Perhaps Offering Choice in Reading Is Not Always the Best Idea

Today I said something I didn’t think I would say ever again.  Something that I have told others to never say, in fact, I may have even pleaded with a few people.  What came out of my mouth after lengthy consideration?  “No more reading on devices this quarter.”   Then I held my breath just a little bit and I waited for the reaction.  Not just from my students, but from the reading police, for my better sense to come yelling.  For someone to bust through my door and tell me that reading is all about choice and that reading on a device counts just as much as reading a paper book.  That to get students to read we should allow them to read any thing they want, as long as they are reading.  That fan fiction counts as fiction as well.

They would have been right, too.  It is all about choice.  It is all about getting them to read.  About letting them pick whatever they want as long as they read, as long as they get their eyes on print.  Yet for some of my students even that hasn’t worked, and so today, I took a drastic measure by outlawing devices.  You see, because even with all of that choice some are still not reading.  They may be skimming pages, they may be browsing various fan fiction sites like WattPad searching for a story, they may even be diving into a text now and then.  But most of the time, every single day, the device in their hand has become one more tool to distract them from falling into a great story, or finding their reading zone to quote Nancie Atwell.

So today, I asked, or maybe even forced them a bit to find an amazing book to read.  To feel the weight of the book in their hands, to browse through all of the books we have and find one that calls their name.  To abandon a book if it doesn’t.  To save their time to read the very best of books.  To get sucked in, knowing that I will be ask them how their book is, what they love, if I should read it as well.  And when they finish I will ask them to pass it on.  To tell someone else to read it as well, to hopefully love it as much a they did.

As they book shopped, I saw something happen that I have waited for all year; my most reluctant readers actually ask about books.  Yes it was because they had to but they were actually doing it. They browsed somewhat, they shuffled through pages, and they all left with a book that they were willing to try.  Yes, some are still unhappy that I am asking them to read a paper book.  Yes, some think I have lost my mind, but perhaps today is the beginning of a change in mind, of a seed being planted.  Or not, but I am going to try it for a while because something had to change.  That I have eight weeks left to try to get them to read at least one great book and so I had to change my tune a little bit.  We shall see if it pays off.  We shall see if it helps or harms.  What do you think?

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.

16 thoughts on “Perhaps Offering Choice in Reading Is Not Always the Best Idea

  1. Change is good, and I admire you for exploring change and inspiring to make change happen in other’s contexts as well (mine, included). I believe there’s always something good that comes out of change. Your kids are in good hands. Cheers!

  2. Trust your instinct and do what you think is best for your students. (BTW: I read so much better when I hold a book rather than read one on a device. You really fall into the world of the story or become engrossed with the topic when there’s nothing else to distract you.)

  3. Pernille, believe it or not, I’m doing the same thing in my class tomorrow. You’re right…the reluctant readers are claiming to use their device to read, but they’re just getting distracted by too many other things that are NOT reading. I do the same thing when I read on my device, so I know how easily it happens. But, I can pull myself back into a book- our reluctant readers cannot. So I too, am doing multiple book talks tomorrow and finding a match for even that most reluctant reader somehow! I try to be the most flexible reading teacher, but choice doesn’t have to mean unlimited use of a device. First and foremost is falling in love with reading (of books). Then we can discuss the format.

  4. You make an excellent point. I believe the reluctant reader is our most vulnerable reader. They need to be nudged toward many things and it may not look or feel like that choice you thought you meant. There are times when the choice is there but it is limited to a specific type of reading. We need to value and use both paper and electronic forms of reading. Just as we value different genres.

  5. I applaud your acting on your observation. I used to provide the Sunday comics for DEAR time. It worked fine as a choice for 3 years. But this year when a few kids talked behind them, wadded them up and shoved ’em into their desks, I decided we needed to talk. When nothing changed, I took the comics out. They have managed to find books to read.

  6. We’re always having to change things up, right? Perhaps next year’s group will be able to go back to using devices. I love reading on my phone because it’s always with me and easy to grab. I bet the “device readers” will continue reading on them outside of class. You’re just helping them remember what it’s like to read a regular book.

  7. I wholeheartedly believe that modeling with kids good reading practices is the way to go! Research supports what you are experience with your students, when they use their devices they skim. I teach a skills sophomore class and when we have a free reading unit, they choose books from the library, and I give them time to read in class – no devices. However, there are times when the library does not have the book and one or two kids will read their books on their ipad or tablet. I keep an eye on them!

  8. I loved the post. It takes courage to change things up, but sometimes that’s the best option. When I talk to my students (5th graders) about reading, I always say that there’s something about having an actual book in your hand. They know my favorite thing to do is smell a new book. I will say that I’ve witnessed some pick up that habit. Great post!

  9. Hi Pernille, I think that when students are given the choice to read content that relates to them too much it makes them take the road less traveled. It becomes too uncomfortable for them to seek text that might challenge them a bit so they take the easy way out by selecting text that is easy. This certainly does not stretch their mind. For me, it is ok if I do not cave in to choice all the time because life sometimes isn’t comfortable and learning shouldn’t be either.

  10. Think this quote beautifully describes books:
    ‘Paper is an information carrier par excellence and possesses an intimacy of interaction that can never be obtained in a medium that by definition imposes a microchip interface between the reader and the text.’
    To me, a book is a book is a book! Love the feel of it, the weight of it, turning the pages.
    However, also love reading on a device. Our students need lots of both! Great post.

  11. I don’t understand why anyone would feel the need to apologize for getting kids to read books. We adults find it nearly impossible to stick with a book on a reading device and not occasionally check our email or any of the other numerous distractions available (Facebook anyone?) so directing students towards books is an excellent idea.

  12. Pernille, I think this decision was a good one. you’re not taking away all of your students’ choices; instead you are providing them with limited choice. Some students need more guidance and structure than others, especially those who still need to learn about the joy of reading. Even those of us who have already fallen in love with reading sometimes need limits. (There’s a reason I own a Kindle Paperwhite, not a Kindle Fire.) By setting some limits for your students now, while they are still learning and growing, I believe that you are helping them learn to set limits for themselves in the future.

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