Common Core is here, which many say is the death knell of independent reading. Teachers are worried that they’ll have to throw away their classroom libraries. Close reading of short texts, they say, will replace full-length novels.
I say that it doesn’t have to be this way — that it’s not an either-or.
If Common Core succeeds, then reading will spread across the curriculum. Science, social studies, and Math teachers will include more informational text in their classes. It might be true that English teachers will introduce more short nonfiction. But if that is done well, there will still be room for students to read what they want.
Especially at the ninth grade, and especially with students who haven’t read a book for years, we must encourage our students to be readers. That’s not going to happen exclusively with short, nonfiction, teacher-assigned texts. No ninth grader is going to become a voracious reader after his teacher assigns him The Gettysburg Address (though it’s a nice speech).
That’s why I think English teachers should not rebel against Common Core (there’s nothing wrong with the new standards) but rather make sure to preserve independent reading as a major component of their curriculum. At some schools, this might take some creativity — like shifting independent reading from English class to Advisory — but it can and needs to be done.
In my experience, interest in reading, or lack thereof, among ninth graders is pretty absolute. If students get to choose what they read, they love it. If they don’t, then they don’t. Simple as that.
So what’s wrong with letting students, as part of their school experience, to read what they want?
Here are a few books that I recently got from a DonorsChoose grant. They’re among the most popular titles, particularly for my Latina/o students. I’m a huge fan of A Place to Stand and My Bloody Life. They’re well written. Boys get in line to read them.
Yes, maybe not every book is of high literary quality (e.g., the Amigas series). But if students are reading 20-40 books a year, there’s nothing wrong with a fun and easy pick sometimes. It builds speed and fluency and stamina, not to mention a joy of reading.
I may be in the minority here. Some may say that independent reading lacks academic rigor, that if I let my students read Perfect Chemistry, they’ll never read The Great Gatsby. I say exactly the opposite: If I don’t let my students read Perfect Chemistry, they’ll never read The Great Gatsby.
What do you think?