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My kids have lots and lots of choice...my classroom library takes up several double-ended bookcases and quite a few manage to complain that they can't find a book they like. I tell them to go to the school library or a public library...same complaint. So I think it goes beyond just letting them read a book of their choosing. It's a total attitude towards reading, an attitude that is shaped at home first, before they even begin school.


Choice is an imperative. The students should be able to choose the texts they read. But, there must be some sort of test on capbility.

How do we ensure they are able to read these texts for what we teach?

Dana Huff

I have to respectfully disagree. Most of my students who don't like reading have never been taught to enjoy reading or never had it modeled for them. I agree with Nani that this must start at home. I also submit that several books I've chosen for students to read are books they might not otherwise have picked up, and they've actually enjoyed them. There are ways to incorporate choice, but I don't think we should throw out required reading.

Chris Lehmann

While I think that there are some points that folks can disagree with here, your arguments are compelling as hell. I think Dana has a great point that it doesn't have to be an either/or, but rather an and/both. But more to the point, your other things to throw out are spot on. I was an English major in college because it was a chance to spend four years reading and talking and writing about what I had read. No one asked me to take a matching test on what I had read. And in nine years in the classroom, I gave one test -- and it was to show the kids the kind of English instruction I grew up with. Reading is authentic learning -- and no lover of literature ever expressed that love with a test.

Tim Fredrick

I had the same problem with my classroom library - it was too big and filled with books that my kids would never touch (for a variety of reasons). After the first year with it, I reduced it in size by more than half and kept only those books that my students had been reading or I thought they would like. It was too big and that is overwhelming for students. A bookstore or library is even worse. I found that once I reduced the library in size, they are more able to select a book. If a student is still having trouble with it, I will talk with them and select about three to five books that I think they'll like and have them choose from them.

Yes, I agree that part of our job is to expose students to books that they wouldn't otherwise pick up. But we need to help them in an informed way. We need to consider each child as an individual with individual tastes. We should give books to individual students and say, "I saw this book and thought you might like it."

I agree to some extent that previous home exposures to reading and the family's experience with reading is important. I had a student tell me recently that her mother said she should drop a book as soon as she didn't like it. (It was no wonder to me then that she had NEVER finished a book.) For the most part, I don't think home exposure is negative, but rather just non-existenet. I do think that we can overcome such dispositions or lack of exposure and still help students learn how to choose books they like to read.

I'm considering writing more on this topic and I was interested in what the informed reasons for reading whole-class, teacher selected books are. I want to talk about reasons to do it and reasons not to. Please post them here or e-mail me.


I'll have to consider paring my library down. I think that might work. Also, my school had a book fair last week, so I picked up new books for the library...stuff I knew they would like (Sports Illustrated books, a book about the girl surfer who survived a shark attack, a graphic novel and a series of Gordon Karmon books.)
When I mentioned the influence of home, I was definintely thinking of its non-existence, rather than a negative experience.

As for whole-class, teacher-selected books...they are dictated by the Ramp-Up curriculum, or in the case of my regular 9th grade class, I like to focus on classic, canonical stuff (shakespeare, mythology) with some YA and memoirs thrown in. I do the classic stuff because I want them to be aware of it, to be part of the cultural conversation, etc. The other stuff I do because I know they'll like it and it usually provokes strong reaction/discussion.


I am glad I found your blog today. I am marking it to return to regularly.


I do not mean to sound elitist, but I must refer to the ideas of Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. If you remember, in the novel the society voluntarily eliminates books because they only retain items that appeal to the masses. Books, especially literary ones, have not, and never will, appeal to the masses. In the novel, the people choose to read increasingly less demanding books until the books themselves disappear.

Choice, especially large amounts of choice, leads to an averaging of content. And, this average will steadily decline. Just look at TV. The more choice and options the more homogenous each station and its programming becomes. We as humans also follow the law of least resistance. We all choose the easiest route the majority of the time, and the easiest route is reading the "easiest," or least complex, book. I believe that it is the duty of the ELA or literature teacher to, as Eliot elaborates in The Waste Land, shore up these fragments against our ruin. The only way that we can do that is to choose books that are rich in truth.

I must believe that in the end the idea of choice is one that comes from a too prosperous society. Too much choice leads to paralysis and decay. I believe that a teacher can narrow down the choices for the students, but in the end, it is inefficient and ineffectual to have students reading different texts. It would work if all students could evaluate a text on its merit, but students must be led. That is the very definition of a teacher (see Socrates).


Whew! I am not a teacher, but this discussion is so interesting I felt I couldn’t resist. I have to respectfully disagree with Moore’s argument that choice is such a perilous liberty. I understand the resistance to homogeneity, but restricting students too much will embitter them to the whole process. If forced to read books they aren’t interested in, they will soon decide that reading itself isn’t interesting. If they ever grow to enjoy literature, it will be years later, at their leisure, when they can choose a book of their preference.

I am currently an undergraduate in North Carolina and I can see these symptoms manifested in the majority of my peers. Many of them whine and complain about their required reading even if they later admit to enjoying it. This, I believe, is because reading for school has never been fun for them. They are too used to greeting literature with complaints. I don’t blame them, really: They have always had their school books chosen for them.

I must admit that I did not go to a traditional school and so do not speak from personal experience. I am only able to observe the aftereffects of traditional schooling and ask my friends for their opinions. So take my opinion here with that grain of salt, anyway. I do sympathize with the teacher’s lot. It isn’t the flaws of any one teacher that cultivate a resistance to reading but rather the flaws of the system taken as a whole.

I really could go on about this forever but this is getting rather long and I actually have quite a bit of reading to do….


I've seen book talks being used as a means of enticing students to read. Perhaps you could do a brief book talk (just give enough details of the book to hook students) on some new and intriguing library books.


I am all for eliminating quizes, tests and book reports on reading assignments. What can you really assess based on any of these tasks anyway? I do like the idea of giving students choices, but often, they would miss out on a great book unless someone required them to read it. Possibly a combination of required reading and student choice would be good.

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