"There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book." - Frank Serafini
As an English teacher, getting students to not only read, but to enjoy their reading and reflect upon it critically is an ongoing challenge. I have found that in order for students to get the most out of the reading tasks, they need to first be reading the right book - a book that both challenges them academically and also peaks their interest. One of the ways we do this at Greenwood is by offering students choices for reading assignments.
Last spring, the Grade 12 students each read a novel as part of their unity on identity. Students were asked to develop and answer essential questions as part of their reading. Some questions that students created included:
- How does our cultural identity affect the decisions we make?
- How do others' perceptions influence how we view ourselves?
- In what ways do we assess our own worth?
In order to increase student engagement, students were offered three choices for their reading. The first choice was Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, a Canadian novel exploring the history of Aboriginal Canadians and the residential school system. This text, while dealing with very mature themes, tells the story through accessible language, short chapters and a charismatic male protagonist. The second choice offered to students was Camilla Gibb's A Complicated Kindness. This novel, also Canadian, tells the story of a young woman living in a Mennonite community and having to deal with the practice of ex-communication. Though the story also explores the theme of identity, the writing itself is more advanced, making greater use of literary techniques. The final choice offered to students was an enrichment option to read Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, comparing how masculine identity and socioeconomic class are explored in each text.
By providing these choices, each student was able to select a text that provided them with an appropriate academic challenge and read a story that held their interest. This resulted in some very impressive final essays and presentations from students in each of the three groups.
I have found that encouraging students to take an active role in their reading choices helps them to develop their own reading tastes and practices outside the classroom. This was evident at our recent annual Summer Reading Book Fair. It was great to see so many Greenwood students engaged in selecting the books they wished to read over the holiday and being genuinely excited to push themselves to read new and more challenging texts. Hopefully, this enthusiasm keeps up as each student begins another year of English class this month.
Here's to a great year of reading!