More thoughts on students not reading…

Yesterday I mentioned the article by William J. Broz on Not Reading. I posted a little poll (mainly to try out the poll feature on wordpress) to gauge the completion rate of other people. I actually already know the answer with regards to my students, though. Many of them would have checked the “Books?” option of the poll.

Another issue I have is the equity issue with regards to this sort of non-reading. Our savvy, advantaged students become adept at using the internet, paper purchase sites, and other resources to not read. Ironically, many of these same advantaged students are the ones who are most capable of actually doing the reading. To exacerbate the issue, these students are so very, very good at not reading that many teachers go through the year oblivious to the fact that their students aren’t reading. Students spark discussion and provide insightful comments on symbolism, theme, imagery, metaphor, characterization and other literary devices. Sadly, the comments are, all too often, freshly gleaned from a quick read of Sparknotes just prior to class. These students end up with high marks and are favorites of the teachers. Meanwhile our less savvy students struggle through the books, feeling dumb and inadequate to the task, and receiving low grades for their misery because they don’t have the knowledge or resources to compensate for their not reading.

In the past few years, I’ve tried to counter this by allowing students to self-select a majority of their texts. I let them engage in independent reading and book clubs with texts they selected. While I definitely had success turning non-readers into readers, I felt that the rigor component of the reading was missing. I had students who were perfectly capable of reading a book like The Kite Runner instead choosing to read The Lightning Thief or an Alex Rider book.

This year I tried to move back to more rigorous required reading with limited success. The students, once again, didn’t read. After reading the article, though, I have some new ideas about tackling the reading issue with my students.

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3 thoughts on “More thoughts on students not reading…

  1. Thanks for highlighting this problem; I haven’t read Broz’s article yet, but I’m convinced that many of my students (and my colleagues’ students) don’t read what they’re assigned. I myself didn’t read some of the texts I was assigned, and I love to read. In French literature classes I read even fewer of the texts…

    You mention the “equity issue”–I think equity is a huge issue when it comes to reading, but not maybe in exactly the way you were talking about. My equity concern is more direct: I am concerned that the kids who are not reading are exactly the kids who need the most practice reading. I have kids who admit they have essentially never read a book. Those kids are being really poorly served. I think you are exactly right to make much of the reading self-selected. I also think much of the reading should be done in class. It’s not only that reading homework is harder to check up on than writing homework–it’s also that reading is the single most important activity our students should be engaged in–so we should be showing that it is our priority by giving kids a lot of class time to actually read.

    As for the Kite Runner vs. Alex Rider: I’d rather my students read Alex Rider!

    1. I agree that the kids who aren’t reading are the very kids who need to be reading. I do still worry about the rigor (or lack thereof) of the reading with a class structured entirely around independent reading. I think that Kelly Gallagher in both Readicide and Deeper Reading does a nice job of addressing the need for creating life long readers who enjoy reading (through self-selected texts) as well as the need for creating students who are capable of reading more difficult texts (through scaffolding them during whole-class reads of more traditional literature).

      As for KR vs. AR… I’m not touching that. 😉

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