The Dangers of Assigned Reading and Hopefully Its Cure #YaLit

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I would be lying if I said I didn’t do the assigned reading. I loved to read anything given to me and I was perfectly fine with Assigned Reading. I know that my classmates weren’t and that always confused me. Who didn’t love reading? It wasn’t until I got into college and had to read textbooks that I understood the horrors of assigned reading. I finally understood my classmates pain and vowed never to become that teacher that had assigned books. I know that I will inevitably have to assign a book because that is what is in most curriculums but I am going to strive to not make it painful. I want my students to feel what I feel when I find a great book and cannot stop reading, despite the tiny voice in my head that says I should be getting homework done.

What is the cure for assigned reading? Most definitely not AR. The first time I experienced AR was in seventh grade and even then you only had to take two tests a quarter (not get so many points, just take two tests and pass. I honestly don’t know if they had to be a certain grade level either). My teacher Mrs. Reding only made us take AR tests as part of the curriculum, she used a different method to track our reading. We had to read so many pages a week and record it in our notebook. We could “store” up pages and then use them later for our required weekly pages. I kinda abused her system because I never needed to store pages in fact it became a competition between me and my friends to see who could read the most pages by the end of the quarter. I never saw AR tests again until I moved in high school. My new high school had AR as part of the curriculum school wide and we even had a thirty minute reading period built into the daily schedule so we could work on reading AR books. This system almost made me stop reading. No longer could I just read whatever I wanted, I needed to find books that were AR and above a certain grade level. Plus I had to read non-fiction books, which will never be my favorite genre. AR was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was assigned reading hiding under the guise of independent reading. Students could pick the book they wanted to read but it had to AR, a certain grade level, and enough points to get them to their goal. I spent several weeks reading The Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (this book is one of my all-time favorite books and almost had me changing my major to become a lawyer) and come to find out it didn’t have an AR test. I now had to scramble to find another book(s) with lots of AR points so I wouldn’t fail English. AR counted for part of our grade, not a whole lot but enough that if you didn’t do AR you would most likely either get a C or fail (that was another odd thing about this school there was no such thing as a D, you went from C to failing). If AR isn’t the cure to get students reading and have a accountability system then what is?

In a guest article on Nerdy Book Club blog Jim Baily talks about Curing the Reading GERM. His solution is to just get rid of AR and talk to your students instead. What a revolutionary concept! (I admit that sounds sarcastic and while it is meant to be I don’t mean to offend anyone who likes AR). Talk to your students about books instead of just handing them a book and telling them to read. Readers are not born overnight (of course I am the exception 🙂 instead they are cultivated and grown like a good rose bush. Give book talks and conference with your students. Get to know their genre likes and dislikes and never hesitate to throw a book at them and say “Hey, you might like this”. If they don’t, keep trying to find that book that will stick. Everyone can become a reader if given the chance. TBR lists, book displays, personal and group goals are other great ways to get students reading. However don’t forget that you are teaching the individual student; have them read at their own pace, give them books you know they will read, but never hesitate to challenge them either. It’ll be a uphill climb with a lot of students and with fellow teachers but never forget that students are worth it and that their is a reader in every student that is just waiting for the right book.

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4 thoughts on “The Dangers of Assigned Reading and Hopefully Its Cure #YaLit

  1. I loved reading when I was younger. I would read all the time. Then as I got older I noticed that I didn’t have much free time anymore, I was always in a sport and then I began to hate reading. I felt like I could never focus. I would always have to go back and re read over and over again. I will definitely not be one of those teachers who assigns boring old books either!

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  2. Great post! I like the end of your post that talks about what you as a teacher can and must do in order to ensure that your students are reading what they can. I think it is so important to let your students have choice but also to make sure that they are staying to what they can read without difficulty and then building up their skills as they go along.

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  3. I love your line about AR as assigned reading masquerading as independent reading. AR really serves no reader well: advanced readers are so limited in what they can read and often end up pushed into books that are developmentally inappropriate or just not interesting to teens, and struggling readers can’t accrue enough points to really feel successful either. No one reads for points in an authentic reading life: we read for other reasons, and our students deserve to experience that kind of reading life. Low-level comprehension questions to “prove” you’ve read only add to the insult in my view!

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    1. Exactly! I knew so many people in school who would just read the beginning and end of the book because that was enough information to pass the test. They didn’t care about reading at all!

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