Tag Archives: reading

Five Reasons Teachers Love Student Choice

A choice of many booksIn Wentzville, Missouri, some high school teachers changed how they taught reading, and after seeing the results, they report they will never go back.

Eight teachers from the Wentzville School District wrote an article for our February 2016 English Leadership Quarterly explaining why they now love letting their students choose their own reading material. Before, these teachers would have entire classes read the same novel, and they now see that as a mistake:

When we assigned the same book to every student to read, we turned reading … into a chore—and that’s if the students were actually doing the reading!

Determined to teach more effectively, these teachers decided to let students choose their reading and to give students class time to do that reading. These teachers now love this new system, and they list five reasons why.

  1. Choice Empowers Students

Most students spend their day being dominated by adults. An assigned book becomes one more humiliation, and students “end up dreading the reading and often fail or refuse to complete it.” Empowering students to choose their own books, on the other hand, makes reading a pleasure for students and “sets them up for success as lifelong readers.”

  1. Valuing Student Choices Values the Student

As students choose books, they reveal insights about their personalities and interests, which in turn makes it easier for teachers to build connections with these students and to succeed in teaching them:

Book choices tell us a lot about our students. We learn about their dreams for the future, interests we have in common, and why they act the way they do in class. As we provide more opportunities for choice, we discover realities, such as high school boys enjoy reading nonfiction. They … want truthfulness and honesty; they want something real. Knowing this changes the way we see them and react to their participation in class.

  1. Choice Leads to Meaningful Conversations

When students are free to choose their reading, they read books that are more applicable to their lives and their interests. As a result, they care more about these books, and discussions about these books become more lively and meaningful.

  1. Choice Helps Deepen Relationships

Not only do students who choose their books have better conversations with teachers, they have better conversations with their peers:

Often students are hesitant to talk to classmates they do not know. When conversations are about books they have read and enjoyed, suddenly students are more willing to talk to others—even if they have never spoken before.

As the reading culture takes root, students enjoy sharing with one another their reading recommendations. “Reading for fun can be contagious,” these teachers observed, “and it’s the most enthralling thing for a reading teacher to watch spread.”

  1. Choice Leads to Independence

The real mark of success for a reading teacher is when students start reading on their own, reading not for a grade or to keep a pestering teacher off their backs, but for the sheer pleasure of doing it. And this, too, seems to spring from a strategy of letting students choose their reading:

Teachers in other content areas are beginning to report seeing students reading in their classes more often than before. They also have observed that students are not all reading the same text as they have seen in previous school years. Instead, students are reading all different titles more often. While we can’t follow our students around to monitor their reading habits, we know, anecdotally, that many of their reading lives have been positively impacted by this shift in our instructional approach.

Read the complete article, “The Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading.”


YA Lit

ya-misconWhile some of us packed up and went home after the NCTE Annual Convention, many people stayed for the 2016 ALAN Workshop. It was hosted at the Georgia World Congress Center and continued the tradition of celebrating the very best of young adult literature. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) promotes communication and cooperation among teachers, authors, librarians, publishers, teacher-educators and their students, and others who are particularly interested in the area of young adult literature. Members receive three issues annually of The ALAN Review, a journal emphasizing new books, research, and methods of teaching adolescent literature. Many attendees of the 2016 ALAN workshop have been posting on social media about their time there. Interested in Young Adult Literature? See what NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org have to offer!

Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers is a podcast providing families, educators, out-of-school practitioners, and tutors reading recommendations they can pass along to teen readers. Each episode will feature in-depth recommendations of titles that will engage and excite teen readers. Text Messages is hosted by current ALAN President, Jennifer Buehler.

With a supporting explication of NCTE’s Policy Research Brief Reading Instruction for All Students and lively vignettes of teachers and students reading with passion and purpose, Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives is designed to help teachers develop their own version of YA pedagogy and a vision for teaching YA lit in the middle and secondary classroom. Visit the Companion Site for more from the author.

Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction offers suggestions for incorporating YA lit into the high school curriculum. Each chapter opens with an introduction to and description of a different popular genre or award category of YA lit—science fiction, realistic teen fiction, graphic novels, Pura Belpré award winners, nonfiction texts, poetry, historical YA fiction—and then offers suggestions within that genre for whole-class instruction juxtaposed with a young adult novel more suited for independent reading or small-group activities. See more in a web seminar recorded by the authors.

Engaging American Novels: Lessons from the Classroom focuses on ten frequently taught American novels, both classic and contemporary, that can help promote engagement in reading. Texts highlighted include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, and Out of the Dust. Teachers are challenged to think about how students best engage with texts, especially novels. Many of the titles in this book have been challenged or censored. The NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

How do you incorporate YA Lit in your classroom?

Join the 2016 Global Read Aloud

read-aloud-hiThe 2016 Global Read Aloud kicks off October 3rd. NCTE member Pernille Ripp created the project in 2010 with a simple goal in mind: one book to connect the world. During a 6-week period, a book that has been selected is read aloud to students. Also, during that time, teachers and students try to make as many global connections as possible. Hear more about GRA from its creator.

Teacher read-alouds demonstrate the power of stories. By showing students the ways that involvement with text engages us, we give them energy for learning how reading works. By showing them how to search for meaning, we introduce strategies of understanding we can reinforce in shared, guided, and independent reading. Read more in this strategy guide from ReadWriteThink.org.

If you aren’t fully convinced of the merits of a read aloud program, veteran primary teachers Jenifer Katahira and Kathy Egawa provide plenty of evidence, as well as lists of their favorite read aloud titles in this article from Talking Points.

In “Collaborative Read-Alouds: Engaging Middle School Students in Thoughtful Reading” two experienced teacher educators explore the features and benefits of collaborative read-alouds, using crossover picture books, the importance of attending to student voice in contemporary learning environments, and deepening student interactions with texts.

Response Journals: Keeping Students Tuned In during Read-Alouds” provides  concrete examples of how read-aloud can increase classroom community and help students to build background knowledge and improve listening skills.

The author of “Illustrating the Reading Process: The In-Class Read-Aloud Protocol” finds that letting students see his own struggles with reading encourages them to feel greater confidence and eases the way for productive interventions in the process.

How do you do read aloud?

June #nctechat preview: Books That Changed My Life

June #nctechat

We hope you’ll join us on Twitter Sunday June 19 at 8 PM ET for #nctechat: Books That Changed My Life.  Read more about the inspiration for the chat from this post earlier in June.

Here is a preview of the questions to guide the chat:

  • Tell us about the book(s) that changed your life.
  • How did you discover that life changing book?
  • Is there a book you can pinpoint that turned you into a reader?
  • Have you ever given someone else a book that changed them?
  • Was there ever a book you assigned as a teacher or read as a student that changed a whole class?
  • What are some life-changing books you’ve heard other people talk about that you haven’t had an opportunity to read yet? (Perhaps a summer reading goal?)

Questions as Open-Ended Explorations

This blog post is written by NCTE members Lisa Diomande and Nargiza Matyakubova. 

Question Mark“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” emphasizes William Butler Yeats, one of the most prominent poets of the twentieth century.  That burning passion is so ingrained in our teaching that it continuously sparks ideas to enhance our classroom experiences.  To address our students’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as our successes and failures, we often set a time to meet and collaborate, and as a result of these meetings, we have identified an important skill most—if not all—students lack, and that is the power of questioning.

In a rushed modern world, it is difficult for educators to slow their students down enough to engage them in the act of inquiry.  For most of them, inquiry is asking a question, answering it, and then moving on.  For us as educators, inquiry is a much bigger and more vital activity that teaches reasoning, discernment, discrimination, evaluation, assessment, and ultimately, independent thought that engages the world.  Most of all, inquiry teaches us to see connections all around us.  So, how do we get students’ attention?

The key, of course, is engagement.  In the lower levels of literacy learning, this concept may mean teaching students how to engage with a text, a challenge for students who see letters and words swimming on a page and have no experience with creating an internal dialogue with the content.  For more advanced learners, who can skim the surface of texts enough to spit back the main ideas and then move on, our challenge is different: How do we ask them to converse with the text in a deeper and more open-ended way?  How do we move them away from result-oriented thinking toward the potential pleasures of a treasure hunt, a pirate’s booty, a scavenger hunt?  How do we show them that the pursuits bring them rewards apart from grades, honors, and graduations?  These objectives are doubly hard when all our pursuits are designed to show an immediate outcome.

While raising these questions, we developed a set of ideas that we started applying in our classroom practices.  We also decided to share them with other instructors at the Teacher-to-Teacher Conference held by the New York City Writing Project.  In our workshop titled “What Is Inquiry? Scrutinizing Evidence to Uncover Truth,” we outlined different strategies an educator could use to develop students’ abilities to raise thought-provoking questions that ultimately lead to deep discussions of the subject matter. We distinguished two categories of questions: content-based and form-based.

Using the text “The Miracle in Front of You: Raymond Barfield on Practicing Medicine with Compassion,” Janice Lynch Schuster’s interview published in The Sun magazine, we followed several content-based questioning steps:  What central idea / message does Dr. Barfield convey?  What are his implications?  What themes or underlying issues does the text reveal?  What questions can guide us to thoroughly explore these themes and ultimately help us discover truth (which was another central focus of our presentation)?

Both in our classrooms and during the presentation at NYCWP, we witnessed what engaging and unique questions every individual could ask to challenge others’ understanding of and relationship with a text.  Below are a few themes and questions developed in the process of inquiry (based on “The Miracle in Front of You”):

 Does Dr. Barfield claim that hospitals need more hospitality?
 How can the field of medicine be improved
_ with treatments?
_ with administration?
_ with doctors’ / medical personnel’s demeanor?
_ with education?
 What is a cure?
 How can a doctor best serve a patient?
 Is there always a solution to a disease?
 Do people need to fear death? What happens if this fear prevails?
 How can we define one’s life purpose? What are the fundamentals of satisfaction and happiness?
 What does it mean to be fully present in the situation?
 How could language help connect a doctor to patients? How can understanding of the following help a doctor better address the needs of patients?
_ the patient’s personality and background?
_ their interests and expectations?
_ their fears and hopes?
_ their life goals and dreams?
 How important is it to make a place for creativity in a life devoted to professional advancement?
 What is the price people pay for over-emphasizing achievement over exploration, expansion, and investigation?

Such questions not only engage students in the act of inquiry, but also develop their critical and creative thinking skills.  They learn to do close reading by discovering what is beyond a text.  They learn to synthesize information more efficiently to discover the truth and, in the long run, compose more complex and distinct thesis statements and essays.  Once they have generated content-based questions like those above and developed meaningful answers to them, they can focus on the form-based questioning.

The purpose of form-based questions is to help students construct their own argument.  These questions involve rhetorical situations: audience, genre, stance, tone, purpose, media, and design.  Some of these guiding questions are: Who am I writing for?  What am I trying to accomplish?  What will I be contributing to the assignment?  How will I reach my goal or purpose?  How am I supporting my claims?  How rich is my evidence?  How valid is my reasoning or analysis of evidence?  How can I best present information?  What layout of information is the most logical and appealing to readers?  How am I different at the end of this project?  What did I gain as a student, researcher, scientist, etc.?  How can my work affect readers in a positive way?

Facilitating student questions is best done in groups as collaborative thinking yields more results.  We believe that student collaboration and partnering, while time-consuming, can present inquiry in a way that is mutually beneficial when the questioning and exchanging are based on open-ended inquiry, not simply finding the answer.

Lisa DiomandeLisa Diomande’s background in theatre, dance and Orff-Sculwerk music instruction informs her passionate commitment to transformational and performative adult education at The City College of New York, La Guardia Community College, The College of New Rochelle, and Brooklyn Library.


Nargiza MatyakubovaNargiza Matyakubova teaches Writing for the Sciences at The City College of New York and Disciplinary Investigations: Exploring Writing across the Disciplines at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  She considers writing a crucial tool every student needs to cultivate knowledge.