“Thank you, Mr. Santurri, for letting us pick our books so I don’t have to go through this again this year.”
This refers to forceful whole-class reading, or as this student described it “one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.” A little exaggeration, but it’s still how they chose to describe reading a book together in 5th grade.
Recently I asked students to reflect on their past reading experiences. I was influenced from a few blog posts I had read on the topic. My students brainstormed a list of the following:
- A book that deepened or changed your thinking
- A book you disliked or abandoned
- A book a teacher read aloud to you
- A book you “had to read” for school
- A picture book from your childhood
- One of your all time favorite books / a book you just couldn’t put down
- Bonus: A book that changed your mind about reading/got you hooked
Next, they each chose one of the books from their list to write about. Not a summary, but a reflection. I didn’t want them writing about the book. I wanted to know how it felt to read the book. What did it look like while they read? What did it feel like? Why does that book fall into a specific category from the list.
I provided students with two of my own models. I wrote about forceful reading in high school and a book series that opened my eyes to reading. Using my model as mentor text, they drafted their own.
While reading through their writing, one thing stuck out: most students wrote about books they were forced to read in school. Much fewer wrote about books that changed their thinking or that they thoroughly enjoyed. My forceful reading model may have influenced their decision, but it wasn’t the only one I provided.
Here’s a few excerpts that really stood out.
“I always hated forced reads to the core and the worst one ever was called Esperanza Rising. It didn’t matter which way i looked at this book, up, down , sideways, backwards, it was still the same old boring book…This book was such an eyesore to me, that i searched up on the internet what happens in the book so i didn’t have to read it.”
“But here’s the thing if you’re not interested in the book you’re reading, you won’t understand what the book is about.”
“This [the act of forceful reading] goes to show that making someone read, isn’t showing someone what the value of reading is all about. I lost my interest in reading that book, and I hope I won’t be forced to read a book ever again.”
“If we didn’t finish the questions we’d do them for homework, so I would just search the answers. Eventually I found a website that had every answer to every question/ page of questions we did for the book.”
“All elementary years when we did reading the teacher chose what we read. This is why my reading has increased by far this year. Before this year I never enjoyed reading, now I do it all the time. But there’s only one difference… I got to pick the books I read!”
“Some wouldn’t read and some just wouldn’t care about the book so we ended up taking up to 3 months to finish what was a really boring book. Even if Maniac Magee had its twists, it didn’t seem like it when you had to read about the same exact thing over and over. Just to make sure that everyone “got it”. It was a problem that ruined my opinion on this book.”
While I think there is value in whole-class reading or read alouds, these reflections show how easily they can turn students off from reading. No one likes being told they have to do something, especially read a book they have little interest in. When implementing whole-class reads, they must be well thought out and executed. I personally enjoy much shorter text (short stories, flash fiction, poetry, articles, etc) for whole-class reading. Depending on the grade level, I think 1-2 whole-class novels is appropriate.
This year I’ve given students complete choice in their reading along with ten minutes of daily reading time. As educators, we know just how precious time is. I’d rather spend our time on independent reading and creating life-long readers than reading the same book as a class. These reflections have reminded me just how important choice in reading is. They’ve reminded me of how damaging whole-class novels can be for students. They’re reminded me that if students aren’t interesting in what they’re reading, more often than not they will fake their way through.