Let them Read!

the great gatsby

Flickr Shelby U

In my high school class, I read. I inhaled books at every opportunity available. I made numerous stops a week to the library to refill my book supply. These were books I chose, books I could not wait to crack open and fall into. When it came to required reading in school, I tuned out. More often than not, I read the assignment. I would skim through the pages, the content flying over my head. Confused, I would set the reading aside. We’ll go over it in class. 

As a future English teacher, this is a problem. A huge one. I read by virtue of being a teacher-pleaser. I turned the pages, skimming through lines with a cloud of confusion slowly developing. I knew that in class the next day, the main points and themes would be fed to me. I didn’t have to comprehend anything.

I was a good student. I read a lot; I understood most things. I’m not trying to toot my own horn. If I hardly read the readings, what about students who were a lot less dedicated to school? What about students who simply didn’t understand the readings?

This last week, I watched Penny Kittle’s video: Why Students Don’t Read What is Assigned in Class. Most of her students said that they stopped reading out of boredom, disinterest, the inability to comprehend. When asked how they completed the assigned readings, almost every student said they used Sparknotes, or simply piggybacked off of classroom discussion.

By forcing students to read the classics, we actually move them to do the opposite. Most students will not read the assignment, or if they were like me, they will skim only the surface. According to Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wildreading directly correlates with achievement.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.31.46 AM

Donalyn Miller Reading in the Wild

For me, sacrificing reading for the sake of having “done” the classics is unacceptable. Most students will not actually read. Those who do probably haven’t soaked anything up. They will not engage meaningfully in the material. By doing this, we are committing a huge disservice for our students.

Penny Kittle in Book Love says that there will be those who disagree. “Teach them the classics!” they scream with their fists raised, “otherwise they’re missing out.” Kittle argues that the classics can push away a love for reading. Students become bored, disengaged, and discouraged.

Let them read what they choose; let them foster a love for their own literature. Perhaps then, they will have built the base and the stamina in order to build an appreciation for the classics.

reading on flickr

Flickr Pedro Ribeiro Simones


6 responses to “Let them Read!

  1. I couldn’t agree more. When we force the classics on our students, we are effectively shoving them away from reading. I don’t enjoy reading books that I find dull, so why would they? Though I read all of the requirements, I often had to force myself through them. We must let our students make their own choices. Loved your post, Nicky! 🙂
    P.S.- I, too, am also a teacher-pleaser. 🙂

  2. We need to turn the literature classroom on its head in order to rehabilitate students (mostly ex-readers) into students who read for pleasure. I wonder how many of our future colleagues will be sympathetic to our ideas. I hope they are.

    • Agreed! I hope they’ve read some Atwell, Calkins, and Kittle. If not, we’ll have to introduce them. But I do have a feeling we’ll struggle with pushback from colleagues and administration.

    • I didn’t really enjoy the classics. I don’t think I was cognitively ready to understand them. I feel having the classics in the classroom is only good when the choice to read them is in the hands of the student. 🙂

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