I have been pondering the idea of the repeated whole class novel; a bastion of English classes everywhere. I have been pondering why this practice seems to flourish in English classes everywhere despite what it seems to be doing to some students’ love of reading. Frankly, I am starting to get upset about it, after all, it is hard not to when my incredible niece who seems to inhale books told me today that since she keeps being assigned books in school she hasn’t really been reading much else. Which means her grand total of books this year is about 10. Rather than the 50 or 60 she usually reads. From 50 to 10. Let that sink in. She also told me the only reason it’s so high is because over the holidays she read a few books of her own choice, ones she had been waiting to read and finally felt she had the energy to. But 10 books is not very high, not for her at least, so there seems to be a problem here. Her English class seems to be killing her joy of reading.
As someone who has not used whole class books for several years, I am trying to see the need for them. I am trying to take this post and turn it into a discussion, rather than a rant. Yet I keep returning to the question of why we continue to force students to read certain books when that is the number one thing ALL of my students report kill their love of reading?
I see reasons for assigning the classics, in her 8th grade class a few of the titles this year have been Johnny Tremain, Animal Farm, and The Diary of Anne Frank, but wonder why it has to be all classics all year? I also wonder who determines the books being read, when does a book become a classic, and does that list ever get updated? I read Animal Farm and The Dairy of Anne Frank in school as well and that was 20 years ago in another country. Are there really no new classics that can take their place?
I see reasons for having a shared text to discuss, analyze, and work with, but wonder if it can be done through a read aloud rather than an individual read? Or could it be just one part of the year rather than every unit and every book?
I see reasons for presenting students with great book choices but wonder if they all need to be reading the same one at the same time? Can the teaching purpose be reached in a different way?
What is the grand purpose that is eluding me? Why does this tradition continue? Why is something that is inherently harming some children’s love of reading being continued in so many schools? It is just me that worries? Is it a rite of passage that all readers have to go though and we hope they just make it out alive, reading love still somewhat intact? Am I overreacting?
PS: You know what is incredible though; my niece still loves her English teacher. She doesn’t see the curriculum as a flake in that teacher’s ability, which says a whole lot about that teacher and their ability to connect with students. So while she longs for the days where reading was just fun, she doesn’t hold it against the teacher. And bottom line, that matters too.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.