I came across this post this week and what caught my eye was the skepticism about student reading, something I find myself sharing quite a bit. Amy Rasmussen is an AP Language and Composition and she runs into a problem that many of us English teachers face.
I assert that most high school students do not read the assigned texts, especially classic novels that they can read about online–learning just enough to join a class discussion, write an essay, or pass a test. They might learn the gist of the novel, maybe even get the jokes alluded to in pop culture, but they are not reading.
And that is what I want: I want to foster readers.
She honestly expresses some frustrations about students that simply do not read the texts for the class, whether they do well on the AP exam or not. She is working with a bunch of students that are self-selecting to take her course and they opt not to read. What are the chances that anyone teaching struggling readers not on an AP track are likely to see anything different? I can tell you that it is worse.
It is refreshing to see a recognized teacher, like Rasmussen who is co-director of the North Star of Texas Writing Project, sharing how the classic one class book approach falls flat. She explains the approach she has developed to address the problem she has identified.
I do things differently. I’ve abandoned the whole class novel like I allow my students to abandon books, (although I know there are some cases when reading the same text can lead to useful instruction. Don’t hate.) My students read during the first 10 minutes of every class. I talk about books as often as I can. I add new books to my shelves that I know students will read.
This piqued my interest because I have been angling more and more in this direction and wanting to abandon the whole class novel approach myself. In fact, not only am I currently locked into a whole class novel, I am locked in with three other team members al of which must agree on the novel to be used. Nearly all of us have tired of these old methods, but face resistance from other forces.
I have been beating the drum of fake reading for a few years now, and many either do not believe it is a problem or would rather continue to fool themselves into thinking that they no better. This has been a pattern at more than one school where I have worked. I tend to side with Rasmussen, it should be about the act of reading, not necessarily the what they are reading.
Of course, there will be plenty of conservative pedagogical thinking and whole slate of new tougher tests to press the case otherwise. Still, I remain hopeful.