Saturday, September 19, 2009

Giving students choice is not a free for all

A recent New York Times Article titled "A New Assignment: Pick the Books You Like" created such a stir that famed English teacher Nancie Atwell responded to snarky comments in an eloquent video response. Atwell has been such a great mentor from afar that I was pleased to hear her put all the naysayers in their place.

One commenter who said "The student who loves reading 'Captain Underpants' but who is never forced to move beyond that material has done nothing to prepare for a life of active, intelligent, inquisitive citizenship" obviously didn't read the whole article. If he did, he would have clearly read that students are asked to move beyond what is beneath their ability. Giving them the option for something easy in the beginning is just to get them interested in the process. And what kills me about the responses of people complaining about Captain Underpants is that they overlooked the fact that these teachers were also nudging students to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Kite Runner... I could go on and on. Reading workshop is NOT a free for all. The teacher is guiding the students rather than dictating. There is class discussion and common texts are discussed. It creates not just a love of reading, but the habit of reading, which can then help students to better understand those difficult novels discussed in high school that most of us never understood anyway.

I interpret reading workshop as creating lifelong readers which then moves them to become lifelong learners and thinkers. When a student develops a love of reading and learning, then they have the drive and the fire to learn on their own what they might have missed in school. School can only take you so far. It's like Ivern Ball said, "Knowledge is power, but enthusiasm pulls the switch." Reading workshop is designed to help pull that switch.

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