A new trend in teaching literature in schools is to allow the students to choose the books they want to read instead of making the class read books named in the curriculum. It’s called Reading Workshop, and there are variations. Some schools allow students to choose some of their own books in addition to the curriculum, others are letting students completely set their own agendas.
The New York Times wrote a story this weekend about this trend featuring Lorrie McNeill, a seventh and eighth-grade English teacher at Jonesboro Middle School.
For the first time last year, McNeill allowed the students to pick their own books to read and then they would discuss them with her, each other and write detailed journals about the books.
New York, Seattle and Chicago are all seeing versions of the Reading Workshop.
What are the plusses and minuses to this method? Motoko Rich of The New York Times reports:
“In the method familiar to generations of students, an entire class reads a novel – often a classic – together to draw out the themes and study literary craft. That tradition, proponents say, builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests.
“But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.”
“Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics – often difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves.” …
However, many studies show this method improves performance on standardized tests:
“Though research on the academic effects of choice has been limited, some studies have shown that giving students modest options can enhance educational results. In 11 studies conducted with third, fourth and fifth graders over the past 10 years, John T. Guthrie, now a retired professor of literacy at the University of Maryland, found that giving children limited choices from a classroom collection of books on a topic helped improve performance on standardized reading comprehension tests.”
McNeill found similar results. Last year, 15 of her 18 eighth graders exceeded requirements on their standardized state reading test. In the seventh grade only four of those same students reached that level.
Our elementary school is very big on the Accelerated Reader program, where kids read books of their choosing and take tests to earn points. They have big celebrations awarding stars, and classes win prizes for high achievement. So our students are choosing books they want to read and are given time at school to read their personal choices. However, our kids are also reading literature (at this age in anthologies) called for by the county’s curriculum. (I think lots of schools are doing this same program.)
What do you think of the Reader Workshop method? Do you think kids/teen will choose classics on their own? Do you they think they will choose challenging enough books? Is just reading enough or should they be reading classics for the very reason they are classics?
Will kids be prepared for college if they only read what they choose? Will they be prepared to have the discipline to read documents throughout their lives that they don’t find particularly interesting?
Does it matter if they haven’t read the classics, but eventually become life-long readers because they have learned to enjoy reading by having this control?