“I absolutely hate this book.”
“Why is everything that we read boring?”
“I’d much rather read about things that matter to me.”
Do these quotes sound familiar? To me, they most certainly do. I’m even guilty of uttering one or two of them from time to time. These are sayings that frequented my English classroom in high school. Assigned required reading was certainly something that happened, and no one was very happy about it. Even as I sit here today, a Language Arts Education major and self-proclaimed lover of books, I can honestly say that I despise assigned required reading. I read the required reading because, well, it’s required and I’m a teacher-pleasing type of person. I often find myself skimming the required reading for classes because it’s too dry or dull for me to really love it. There was even a time that I stopped reading all together because I felt like what I was assigned was literally sucking the life out of me. It’s obvious that this practice isn’t working, but what’s an English teacher to do?
Required reading is what has always been done. It’s practiced in classrooms all over the nation and is the go-to fallback of everything. Does that necessarily make it right though? Classics line the shelves of my English classroom back home. Everything from The Great Gatsby (which I actually really enjoyed) to The Scarlet Letter and Johnny Tremain (which, if you read my previous post, I absolutely detested) sits up on the shelves. Are these books worth a read still? I’d say that’s up to the individual student’s perspective. There are some students that honestly really enjoy the classics, which is great. Then, there are others who, like me, are not a huge fan of many of them. And, that is okay. It’s okay to not like those books. However, the issue is that when kids don’t like them and are forced to read them continually, they turn away from reading for good. I know that many of my classmates didn’t read any of the novels that we were assigned in high school. Why should we continue to force books onto students? Why should we continue to let our students pretend to read novels that they haven’t even opened?
If students do not read the assigned texts, nothing important is happening in your literature classroom-nothing very important to develop your student’s reading and interpretive abilities is happening… Nothing important is happening because student development of reading and interpretive abilities requires engaged reading.
I have always thought that there wasn’t a way around assigning required reading, but after reading the first two chapters of Penny Kittle’s Book Love, I am more determined than ever to re-write the status quo when I become a teacher. I want my future students to love the books that they are reading. I want them to become so engulfed in the novel that they forget to go to bed at a decent time. I want to see them sitting by their locker before school reading, not because they have to, but because they want to. We must stop grouping students together into a large lump and assigning the same novel to everyone. Let students find their passion and let that drive them. Allow students to choose their own books to read and do projects over. Possibly have them do a Literature Circle or form book clubs within the class to discuss novels in a group setting. Give them creative outlets. Show them different genres. Do whatever you have to do, but don’t give them any reason to hate what they read.
… But a reading appetite is quirky, singular, and essential. At the core of what I know about students, teaching, and learning is passionate engagement. Passions are peculiar, but passions drive readers to devour books.
This week, I also watched Penny Kittle’s video Why Students Don’t Read What is Assigned in Class. This really revealed the awful truth that surrounds our English classrooms today firsthand from a group of students: today’s students are not reading. Some of the students hadn’t cracked open a book that they were “required” to read in years. Doesn’t this make required reading useless? Even more importantly, isn’t this frightening? Students are getting nothing out of class. Nothing! They are simply relying on classroom discussion or SparkNotes to get them through the novels. This has to stop.
I truly believe that if we open up the reading options for our students, we will see a great response back. I know that I read a lot more for pleasure than I did (or still do) for my actual classes. Reading should be required and expected, but we should not assign what the students have to read. There is no one book that every student will love and relate to the same, so why should we continue to try to cage them in? Let’s let their creativity show and allow our students to grow in their reading instead of shrink.
According to Kittle, “the study of literature is half the job; leading students to satisfying and challenging reading lives is the other, and we haven’t paid enough attention to it.” So, let’s stop requiring our students to read novels that they hate. Maybe then we can allow our students to truly start reading.