'Reading Workshop' Approach Lets Students Pick the Books

[L]ast fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not
assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the
decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and
eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south
Atlanta suburb.

Among their choices: James Patterson’s
adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit
novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series of comic-book-style

But then there were students like Jennae Arnold, a
soft-spoken eighth grader who picked challenging titles like “A Lesson
Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, of which she wrote, partly in text-message speak: “I would have N3V3R thought of or about something like that on my own.”

approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books,
discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep
detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to
revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While
there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the
approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on. —Motoko Rich

This sounds like a much better approach than having students at this age watch the movie so they have something to contribute to the discussion of a book they haven’t read. 

In the “Literature and I” assignment that I ask my English majors to write in “Writing about Literature,” several students reported that they loved reading when they were younger, but that school turned them off.  Of course the canon is an important part of our shared literature culture, and if students are all reading their own separate lists, there would be little to discuss.

Of course the classics are important, but I’d be satisfied with giving students in middle school a little more choice, and certainly letting high school students pick from among current best-sellers in an advanced English class.

My son (age 11) loves reading, and usually dashes off joyfully when I tell him to go to his room and read whatever he wants. He chooses nonfiction for his own reading pleasure, often a Popular Science, PC Gamer, or a military history book.  My daughter (7) prefers to work with her hands and body rather than to sit still, but the last few days I’ve been reading her The Hobbit, and she always asks for more (even though the chapters aren’t a kid-friendly length).

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