Should students forget the classics, choose own books?

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?

47 comments Add your comment


August 31st, 2009
7:10 am

They should do both, of course, and have a person with whom to discuss what they are reading. In middle class homes, that used to be the parents. I think the classics are an important “rite of passage”, and a lot of what is written today is junk. My youngest daughter realized when she got to college that she had missed some of the classics, and set about to read them (for no credit!) because “everyone” knew them.

One of the neatest things at my elder daughter’s high school was a research project by the instructor, senior year, in which the child and the parent read the same (student-selected) material, discussed it, and journaled. I got a priceless insight into the daughter I thought I knew so well.

We do a “bastardized” version of AR at my elementary school. When we did it the right way, we saw good gains, but the administration didn’t like it because the teachers were not standing in front of the room, diadacticly instructing every minute (therefore they couldn’t be evaluated with a checklist).


August 31st, 2009
7:16 am

This topic should draw in the intellectuals and I hope you have a broad spectrum of comments Theresa. I am not an intellectual, although I love to read.

I read at least one book per week and sometimes have 2 or 3 going at once. If children do not have a love of reading by the time they hit middle school, I do not see how it can be stirred up.
Both of my kids love to read. Both took or are taking AP English. Some of the classics are still there and I enjoy talking with them about the books.

Some titles were new:
The Poisonwood Bible ( I think that is correct) was a book my son had to read and I really enjoyed it too. Great conversation piece. My daughter just pulled several books from the summer reading list for me to read and discuss with her. She read The Kite Runner this summer and we saw the movie together. She got the sequel ( not sure of the title) on Saturday and we will read it together.

To me, it is ALWAYS sad that some families do not cultivate a love of reading and books. I read to mine as SOON as they were born and really in womb too.

My kids begged me to visit the bookstores while we were on vacation, when they were little. They wanted to see what books were inside a different store. This continues to make me proud.

So, I am not certain there is a simple answer to this question. I will lurk and see what others have to say.


August 31st, 2009
7:35 am

I find the headline of today’s blog ironic — how can students “forget” the classics if they are never exposed to them in the first place?!

I think educators need to realize that there are “old” classics and there are “new” classics. Old classics, of course, would include the inimitable “Moby Dick”. New classics would include “The Outsiders” and “The Giver”. Part of the reason why many kids dislike reading classics is that they require work to read and reflect. And it’s getting harder and harder, with the texting/writing/communication styles that most kids have the most exposure to these days. It doesn’t mean that the writing and the messages that the old classics have to offer is obsolete, though, so I’d hate for them to be discarded completely.

I don’t know why it has to be an “either/or” proposition. The more books a child reads, the better. I wasn’t one that did much censoring of reading material, except to read it ahead of time in order to be able to better discuss it. My kids read A LOT — my daughter’s English teacher her senior year was surprised that she could not only name but knew well four other Jane Austen books other than “Pride & Prejudice”. Our family loves books and reads constantly — a pleasant Sunday afternoon for my husband and me is browsing the local book store and used book store. If a child doesn’t have that encouragement at home (and fewer and fewer do), it’s very hard to spark that love of reading. Kids get more encouragement on the athletic fields than they do in the library . . .


August 31st, 2009
8:10 am

I have never developed a love of reading fiction, but I do read a fair amount of non-fiction. Yet, whenever I did read for school, I found I enjoyed what I was required to read and am glad I was exposed to those classics. Like MJG, I started my kids early with reading to them and both have developed into advanced readers. They love going to the library as often as possible. While I can can see that letting kids choose their own encourages their interests in reading, I don’t think we should forget the classics. It needs to be a mixture of both, and schools are the place where kid can more easily be required to read a classic. Otherwise, how will they ever get to know some classic writers/books. Too many kids are not getting encouraged at home to read. Some parents are, unfortunately, much more interested in developing their children’s athletic skills.

Love to read

August 31st, 2009
8:15 am

My favorite class in high school was exactly the set up you are talking about today. I was a senior and it was an elective. The books were grouped in certain categories and I selected one or two from each and read them at my leisure. They were all provided on the shelf in the class. Every day we came in, sat down and opened our books and read for the entire period. As we finished we talked with the teacher one on one about what we read. It was a dream. I could not have designed a class that I would enjoy more.

I think that anything that gets kids to read more is a good thing. But I do think there should be some list or suggestions for them to choose from. I chose several books that were classics on my own( from the lists provided and otherwise). But there are several classics that I would not have read if I didn’t have to for a class. And they were all worthwhile. I think that getting to choose their own books to read for school should be a privilege of some sort. Kids can choose to read whatever they want outside of classes. But to get to select what they will read and get a grade on is a different matter. I think it is a great idea, if done properly.


August 31st, 2009
8:22 am

Forgot to add – it sometimes has been a struggle knowing what to have my young kids read. It can be overwhelming at the library with kids books sorted by author. There are a few lists of award-winning books at the library which can help, but a friend told me about a book, “Honey for a Child’s Heart”, by Gladys Hunt, that I have found sooooo helpful because it not only has titles, but descriptions and it is organized by ages and topics. I highly recommend this book for parents as a guide to getting your kids interested in reading.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

August 31st, 2009
8:24 am

Bessie Bear – I’m going to send that title out to friends — thanks!

V for Vendetta

August 31st, 2009
8:45 am

I agree with what many of the posters have said thus far: It is important for children to be exposed to classical literature; however, having the freedom to choose some of their own reading material encourages and empowers them.


August 31st, 2009
8:54 am

oh a topic about books…what could be better!!! i love to read…all of my kids love to read. i have never censored what they read, and they have all read ‘grown-up’ books as soon as they could understand…there were lots of ‘mom what does this mean’ kind of questions, and that of course started conversations about the book and the subject matter. i read gone with the wind when i was 8..and sure there was stuff in there that i didnt understand but i have re-read the book many times and as i got older i understood more and more. my family were big readers…my mom got the readers digest condensed books forever and my sisters and i read thos constantly…we read ‘our daily bread’ ‘the upper room’ magazines…cereal for children…anything that had words we read…my kids are about the same. they have grown up seeing me read and have jus always been readers. i think kids should have some required reading material….if only to know what they classics are and to understand different eras of time…plus to see the deeper way things were written…these days it seems books are a little easier…the language and thought processes i guess…not really sure how to say what i mean here. there are a lot of great books these days that kids can relate their own lives to better. so i am all for kids being able to choose their own books to a certain extent…maybe have the kids make a preferred list and then let the teacher choose some from that and then some regular old classics. but imo anytime you get a kids who doesnt like to read and then tell them what they have to read you are not turning that child into a reader. so a good mix is my opinion. kids will be more willing to read the required ones if they know next they can read something they want to read. one reason-as someone stated above-is if kids only are allowed to read what they want-then when they get in ‘real life’ and have to read reports and technical documents-boring stuff-they will not know how to focus on something they dont find interesting.

a favorite day trip for us is to go an hour away to a used bookstore where i have tons of credit and take books to trade and get ‘new’ ones…we make a day of it…browse the book store -go to a coffee shop and hit some thrift shops…when my grandkids visit the first thing they want to do is go to the library…my 5 yo has loved this about visits with granny since she was 3…she loves to pick out books there. my olde one too..altho this year when she visited she brought a bag of her own books..we still went to the library because thats just what you have to do when you go to grannys lol


August 31st, 2009
9:47 am

I think a mix is good. It’s good for kids to learn how to read classics, new and old, and not be allowed to stay in their comfort zone. I remember how much I hated A Tale of Two Cities for the first half of the book, but then I got the hang of the older language, and ended up loving it. I think many kids end up feeling the same way about Shakespeare. On the other hand, if students are in advanced classes with a rigorous literature curriculum in high school (my jr and sr years we read 15-20 books each year, a mix of old and new classics as DB described, but the “new” were usually from the 50s-60s at the latest), they can be left with little time or desire to go read on their own after finishing homework, so it would be great if some books each year were students’ choice.

New Step Mom

August 31st, 2009
9:48 am

I think a combination of the “classics” and books that kids choose goes further to develop the love of reading. I love to read, but “The Old Man and the Sea,” was a snoozer as were several others we read in HS and college. Because I was encouraged to read books outside of the assigned reading I really developed a love for reading. My stepdaughter loves to read and her curriculum is set up where they read 3-4 books as a class during the year. They have a list of about 20 other books to choose from for other projects. They also can have some choices of their own if they are approved. I think this is a great way to develop the love of reading.


August 31st, 2009
10:00 am

HAHA! Is it true that not many intellectuals read this blog and thus we have no posters?

@ Bessie Bear, I am also going to check out the book you suggested….thanks!

@ Theresa, I purchased the book I mentioned to you ( in e-mail) and it is a GOOD one, so far…the chapter titles would be perfect for this blog.

@deidre…sometimes the classics are harder to read because of the differences in vocabulary. When a person lives in a limited environment of perhaps one vocabulary, other verbage is sometimes hard to understand. Everyone will struggle with something…no one has the ultimate vocabulary. My Yankee clients do not understand getting tickled about something….hahaha!

I work with Speech Pathologists quite often and they are always throwing acronyms at me. I am unfamiliar with them ( as each of the 50 states has different ones). I could throw in the towel and say, “forget it….I cannot keep up with you…” OR what I have done is to say to myself, ” I can learn so much here if I just ask questions and plod along.” Many children who are not already readers do not see that struggling and plodding along as being worth it. IMHO many kids today never need to struggle as MOMMA takes care of everything for them.

Most teens I know would rather be on FACEBOOK than read ANY book….so YES we may have to rquire them to read certain titles. It is doubtful that their facebook topics will provide long lasting intellectual skills for life experiences….perhaps I am wrong?

My daughter told me that a friend of her HS English Teacher is also a HS teacher. One of the choices for summer reading was MY SISTER’S KEEPER. I read the book but have not seen the movie. The teachers both mentioned that the book was not the same as the movie. I laughed when she told me this as I can imagine that MANY of the kids thought they could just see the movie. If I were the teacher, I would be tickled to ask questions ( on the test) that were only answered in the book….sure could weed out who actually did the summer reading assignment.

I think reading the book first and then seeing the movie is good,. In our family, we discuss why things may have had to be changed in the movie and what did not need to be changed but was…..why so?


August 31st, 2009
10:02 am

I love to read and I have instilled that love of reading into my kids. As my son transitions from his tween to his teen years, I find it harder and harder to keep him interested in books. So, while we read many of the classics when he was younger, I have let him choose more of the topics. I would rather him continue reading. It may or may not be the best solution, but for now, it works.

The main advantage I have found is that he is still reading. I have actually read some of the books he reads and I have started to enjoy some of the books. NONE of them will ever be on my lists as favorites but I can at least hold an informed discussion with him about books. He gets more of the classics with the required reading at his school.

I think there needs to be a mix with a larger focus on the classics, if they don’t get any exposure to them elsewhere.


August 31st, 2009
10:02 am

FYI…I am joking about the intellectuals so please do not get all over me about it. I was hoping for some insight from those who are immersed in the classics and can fight for them….with good reason.
This would not be me….I am not bright enough.


August 31st, 2009
10:14 am

I absolutely love to read and am reading 2 books right now (can’t wait for my Amazon order to get in!). With that said, we absolutely need to make students read the classics. Now, I read to my kids from birth, my son actually in the womb. I have so many children’s books now that I’m getting ready to give them to charity. But, neither one of them loves to read! I don’t understand it. We went to the library often and I take them to Barnes and Noble to choose a book. My son loves non-fiction. My daughter would rather see the movie. But…they both are great readers so I guess it helped. We have “reading time” every night where they can either read to me or to themselves for at least 15 minutes. My son, he likes to read to me (but he’s 11). My teenaged daughter would rather be texting!

I say a little of both would be beneficial.


August 31st, 2009
10:46 am

I have been reading to Little E from birth to instill a love of reading in her. So far it is working. I can’t wait for the day that she and I can read a novel together and have a little book club!! I absolutely devour every book I can and I keep a book journal. I am going to encourage her to keep a book journal as well. I like looking back in my journal to remember what I have read and to be able to recommend books to friends. I am also attempting to read 100 books in year so writing them down helps me keep count. I have been trying for 3 years to accomplish that goal and I always fall 5-10 short!!!

BTW……has anyone read the new Pat Conroy? I just finished…..LOVED IT!!!!!!! His work should be on the classics list some day.

its unfortunate

August 31st, 2009
10:49 am

They should teach the classics to those who can actually appreciate them and let the majority of kids read whatever they want.

This is like National Public Radio. They play classical music everyday. The vast majority of people don’t like classical music and aren’t going to listen or appreciate it. However, thank god that someone is still playing it because something like that should be preserved.

The vast majority of people are not only going to dislike reading “War and Peace”, but they aren’t going to understand it either.

We should start seperating kids early like they do in Germany. Put the bright kids in programs to develop their understanding, but also to help preserve these arts. Put the vast majority in programs to train them for working.

Do you have any idea how dumb “average” is?


August 31st, 2009
10:57 am

MJG – I LOVED The Poisonwood Bible and Kite Runner!

I read every day. I can read at least 1 book a week so I try and buy them used or at a discount store. I can’t NOT read so I have to make sure I can afford my “habit”.

I think a combination would be good. I believe there should be a common set of books that all students read together. My concern, too, is what kind of books the kids would choose. Some books, though fun, may not have any kind of educational value. Sure a kid may become more interested in reading but some stuff is just not appropriate. And some parents, especially non-readers, won’t know any better. For example, my mother had The Color Purple at the house when I was a kid so I picked it up and read it. THE HORROR! A 10-year-old should not read The Color Purple but a high school student may be able to handle the subject matter. My mother didn’t know I picked it up until too late. I was already scarred! LOL! I would rather the teacher present a set of required reading and offer some “elective” books based on the books students present as possibles. I’m sorry, teachers, for suggesting you do even more work but I think it would be helpful to facilitate all types of learning and add positives to your class.


August 31st, 2009
11:33 am

@ unfortunate….I love classical music…I listen to instrumentals in the car as I talk to folks all day and need something without words to relax….

Good luck with the Germany concept. You may catch it!

Along those lines, if parents are not encouraging children to read or digest anything more that Facebook, what happens when those kids get in the arena with some of our children who like to read real literature. Would eliminating the classics actually be dumbing down the curriculum….just thinking out loud here….


August 31st, 2009
11:36 am

This sounds like a great plan. I remember in middle school we did pretty much this. We would read a selection appropriate for the age group or grade level in the large Literature books, which consisted of a collection of short stories, plays, poems, and even a novel towards the end. We had them all through middle and high school, and they seemed to get thicker (and heavier!) every year.

But we were also allowed to check out a book from the school library, or bring in a book from home (or city library) and read that. I clearly remember my sixth grade teacher keeping a log of what book we were reading, asking us daily what page we were on, and if we finished, the number of pages in the book. I think I read more than other students. Perhaps if teachers did this, then students would be more encouraged to read. Another thing that they could do is try to urge the kids to read the classics, by perhaps explaining to them how they have been incorporated into modern literature, or if they somehow could relate to the students, or if they might feature material that the student would be interested in.

I remember reading a book in 8th grade called “Travel Far, Pay No Fare.” It was about a boy and his mother moving in with his uncle and cousin, after his parents divorced, and the mother falling in love with the uncle, the father’s brother. The cousin was an avid book reader who joined the local library’s summer reading club. Every year they received bookmarks for signing up, and one member would receive a “magical” bookmark that transported the reader into the world of the book. When the reader placed the marker in a certain point of the book, then opened the book to where they left off, they would find themselves in the book itself. One key point in the book was that the mother was allergic to cats, and they end up on the porch of the house, which has tons of cages with cats in them. The weird thing about the cats was they were named after cats in literature, like Puss-In-Boots, the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, Garfield (yes, the comic strip cat – there’s a small argument between the boy and his mother about the Garfield books, with her saying they’re not real books), and several others. The cousin later confesses she wasn’t happy with the idea of her dad marrying the boy’s mom, and that’s why she got all the cats.

The kids go on adventures in a few books, as well as a National Geographic magazine. In the NatGeo magazine, they end up in South America during a volcanic eruption, and save a horse that was pictured in the magazine as being in danger. They then bring the horse back to the real world, and then transport themselves into the book “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and give the horse to the family in the book, the Baxters. The cousin warns the boy not to finish the book because it would make him sad, after they rescued the deer from that book. Not believing her, he did, and it did.

I had to read that book in order to vote for the Newberrys that year. It was one of the nominees, and we were to choose which one or two to read. Because of that book, I got interested in the book “The Yearling”, and it is now one of my favorite books of all, especially since parts of it take place out in the woods.


August 31st, 2009
11:58 am

@ Kathy – I am a HUGE Pat Conroy fan. I read Prince of Tides when I was about 13 and although much of the subject matter was a little grown-up for me, I fell in love with his writing. Beach Music is my all-time favorite. I still read it and Prince of Tides about once a year. I enjoy his other ones as well, but not on the same scale as those two. I just got South of Broad and have read about two chapters and all I am thinking is “he’s back!” It seems to be one the same page (bad pun, I know!) as Prince of Tides and Beach Music. With a two-year-old running around I have to read in small snatches of time here and there but I will manage!

On topic….I think there needs to be a good mixture of classics and more popular fiction. One style I have always admired is having students read a classic, then provide them with a list of more popular modern titles that parallel the classic in terms of themes, symbolism, etc. and have them choose one to read – then have them write a paper on both novels.


August 31st, 2009
12:33 pm

In relation to what NEGeorgiaMama said about having a child read a piece of classical literature, then something more modern that falls along the same scale, one thing I’ve noticed that’s a trend nowadays is to rework the classics. Take a whole different approach to the story, or try to give a “behind-the-story” theme. One good example is the novel made into a hit musical, “Wicked”, which talks about how the land of Oz wasn’t all what we saw in Frank Baum’s book or in the movie, especially when it came to the three witches.

Maybe not have the child write a paper on both novels as book reports, but compare and contrast the two, and how the two really complement one another.

I have a book saved on my “to buy later” list on Amazon called “The Child Thief”, which supposedly takes a darker look at the Peter Pan tales. Mainly, I think it deals with how the Lost Boys came to be. Books like that could easily entice a child to go back and read the classics.

Another thing I remember in high school was what my 11th grade English teacher did: she’d give us extra credit if we found literary references in modern culture, like popular songs, movies, or TV shows. I told her about that episode of “Friends” with the chick and the duckling, when Joey fawns over the duck, and Chandler warns him “Easy, Lenny!” in reference to Lenny Small from “Of Mice and Men”. Anyone who had read the book would have gotten the joke instantly.


August 31st, 2009
12:51 pm

ahhh i have waited for years for conroy to write another im on the waiting list at the library for the book..i cant wait to read it….i own all his books and will buy this one too when i the meantime i will get it from my wonderful library…i re-read his books…and several others..anyone else do that? read the same book over again? my kids do movies that way…i do books lol

mjg-my daughter read my sisters keeper and didnt really like it..she read lots of her books this one just didnt get her…she isnt here much anymore and says she really misses reading my books..i always get them from the library and she reads them…i wont let her take them now tho cause after all they are library books…besides she has the college library now..growing up means having to get your own books….i have a close friend who loves the classics..she majored in journalism and absolutely knows most of the classics by heart lol..not me..i have read them..some i love some i dont…but you are right about kids not understanding because of the language difference…when i read shakepeare in high school i had guides that helped me understand exactly what they were meaning..after a couple of these i had no problem reading his stuff and understanding it.


August 31st, 2009
12:57 pm

“However, many studies show this method improves performance on standardized tests”

So long as they perform well on the standardized tests, well, that’s really all that matters. Who cares if they have no ability for conscious thought, as long they can memorize and regurgitate. Next on the agenda: Kids get to choose between taking Algebra and The History of MTV. (and when I was in college, there WAS an option for an art elective to take History of Pop Culture, it’s probably trickled down to the high schools by now)

I think one of the benefits of actually reading true classics is that we get a better view of what the mindset and culture of a certain time were. Even with as much research as some current authors say they do, they really cannot put us in the French Revolution or the Spanish Inquisition the way Hugo and Cervantes can. And that goes for Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Tolstoy, etc… And today’s vernacular cannot begin to compete with Chaucer and Shakespeare!

But as a previous poster said- it’s too hard for the small minds of most of today’s children to grasp a sentence more complicated than a text message. and God forbid a teacher should actually attempt to stretch their minds- that would damage their poor little psyches and emotionally scar them for life!

(Yes, I really do feel this much contempt for the current education system in this country)

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

August 31st, 2009
1:04 pm

Guys — I just put up a second topic for today about Walt Disney Co. buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion!!! A huge deal and it will really change that landscape — Do you mind the combination of these brands? How do you feel about Disney controlling Spidey and friends? I actually have analysis on why they did it. Check out the discussion.


August 31st, 2009
1:10 pm

Patrick, another idea might be instead of reading a story and its rework from a different point of view, have the students write their own rework of a selection from a book. That could be a great creative writing assignment that also requires reading and analysis of the original work.

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August 31st, 2009
2:12 pm

I re-read books all the time. I thought it was the norm with books you love.

I’m of the same mind as many of the posters above – mix kid’s choice with required titles. There’s plenty of time to read the classics. I’m a late comer to the Jane Austen party. I certainly would not have appreciated her books as a high schooler, but now Mr. Darcy makes me swoon!


August 31st, 2009
2:21 pm

We are avid readers.
We do a mix of both classics and newer books at home. My son is currently reading The Three Musketeers by Dumas for Lit class. He is also reading ‘Dragon Slippers’ by Jessica George and ‘Freddy plays football ‘ by Brooks on his own time. We are also listening to Janitor’s Boy by Clements in the car. My daughter has read several classic starts books which are abridged versions.

I think reading classics is one thing that creates the common culture we have. How can you understand references made in the news and in other books if you don’t have a base understanding of common references from literature? We are destined to become a nation that doesn’t understand anything not infused with references from SpongeBob and other pop culture shows.


August 31st, 2009
2:32 pm

@NEGeorgiaMama…..keep reading South of Broad. You will NOT be disappointed!!! : )


August 31st, 2009
2:55 pm

@ Patrick – just to clarify….when I said “write a paper on both books”, I meant, as you said, one that brings the two together – I did not mean write two book reports that simply summarize each novel. When I was in grad school I worked as a TA and I remember being simply astounded at the number of students who could barely string two sentences together. The ability to organize your thoughts on paper is, IMO, one of the most valuable skills you can possibly have and, unfortunatly, is one that doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention at the high school level. I was very fortunate in that my AP English teacher spent several weeks towards the end of my senior year in high school telling us what would be expected of us (in terms of writing papers, essays, reviews, etc.) in college….I was a lot more prepared in this respect than many of my other fellow students and my grades in college showed it!

@ Kathy…the kiddo’s napping right now, so I’m going to try to get in a few chapters before he wakes up! :o)


August 31st, 2009
4:52 pm

I feared this topic would not draw a large audience and I am so disappointed. Do people just not read anymore? This may explain why children would rather watch TV! YIKES! Maybe some will post when they get home from work.


August 31st, 2009
5:04 pm

i was hoping for a lot of posts too mjg…to me reading is it…you cna learn anything you want by can go anywhere a good book takes you…a good book can save your mind!!! and its almost impossible to read anything and not learn something…as you say maybe there will be more posts later…


August 31st, 2009
5:22 pm

I will post later tonight. I do have some thoughts on this subject.

(Yeah I know you’ll wait with baited breath…ROFL!)


August 31st, 2009
6:00 pm

In my middle school classroom, I have a mix of required and self-selected reading assignments. I think it is good for kids to learn to read for fun, but they also need to be exposed to new ideas, vocabulary, characters, etc. Some kids would stick with one genre or even one series of books for years due simply to lack of exposure of fear of the unknown. A struggling reader is going to continue with the next in a series because he knows what to expect.

People have to remember that there is a big difference between a good story and good literature. Some of the best stories have no value as literature. The classics are classics because the themes and characters are as relevant today as they were when they were written even if the vocabulary and fashions have changed. As readers, we can learn from them and have our ideas challenged even though the main character may arrive at the scene of the climax in a horse drawn carriage instead of a mustang.

To say that some students should not be exposed to the classics is unfair. It may take more patience on the part of the teacher, but everyone should be exposed and given the chance to learn from and appreciate great literature.


August 31st, 2009
6:28 pm

@ April…great points!

Once, someone challenged me and said, ” so those who do not read are LOSERS?’
Well…if the shoe fits…wear it , I guess.

@ FCM…please do not wait too late…the suspense is killing me….LOL!

In some respects those who read only one type of literature are kind of like those who eat the same food all the time…never branching out. We were at the food court ( MOG) on Saturday. My daughter asked me, “Why would anyone eat at Mc Donald’s in here when there are so many other choices?” My thoughts exactly.

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Zachs Mom

August 31st, 2009
8:02 pm

I love to read and so do my parents. Zachary will probably never read a book from the beginning to the end. I read to him when he was a baby all the way up through the middle of elementary school. I know that he CAN read because he test above grade level in school. He just WON’t. He has such a short attention span that if take longer that 10-15 minutes to read, you can forget it. We tell him all the time about the things that he is missing out on and he doesn’t seem to care.

It’s hard to have a non-reader in a reading family. Maybe one day…


August 31st, 2009
9:17 pm

HB: Now that would be a great idea re having the students do their own reworks. Have them write the story how they think it should have played out. I vaguely remember a teacher giving us a similar assignment one year. She told us to put ourselves in the shoes of the main character, or any character in the story. How would you have played it out? What would you have done? Would you do the same thing (character) did? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation to that character? It can really get the creative juices flowing.

One thing I do remember having to do one year was my English teacher asked us write a letter to her as a character in one of the books we read. We were to describe what happened to us throughout the book, without directly quoting the book. We were to say what we did, where we did it, who we did it with (or to), why we did it, how we did it, and when it was done. We could choose to be the main character, or any character that had a significant role in the story. For example, if one of us had read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, we could have written the letter as Tom, Huck, (which would have been odd, since neither one could really read or write very well), Aunt Polly, Becky Thatcher, or anyone else that had a significant role in the book.


September 1st, 2009
1:23 am

HB – my favorite assignment in high school senior English was re-writing Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” as a work of fiction. I loved it, and went on for 36 pages — I couldn’t stop!

My only problem with letting children get away with reading solely what they feel like reading is that often what they choose to read may not be challenging or even enduring. Kids being kids, they often take the past of least resistence, in the face of all the other demands on their time and attention. I do think that a person cannot make a claim to being well-educated if they don’t have some passing acquaintance with the classics and to be able to recognize references, themes and allusions to those classic works.

My daughter and I were talking about something the other day, and suddenly, she exclaimed, “Dorothy didn’t have RUBY slippers — they were SILVER — umm, weren’t they?” I assured her that yes, indeed, in the original books, Dorothy’s shoes were silver, but they made them ruby to make ‘em “pop” more in the new Technicolor process. This led to a long discussion of the differences between literature and the motion picture adaptations (including my distain for the Keira Knightly version of “Pride & Prejudice” . . . don’t get me started!) And while I don’t equate Nicholas Sparks with “literature”, my daughter finally understood why I loathed the movie adaptation — AFTER she read the book! When she had to read a book for English, I never let her see the movie until she had read the book. I have a miniseries of Jane Eyre that she actually found helpful to understanding some of the undertones she had missed. And, of course, we had a good laugh at Olivia Hussey not being allowed to go to the premier of “Romeo and Juliet” because she was too young for the “R” rating that her nudity earned the movie . . . in other words, she was too young to look at her own breasts!:-D

@Denise — LMAO at the “horror” of “The Color Purple.” My mother was equally horrified when I was discovered, at age 8, hiding in the attic eagerly devouring “Rosemary’s Baby”! I have to admit, at 8, I was so innocent that I never really quite grasped exactly how Rosemary got pregnant, despite the fairly explicit description of her impregnation. :-)


September 1st, 2009
6:07 am

I am an avid reader. Growing up my parents had a rule that for every 2 books of my choosing I had to read a classic. At first they could all be fiction. Eventually it was for every 2 books of fiction I had to read a book of non-fiction.

I agree with those who said a mix of the two would work well. Classics like Little Women, Fahrenheit 451, Wuthering Heights, and Tom Sawyer are a must. Newer books like Animal Farm, The Lord of the Rings, Anne Frank, Jurassic Park, and Gone With the Wind.

The problem is there are SO many works that are great, that a child (or adult) will have to venture out to discover most of them on their own. Little House, Harry Potter, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Last Battle….these should not be shove aside just because we need to expose the child to Old Man and the Sea, The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Dante’s Inferno.

Some reading like Shakespeare will ALWAYS be dry…because Shakespeare didn’t write it for people to read. Let them see the movie…even the DiCaprio or Gibson ones, and save them the reading time for another good book. Then have them compare and contrast it to any other book (Twilight comes to mind with Romeo and Juliet) of their choosing that interests them and can be compared.

On the other hand their are classics I had to force myself through: The Great Gatsby, Watership Down, Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice. Am I better person for having read them–who knows!–the best I have found is that I know what the speaker is referring to when they are referenced–but who cares! There are tons of things that are referenced in conversation I later have to look up…it would be impossible for me to know everything.

The best that any teacher (or parent) can hope for is to spark a life long love affair with books. By allowing a mixture we can best hope to achieve that goal.


September 1st, 2009
6:23 am

MJG–some of us would rather not point out Socialist concepts (like the one Unfortunate gave)…there are enough of those being espoused right now. Uncle Joe certainly did exactly what Unfortunate is suggesting and we all know the USSR did so well with it for decades!

People need to read to be educated. You will not be educated in school–ok you will be given the basics, but they do NOT encourage you to think. Heck, the current school system doesn’t even encourage teachers to think…just to do and of course get those National Scores! A person has to take responsibility for their own learning. Educated/Learned masses are the best resources we can get for our country. Uneducated masses, are great for pulling levers at the polls and doing what they are told.


September 1st, 2009
8:17 am

@FCM and unfortunately the uneducated masses are reproducing faster than the rest and is there any hope?

We have had many discussions about healthcare in our family. I am all for helping the less fortunate IF THEY CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES. Does anyone think many of those with generations on welfare are sitting around reading ( with all of their spare time) or are they watching their big screens? HOW do we get these folks to want to read?

I am livid over what my son has shared with us about uninsured individuals filling acne medication for FREE since the government is paying for it. Is this a life or death situation? If Rogaine were a prescription, would it be necessary? There are many insured folks who cannot afford to go to the dermatologist and get a $500 prescription WITH a $70 co pay.

I cannot figure out the craziness of this mess…..


September 1st, 2009
9:06 am

I agree about the Shakespeare. It was pretty dry when I had to read it. Of course, every play I had to read was drier than Georgia was last year because the teacher usually had us choose roles, but nobody ever read it in the way it was supposed to be read. We read it as if we were reading a passage out of our History or Biology textbooks. The only teacher that did anything right was my 12th grade English teacher, who had us listen to a record with professional actors reciting the lines from “MacBeth”. Yes, I said it. It was so that we could get the true feeling of the play, something you can’t get when you have a few students reading the lines. If someone tried to act it out, or make it sound the way it was supposed to sound, they were laughed at. I also remember the teacher taking us to the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta where we saw “Much Ado About Nothing.” As far as plays go, the best way to enjoy them is to watch them, regardless of the adaptation. Of course, you’ll want to see the play in its original context, before seeing any modernized or reworked version (”10 Things I Hate About You” being a reworking of “The Taming Of The Shrew”), in order to understand where the modernized or reworked version got its inspiration.

The only other way is if you can find a summarized version of the play, where the plot is pretty much rewritten as a short story. I have a book that did that with a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, that I found in my great-granddad’s house when my parents and I cleaned it out back in the Summer of 1997. I kept it, knowing that we’d be studying Shakespeare, and that it might come in handy in other ways. I loaned it to my English teacher, who used it to make copies of the short story version of “Much Ado”, and gave me extra credit for letting her borrow it.


September 1st, 2009
9:45 am

MJG it is likely that those that you described are not reading, nor do they have much schooling. On the other hand there are still people like the ones Hortio Alger wrote about in this world too. (For those unfamilar with Alger’s work: juvenile novels that followed the adventures of bootblacks, newsboys, peddlers, buskers, and other impoverished children in their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of respectable middle-class security and comfort).

One thing we could do is stop allowing the people you mention to play the ‘victim’. Since when is it respectable to have several children and then not take care of them or to think teen pregnancy should be lauded?

The other side is maybe you should prove you have a GED or HS Diploma to be able to vote!


September 1st, 2009
10:39 am

@ FCM….instilling dignity in those who have little to be proud of would help so much!

Furthermore when families ,who are often not proud of their own accomplishments, have oodles of children….do they know how to raise them in an environment that rewards positive steps in the right direction or tackling something difficult such as literature.

I see children all over the country and I am apprehensive about the future. Either children who have no drive or those who are overindulged and do not know how to work or think for themselves.

Those that do not have anything expect those that DO to pass it down and take care of them. How can we get the multitude to want something bad enough that they will work hard and get it themselves?


September 1st, 2009
11:17 pm

I agree with some of the comments that a mix of required classics and personal choices may be a good idea. Most of the class time should be spent on the good literature, but there is no harm in encouraging kids to read on their own outside of class and giving a little credit for it.
It’s a little like food: of course they need to read great literary works, just like they need to eat their vegetables and whole grains. There is no harm in having ice cream or Doritos once in a while, but letting kids read only what they like is the intellectual equivalent of feeding them cupcakes for every meal. There are too many adults now who never read anything better than the trashy magazines they pick up in the checkout line at Wal-mart. As a result, they end up with weak, unhealthy minds to match their bodies.