In 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”