Last week a parent posted on Twitter an excerpt of a note sent home by her child about free reading choices. Sadly to say, the note had a number of issues, specifically that it called picture books, comics, and graphic novels “holiday reading” and were therefore not really eligible for free reading.
Fellow Teachers! Please do not do this! I completely understand the desire to have our students challenge themselves in their reading and grow their Lexille levels, however, when we put limits on their reading we effectively also kill their love, their joy of reading. We also tell them, without meaning too, that their reading tastes, their choices, are not valid, which students can translate into their own voices being not valid. Do we really want this for our students
In addition, by staying students should read only “true literary work”, we also make an assumption about what is considered art and that tends to skew towards a more “Western literary canon” type of list. Guess which books are often left out of this list? If you guessed diverse books you are right! By limited the reading choices of our students, we leave out a number of voices that our students need to hear and/or connect to. And we all remember that students need both mirrors and windows, right?
Research shows that middle school is when the love of reading is murdered, so don’t kill that desire to travel to other lands, to inhabit other lives in your students. Even a reluctant reader, when they learn they can read a novel of their choice, will. How do I know this? I’ve experienced this turn around often, but none so rewarding as a reluctant reader who saw the book trailer of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in class and asked me if he could read that book for our novel of choice. I told him that he could as long as his parents approved. The next Monday, that student, again one who hated to read, pulled out that novel out of his backpack, and then told me he had spent the weekend reading! My heart practically leapt for joy upon hearing those words. This young man, who struggled to complete his homework and rather play video games, had found a book he liked and spent the weekend reading. He had discovered he liked the horror genre and went on to read more books similar to AL: Vampire Hunter. Imagine had I not allowed him to read that novel because I felt it wasn’t literary enough? This young man would never have rediscovered his love of reading.
So again, as we all return to the classroom and encourage our students to free read, please do not limit their choices. Students of all levels will eventually find books to challenge themselves once they rediscover their love of reading. Have faith in them, trust their choices, and they will definitely surprise you.