Live and Let Read

I’m kinda bossy.

It’s a personality trait that has both served me well and led me into hot water more than a time or two. I prefer the term assertive, but if we’re being honest, bossy is more accurate.

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One person who was especially fond of this part of me and all the headaches that came with it (sorry Mom and Dad) was my brother. When he gave me resistance if I asked him to do something, I’d proceed to nag until he became fed up with me and wouldn’t do whatever I wanted whatsoever. I’d get frustrated because wouldn’t listen, so that made two kids with serious stink faces and even stinkier attitudes. This is where Dad, ever patient with his stubborn daughter, would say, “If you just leave him alone, he’ll do it. Sometimes you have to leave people alone to let them get things done.”

Fast forward fifteen years, and he’s still right (don’t let him know I said that, though; only the women in the house can be right. Right?). People need a little independence in their lives, and always being told what to do gets stale awfully quick. So often in education we see all the decisions being made by the teachers, with little to no input from the students. We worry that they aren’t being challenged enough, or perhaps that they’re being challenged too much; this especially hits home for English and Lit teachers. If we have this problem, and if we keep having this problem year after year, something needs to be fixed; how, then, do we patch the seemingly unpatchable?

The answer is clear and simple: give students freedom and choice in their reading.

Most teachers will read the previous sentence as one word and one world only: nonsense. Teachers are scared that if students aren’t reading great (albeit advanced) literature in high school, they won’t read it ever. They ask questions like, “If we don’t make them read The Scarlet Letter, when else will they read it?” or “What are they going to gain from reading YA books?”, or my personal favorite, “What will they do when it comes time for standards and placement exams?” 

Here’s a newsflash to all educators: They aren’t reading what’s assigned anyway. These books, which for many are so high above their reading level and frankly, too boring for teens to trudge through. They’re searching every SparkNote and Shmoop summary they can find to pass the worksheets and tests used to “keep accountability”, reading maybe 10 out of every 300 pages assigned. I won’t even mention how badly it’s zapping their love for any literature and essentially extinguishing their reading lives.

What happens when we allow these students to read books of their choice? Flourishing. Creativity. Actual learning. Forming book clubs, promoting reading communities, and hosting workshops will engage our students and allow them to grow in their reading lives, and all the while they’ll be reading the books they love. Giving choice in the classroom lets students become responsible for their learning, and if given the chance they’ll take it. Need proof to back it up? Donalyn Miller, Nancie Atwell, and Lucy Calkins have just what you need to show what independent choice reading can do for our students (All you test hounds can take a breath; choice reading is shown to up test scores as well!).

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*collective deep breath from teachers everywhere*

We play one of the biggest parts in our students’ reading lives. We can make or break their reading lives and determine whether or not they will be lifelong readers, and that’s huge. Giving them the choice in what they read is the least we can do for our students, especially when the effects are proven to be so positive. The Scarlet Letter can wait; let them read Divergent and City of Bones and see what happens.

GIF CC: americanwx.com

Image CC: This IS Literacy

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9 thoughts on “Live and Let Read

  1. I love this Shannon! You make a great point. If students aren’t willing to participate in reading what has been assigned because it’s not interesting to them, they’re going else where to find the answers to the “accountability exams”. What’s better… students who are reading for fun or students that are fake reading? The obvious answer is students who are reading for fun. Who cares if it’s not something that some dead white guy said was the greatest literature piece of all time. At least the kid is reading and at least they’re building up their abilities to read, because better readers are academically seen as performing better in every other class.

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  2. Yes, Yes, Yes! I love it! The passion, the assertiveness (this might be a Shannon thing because I’m bossy too) are essential in fighting to make the next generation a reading generation. If it had not been for open mined teachers when I was young, I would be a very different person. I certainly would never have gone to college let alone go for my masters. Yes, be that motivator for someone who really needs it.

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    1. The same goes for me. I’ve had teachers who supported choice reading, and I think that largely contributes to why I enjoy reading and writing as much as I do. It helps in so many other areas to be an avid reader, and we were lucky to have teachers that recognized that! And yes, all Shannons must be bossy. It’s part of the name agreement at birth, I’m thinking. 😉

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  3. Sparknotes, and the like, are just killers. It does makes everyone’s job harder, but you are right to say that it can be overcome. Motivating students on an intrinsic level would stomp out the need for Sparknotes, and one of the best ways to do this is student choice. It’s more fun to choose, and I do love fun. Great post.

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  4. I like bossy. I like assertive too. I also like reading and kids who read. I believe in letting them choose as well. At least, as much as a student who hasn’t actual taught yet can. It makes sense to me. I’ve often wondered though if after we get them reading, and build the stamina, if we can’t find a happy medium where we can choose a book or two for them every now and then just for kicks. It pains me to know that kids may not read and learn from Anne Frank or To Kill a Mockingbird. Not because of the nose in the air, book snob, but because the teach such valuable social lessons via the well-written and well-developed characters in those books. I think I’m struggling a bit with the black and whiteness of this. Maybe it will become more clear to me when I have actual teaching hours under my belt. Either way, I’m a reader and will do anything to instill reading habits, if not reading love in my (future) students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. I totally agree with the classics part! I, for one, love TKAM; it’s one of my favorite books, and I found it a read that I think others my age would enjoy. I guess that doesn’t apply to everyone, and that’s completely okay. That just means I’ll have to find a substitute tailored just for my student!

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  5. I agree with your statement that most teens don’t actually read the classics anyway. I mean in their defense when you can read a summary and get the gist of it why not right? Now if they were allowed to read what they liked…I’m sure it’d be a different story.

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