Uproar Over Student Reading Choice

Everyone seems to be buzzing about a new method of teaching reading.  The new method let’s students choose their own books then encourages them to pick up more challenging tomes.  The article, featured in the New York Times, created a large backlash among education wonks.  Diane Ravitch, half of the excellent Bridging Differences blog, called the story idiotic, biased, and old news.  Ravitch also said that the Times was sowing the seeds of their own demise by “encouraging the death of reading”.  A bit dramatic?

Matt Stone, who writes the Report Card for the Kennebec Journal, picked up on the Times story and a Maine connection.

From the Report Card:

At the center of the reading workshop philosophy is a school in Maine, the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb. The New York Times article by Motoko Rich focuses on a Georgia public school teacher who retools her English class after witnessing the reading workshop philosophy in action at the private Edgecomb school.

I have been a proponent of letting students choose their reading materials for some time. I believe this method to be more effective, from personal experience and research, at getting children to form a love of reading. Once you have them hooked, then you can introduce the classics.  It should ultimately be up to the teacher to guide students in book discussions.  Teachers can seek students to find common themes in books the class is reading.  Or comparing and contrasting writing styles of authors.  These are just a few of the many avenues an educator could apply to this style of teaching reading.

Also “classics” are relative. The judgement of what book is classic and what isn’t ,though often argeed upon by large numbers, is subjective, as is all art.  It is also impossible to read all the classics, clearly. How to we say which books children should read? State standards? National? Who will decide this? A mixed aproach, covering self-asigned reading and teacher asigned texts with a possible inter-disciplinary inegration of book topics is, in my opinion, the most effective method to teach reading.

As Diane Ravitch pointed out on her Twitter Feed, this method of teaching reading is not new.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth some investigation.  The aim is not to pump children full of what we adults deem worth reading.  Nor should it be to let children read anything without guidance.  There is a happy medium to encourage a life long love of reading and learning.  They may start out reading “popular novels”, but hey people once lined the docks in New York to get the next Dickens book.  Today’s pop trash may be tomorrow’s classic.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree with you on this issue that “there is a happy medium to encourage a life long love of reading and learning.” I’ve had a few classes where the teacher presented several books (usually relating to a certain theme) from which to choose. Seemed to work well for the students as well as the teacher.

  2. The English Department where I teach has used an independent reading program much like this for years… it surprises me to hear it called a “new method” of teaching reading.

    I can’t imagine doing it any other way. There are too many students for whom Dickens, et al are simply not accessible, but if they are made to feel like that’s all they can read, they’ll end up not reading at all. I can’t help imagine anyone who opposes this method must be some sort of elitist private school snob.

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