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In our previous post, we look at how Reading Workshop can be used in the secondary classroom, but getting students to read depends a lot on what they read.

Student Choice

Richard Allington and Rachel Gabriel stated in their 2012 article in Educational Leadership, “Every Child, Every Day” that the most effective element in reading instruction is that “every child reads something he or she chooses.” 

This requires a fundamental change in how we approach teaching reading, requiring us to teach differently than how we were taught. Think of the adult readers you know - they have their favorite authors They probably get very excited when they discover a new series. And, they are probably not happier anywhere in the world than exploring the shelves of their favorite genre at a bookstore or library.

We have to purposefully teach this skill and empower our students to be curious and reflective readers. Allington and Gabriel go on to say, “The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read.”

This won’t come naturally to students; it has to be taught, modeled, and encouraged.

In the culture of high-stakes, standardized testing, we must be intentional about teaching reading comprehension as both a life skill necessary to understanding the world around them and for the enjoyment of a good story, not just for passing a test.

Give students a variety of reading strategies so they have a menu to choose from based upon their individual needs and preferences. Some may want to annotate as they read. Others may like to write summaries as they read. Artistically inclined students may enjoy creating illustrations of what they read or just doodle in the margins. While the more verbose will only retain what they read by talking about it with others.

All of this should be modeled in your classroom with opportunities for students to practice and individualize the skills. 

Student Selection

Many teachers are uncomfortable with the unfettered realism of current adolescent novels. Books written for teens today deal with the issues that teenagers are facing, and many do so with the uncensored language and sometimes graphic portrayals of life to which this generation is so readily exposed.

Contemporary young adult books address issues like sexuality, racism, sexual assault, extreme bullying, school violence, pregnancy, mental illness, suicide, abuse, and incarceration.

Many young adults are dealing with issues like sexuality, racism, sexual assault, extreme bullying, school violence, pregnancy, mental illness, suicide, abuse, and incarceration.

We may be uncomfortable talking about these issues, but our students need to be able to talk about these things, and many of them do not have stable adults in their lives who will allow them the space and the freedom to do so. They may be resistant to a teacher coldly starting a discussion around these topics, but discussing what they are reading will foster these conversations.

Establish classroom discussion norms and explain that there are certain things that must be reported, but create a safe environment for students to share about what they are reading, how it is affecting them, and to ask questions that may come up as they read and discuss.

Another common challenge faced when trying to get students to read sounds a lot like: Uhhh...I don’t know what I like to read

Start several classes a week with little 30 second teasers about books in your classroom library.

Tell students what you’re reading. One teacher we know of posts the book cover of the book she is currently reading on her classroom door. Another teacher created a What I’ve Read This Year/What My Students Have Read This Year bulletin board in his classroom with book covers on it.

Many do not know what to read or how to select what to read. Walking up to a bookshelf is as intimidating as it would be for most of us to sit in the captain’s chair in an airplane cockpit.

As students hear you and their classmates talk about a variety of different books, they may begin to branch out and try books about people who do not look like them, people who come from different backgrounds, and even people who think and believe differently than they do.

A 2017 article titled “Emerging Adolescents in Engaged Reading Communities” in the periodical Language Arts states, “Children explain that vicariously living through characters’ dilemmas and weighing their options makes them consider how they are navigating their own present and future lives.” This is potentially life-changing!

In a culture that is becoming increasingly egocentric where people are isolated islands staring at a screen and able to surround themselves with voices and opinions that align with their own, we have to teach them how to see the world from other points of view. Maryanne Wolfe states it best in her book Proust and the Squid: “The act of taking on the perspective and feelings of others is one of the most profound, insufficiently heralded contributions of the deep-reading processes.”

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