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Response to “Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like”

Author: Jessie Mathisen

The New York Times published an article called “Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like” by Motoko Rich (8/29/09) about an approach to reading instruction that reduces or even eliminates class books and replaces them with books that the students choose for themselves. In essence, this method works by allowing students class time to read each day and a relatively free rein to chose material (although teachers very well might prohibit “junk” such as “Gossip Girl”). To increase accountability, teachers monitor the number of pages that students read and require them to write about the books. Both teachers and students give reviews and recommendations to the class as a whole.

This is a thought-provoking article, which I would recommend to classroom teachers, English tutors, and parents. Ironically, I may even assign it to some of my students.

My personal feelings about the roles that free and assigned reading should play in education are complex. Part of me agrees wholeheartedly with letting students select their own books, if not from the entire domain of published works, then at least from a substantial and varied list provided by the teacher. As a tutor, it is often my job to get children to read more, and I’ve learned just how hard it is to select books for other people. Simply put, predicting what another person will like, even if you know that person intimately, is no easy task. At the same time, the only way children will read as much as they need to become truly proficient is for them to read work that they enjoy. (Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly slowly a kid will read if he or she does not like the book in question?)

As much as I like the idea of choice in reading, I have several quibbles with this approach. For one thing, I have found that students who are very reluctant readers are often even reluctant to select books. For these students, my personal experience suggests that reading teacher-selected books is an important intermediate stage for them to go through before they are ready to pick their own books.

A more fundamental qualm I have with this approach comes from me looking back at my own education. I loved reading books with my classes, and I would hate to have missed out on that experience. I would never have read most of the teacher-selected books on my own, and while I loved some and hated others, the class discussions taught me an awful lot. It is a great thing to look at a book from a wide variety of view points. A group discussion about a book the whole class has read provides this, but reading a book alone can not.

Similarly, the teacher’s input was sometimes vital to my understanding of texts, especially ones from distant times or places. For example, I read Plato’s Symposium on my own as a teenager, and I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that although I loved it, I thought it was a light, comic novel. On the other hand, with my teacher’s guidance my classmates and I were able to come to a reasonably sophisticated understanding of Antigone.

In my ideal world, English classes would share books and all students would read independently for pleasure, following their own whimsy, during free time. In reality, I realize that many, probably most, students are not choosing to fill their free time with books. With that in mind, I’m not about to criticize an approach to reading instruction which focuses on student choice.

As with so many things, I suspect the best way is the middle path. To me, it seems fairly obvious that assigned books and free-reading choices serve different purposes. Assigned reading is a chance for students to carefully analyze literature with their class, for teachers to try to stretch students’ abilities and tastes, and for children to have the experience of sharing books with their peers. Free-choice reading allows students to explore their personal interests and exercise some control over how they spend their days. It is also important to realize that if students don’t read on their own, it is very unlikely that they will become good or habitual readers. Hopefully, by requiring students to choose their own books in the classroom, teachers will be encouraging them to pick up books outside the classroom, too.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/education-articles/response-to-students-get-new-assignment-pick-books-you-like-1291458.html

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