers in the real world do. With those thoughts in mind, I started having my students participate in book clubs. One of my favorite parts of my class is watching a group of readers come together to have authentic open-ended discussions about the books they are reading just as adult participating in book clubs by choice.

I allow students to have input on their book club selections based on options that are at an appropriate reading level for them. This way they are also getting choice with their book clubs (even though it is a narrower selection than the full classroom library since it is limited to books that I have multiple copies of). I would never want to teach in an environment where I was expected to deliver a one-size fits all program. It is too frustrating to know that I am not best meeting the needs of all my students.
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User 417349
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9/15/2009
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Hello- isn't that what reading is all about. As an adult, I can read whatever I want. Last week, I read Splat the Cat and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have to agree that as educators, we are destroying the love and joy of reading in the classroom. We do not let kids read what they want. We tend to teach reading with the attitude that we know what kids should read, and that is wrong. As a first grade teacher, I try to choose texts for my groups by what I think they would like. Sometimes it works and other times, it doesn't. When it doesn't work, we just move on to a new text. I have also added Reading Buddies which are stuff animals the kids can read with and whisper phones to my library. My school is an AR school. It is pounded into the kids heads that they have to use the program. In this program, they do learn to love reading; they learn that reading comes with prizes and pizza parties. Oh, how WRONG. I have taken a stand in my school to teach the LOVE OF READING to my first graders. In our room books are precious items. Our class motto is READING MAKES YOU SMARTER. I love to read and I share it with my students as often as I can. Its about time teachers take a stand for what is good for kids. Reading should be a lifelong journey and we shouldn't give kids the idea that reading happens only in school. Let them read what they want, let them talk about what they read. They are still learning and most importantly, THEY ARE READING!
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9/16/2009
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I teach a high school elective called Reading for Pleasure in a 2200+ high school. We couldn't find enough time within the traditional curriculum for choice, and for reading high quality YA literature, and yet we knew that was essential for student growth, so we started this class. We are currently running 14 sections of the class this year; it's become the most popular elective! Give kids choices, indeed.

When I do presentations about our class, two questions -- myths, misconceptions -- come up time after time: If you give kids choice, don't they read trash? What happens when bored kids cause disruptions in your class? The first time I was asked these questions, I was stopped. They weren't problems in my classes at all...I had to turn inward and look at the kids again.

1. If left to their own choice, students will not choose quality books. At the beginning of the semester they probably don't KNOW what's good and what's not. But, with book shares, time to read and time to develop their own tastes, students will gravitate to better and better books. As Nancie Atwell points out, our job as teachers is to guide, to share, to suggest, to challenge. I also don't allow magazines or homework or textbooks. My goal, even tho the class is "For Pleasure" is to support every student to improve comprehension, to expand his and her choices, and to wrestle independently with longer pieces, to build comprehension ..to test hunches.

2. What about the students who don't read and cause disruptions? One student, after a successful semester, told me he came into the class determined to have a great time -- at my expense! He intended to talk and visit, and certainly wasn't going to read! Then he discovered everyone else was reading! No one to talk to, no one to clown with. He was sorely disappointed and decided to read something while he waited. Well, like every other student, he found a book -- a Louis LaMour -- and began to read. The key to avoiding discipline problems in a class like this is to work hard finding every student a book that engages him or her. Once students are engrossed in their book, they're too busy to think about being troublemakers. Does this happen immediately? Of course not! With some students, I struggle for several weeks to find their books. But we do find them!

When I share with my students the concerns of the teachers I visit with, they shake their heads, roll their eyes, and get back to reading.

Trust and confidence in my approach helps my class be successful!

Claudia Swisher
Norman North High School
Norman, OK
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