Creating Lifelong Readers Why Choice Matters Paige Cole, Michelle Lindsey, Elizabeth Sears, Stephanie Shumacher LLED 6010 Module 6, Option A
Our Focus: Student Choice in Reading • We were really interested in how giving students choice during reading time can help their reading success. • We found an interview online with Nancie Atwell where she talks about the myths that she has heard about what happens when teachers give students a choice during reading workshop. • This video clip is in response to a controversial New York Times article that came out in August, 2009 about reading choice. • In the middle of what seems to be a great debate over which reading methods best support and help to extend young readers, student choice has become a hot topic among educators, parents, and policy makers.
In giving choice, some believe that the love of reading will be cultivated and students will become better independent readers because of it. • In our assigned reading, Allen makes a valid point of the power behind student choice in reading, stating “the choices, attention, and purpose required during independent reading allow students to begin or continue the transition from teacher-directed reading in school to the kind of reading we do as adult readers” (p 98). • According to Allen, one of the most effective assessments of all the teaching and guidance given during shared, read aloud, and guided is if the skills and strategies learned and used transfer into students’ independent reading time, allowing them to grow as readers and begin to value reading as something not only worth doing but enjoyable (p. 101). • Schools full of teachers who are willing to allow some student book choice, along with the support needed to read longer, deeply, and more widely, have the opportunity to revive and nurture the joy of reading within students.
A Discussion of Student Choice in The New York Times • In August of 2009 a New York Times article came out entitled A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like. • The article chronicles Jonesboro, GA high school teacher Lorrie McNeill as she revolutionizes the way that literature is taught in her classroom. • Out goes the classical canon and in enters student choice. • Ms. McNeill is part of a growing movement of teachers who are engaging in this or variations of this method, which allows for student choice in their reading selections. • Many school districts around the country, from Chicago to Washington State, are allowing students to have more say in what they read, hoping to build lifelong readers who are motivated to read because they are able to pick material they relate to.
Educators Weigh In • The opponents to choice say that when students read a book together, oftentimes a classic, it “builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests”. • The teachers who advocate for programs like reading workshop believe that in forcing students to read texts they do not always understand they are leaving children disengaged and possibly squashing their desire to read. • The director of Boston’s public school, Joan Dabrowski, believes that a combination of the approaches, with some books being selected by students and others being read by the entire class, would be the best way to respect the classics while allowing for students to engage with texts that interest them. • Elizabeth Birr Moje, a literacy professor, believes that choice is critical in getting kids to read more but that it is also critical that teachers guide students to literature that is high quality and not just popular.
Ms. McNeill’s Class • Ms. McNeill is in the camp that lets students choose all of the books they read and became an advocate for this method after attending a seminar conducted by Nancie Atwell, who wrote “The Reading Zone” and “In the Middle”. • She went to a week long symposium at Atwell’s Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, ME. • When Ms. McNeill saw the classes of seventh and eighth graders poring over books from their beanbag chairs and the floor she became convinced that this was how to get reluctant readers to become lifelong readers. • Ms. McNeill has had her share of challenges from colleagues who believe this method works only in her classes of gifted students to reluctant readers. • But at the end of the year McNeill is convinced that this has been a success and her testing scores validate that she may be on to something.
Response to the article:The squeaky wheel gets the grease! • Although respondents supported at least some choice nearly 2 to 1, those who voiced their opposition were strident, rigid, and even sarcastic in their criticism. • “Unbelievable - now children can decide what their educational requirements should be! Why not let them vote at age 5, surely they know enough about life by then. I am amazed beyond belief that our society could even entertain such an idea,” writes lionrampant. • Critics want teachers to stick to the classics. • They make overly simplistic assumptions about what is happening in the classroom: if you teach the classics you are preparing students for college and for a life of literacy; if you allow choice you are dismissing “quality” literature and the classics, “sinking your own ship,” and dooming students to a life of ignorance. • “This method will only result in students being ignorant of literature, language and the breadth of knowledge. Why not ask them if they want to learn math, history or anything else and if the kids say 'no', you just skip it? Enough of this pandering to the little darlings. It is time to revert to the 'read the book, do the homework or flunk'” (Ann S.).
And the critics continue….. • Many naysayers don’t feel that a love of reading is a worthwhile goal. • “I don't know if I agree with the idea of reading for reading's sake,” writes stoopladyfrom New York. • Other critics feel that, given the choice, no student will gravitate toward a “classic”, and thus the insights found in these novels will be lost forever. • They see reading workshop as lazy teaching and believe that teachers are “abdicating their leadership role” by letting students take responsibility for their own reading selections and their own learning. • Many of the negative comments fail to take into account the fact that reading workshop is supported by teacher/student conferencing, literary analysis and whole group instruction outside of independent reading time, and progress monitoring. • It is easy to see why Nancie Atwell felt the need to dispel the myths and incorrect assumptions found in these respondents’ comments.
Positive Respondents…. • Shared fond memories of being able to choose their own books when they were in school, and related that experience to their lifelong reading habits or those of their children. • “I have encouraged my children to read what interests them and in turn, they have developed a passion for reading that seems unquenchable. This has led them to want to read almost anything they can get their hands on, including the worlds greatest literature” (Red). • Recognize reading workshop as a “gateway” to literacy, and they value the importance of getting students excited about reading what they enjoy first before introducing them to more complex “classic” material. • “…the window of opportunity to foster a love of reading rather than an aversion to it is small…. What you can get with everyone reading books of their own choosing is enthusiasm and great word of mouth advertising….. The classics will still be there when the person is ready to give them a try” (Mauimom).
Positive reviews don’t necessarily favor total choice. • Some of the positive comments favor a combination approach. • These respondents encourage a balance between popular novels and classics, suggest incorporating nonfiction, and express hope that teachers would also engage in whole-class discussion, teach literary terms and critical analysis, and assign more complex written responses. • “It is wonderful children are reading more thanks to this type of program; but that should not be the terminus. Talking about the texts together, engaging in critical thinking, and doing more formal writing assignments than journal entries would be a good place to start” (spybob).
Nancie Atwell’s Response • Nancie Atwell responded to the critiques of the New York Times article by making a video clip that addresses the myths she has heard about allowing students to choose what books they will read. • http://www.heinemann.com/shared/player.aspx?id=AtwellRebuttal&path=rtmp://heinpublishing.flashsvc.vitalstreamcdn.com/heinpublishing_vitalstream_com/_definst_/videos/atwell
Our Thoughts • Our group agrees that each of these points are myths and not facts. • We feel that choice helps students to discover a love of reading and that with guidance and patience all students can become successful readers. • While we recognize the challenges inherent in successfully implementing this approach (potential criticism from colleagues or administrators, building and organizing a classroom library, assessment, record-keeping, progress monitoring) we believe that the potential rewards to our students make it an endeavor well worth pursuing. • With tenacity, preparation, and commitment teachers can use student choice to bring about a sea change in the way even the most reluctant readers experience literature. • We hope that in the future more schools and teachers start giving their students a choice of what to read and that today’s children will become life-long readers and learners.