A Story about the Importance of Real Choice in Reading Class

I wasn’t planning on writing this post. As I prepared to start my new blog, which I haven’t even finished formatting yet, I had a couple topics in mind for my first post, and I was planning on waiting until next week to write one. However, after seeing this [edit: This Tweet was apparently deleted] on Twitter yesterday, I decided to add my own voice to the hundreds of other responses.

Other than read alouds, students choose all their books in my class, and every year, there are a few students whose choices, especially early in the year, aren’t the books that I would hope they’d choose. But I let them read them. I’ll admit I’m not thrilled when a seventh grader wants to reread the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books that he read in third grade. But if that’s what makes him happy and gets him reading, I’m all for it. (Last year, a boy who started the year with those books was reading 300-400 page dystopian novels by the spring.) Every book a student chooses gives me insight into that child as a reader and helps me learn what other books he or she might like. Every book that children enjoy is an important step in their journeys as readers.

Several years ago, I had a girl in class who challenged this idea for me. When the year started, she wanted to read fanfiction online. I wrestled with this for a while, wondering if I should ask her to choose a “real book,” but I’m happy that something made me let her continue. It didn’t take long before booktalks and her classmates encouraged her to move on from fanfiction by her own choice. She had never read much before, so while she might have only finished 17 books that year, on the low end in my class, 8 of those came during fourth quarter, when her reading really started to take off.

The next year, she left our school to attend the local public school. One afternoon when I was working in my class, she stopped in to see me. We talked about how things were going at her new school and quickly our conversation turned to books she had read since last school year ended. She then handed me a copy of Sophomores and Other Oxymorons by David Lubar, the newly released sequel to Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, which had become her favorite book from the previous year. She had loved the first book so much that after reading the sequel on her own, she wanted me and my students to have a copy for our classroom. In a letter she also gave me that day, she said she was getting ready to start another series of his because she liked his other books so much.

Now, back in August of her seventh-grade year, if I had asked her to stop reading fanfiction and choose a book, maybe things still would have turned out okay. Maybe she still would have read some of the same books. Maybe she still would have chosen to keep reading on her own in eighth grade. But what if that message that what she was interested in reading wasn’t good enough served to push her farther along the path to becoming a nonreader?

If a student brings in a book that you aren’t comfortable with, please let them read it. Talk to them about it. Find out why they like it so much. Even if you hope they move on to other types of books eventually, take advantage of the opportunity to learn what engages them, information that is vital if we really want to help our students as readers.

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2 thoughts on “A Story about the Importance of Real Choice in Reading Class

  1. I always let my students choose the books they wanted to read from my first year as a classroom teacher back in 1990 onward. (Maybe it’s because my parents never censored what I read.)
    I got some pushback from parents and colleagues, but I did not give in. It paid off, because I would get messages from parents that stated…”I don’t know what you did to get (my child) reading, but…”
    All that to say, I am in total agreement with you. (from a retired teacher)

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    1. Yes, some of them talk like we did something magical to get their kids to read, but really, it’s that the books are that good.

      Like

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