Pick the books you like, an end to required reading?

BlogHer Original Post

Recently the New York Times published an article called "The Future of Reading, A New Assignment: Pick The Books You Like. It argues that allowing students to choose at least some of the books they read in class independently is valuable. It may even encourage people to become life-long readers.

When I was in junior high the entire school started off each day with free reading. Our teachers didn't care what we read. Some students read the newspaper. Some read magazines. There was also a book cart in each classroom that we could check books out of if we hadn't brought anything to read. It from that cart that I first picked up and read Madelaine L'Engels' A Wrinkle In Time. We didn't get marks for this. It was just part of the school day.

Musings of a Novelista likes the idea of students being able to choose some of the books they read.

I honestly don’t remember a lot of the books that I read in my English classes. It didn’t help that most of my Advanced English teachers were witches—but that’s another story. I don’t think it interfered with my joy of reading though. Maybe this is because I was still reading two or three books that I chose from the library (mostly horror and science fiction).

When I was in tenth grade my English teacher didn't assign us anything to read. Once class a week we'd spend the entire class reading. We were to keep track of what we read in class and our teacher kept track of what we read and awarded points for each book. It wasn't a system like this one that Susan Straight wrote about in The New York Times. In that system there is a list of books and each book has a certain number of points. Students need to read 50 points worth of books. Our system was much more basic, a simple word count (we did get double points for reading a classic) and we had to do a presentation on one of the books we read to the class. I know that someone asked to borrow the book I presented on...a fact I remember mostly due to the fact that they never returned it.

On Ypulse.com Meredith asked for opinions from the readers and said she sees values in both collective and independent reading.

My personal (unprofessional) opinion is that within the classroom, there should be a balance struck between free choice and required reading. Because while empowerment and enthusiasm towards books is vital (more on that), so is the ability to critically analyze a text, in spite of a personal affinity towards the characters or the subject matter. No doubt, if I had the ability to opt out of reading Lois Lowry's The Giver in seventh grade, a book I found too depressing and difficult to enjoy at the time, I would have done so without a second thought. I would have also missed out on engaging in one of the more challenging, but ultimately rewarding learning experiences from my middle school years.

I enjoyed my free reading far more than any assigned reading. I read books quickly. When we were assigned reading I was the kid that got in trouble for reading ahead. In addition to being scolded for reading ahead, I'd end up reading chapters repeatedly because in the month it took the class to read the book I'd have read others and forgotten the nitty-gritty details that liked to show up on tests. Reading books collectively did have an advantage of course. I examined books in ways that I wouldn't have reading them on my own. Collective reading helped me be a critical thinker, although I don't know if it was still necessary to read a book only a chapter at a time when I was in twelfth grade.

One of the first arguments you tend to hear against free reading is about what students will choose to read. Will students choose classic literature? Probably not in droves, but some will yes. But just because they don't seek the "important" books when they are teens or tweens.

Author Meg Cabot made the argument for reading junk on her blog.

I think the classics should be made available for kids to discover on their own during quiet time for reading.
But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading “junk” if that’s what the kid needs to be doing, for whatever reason.
What I do think is guaranteed:
That reading is lot less fun when
a) people are haranguing you about your “poor” reading choices.
b) it’s something someone is making you read because it’s “good for you.”
c) someone is going on and on about Arthur Dimmesdale and what Nathaniel Hawthorne really meant by naming him that.

What is the way to go - assigned reading? Choosing books from a list and reading them independently? Completely free reading?

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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