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Should Students Pick Their Own Reading Assignments?


March 27, 2016

Educators: We need you to weigh in on this one. Should students pick their own reading assignments?

That’s the topic of this interesting article in the New York Times, which explores both sides of the argument. The article centers around a middle school teacher in an Atlanta suburb who, after 15 years of teaching, changed her own classroom format and turned over all book selection to the students themselves. “I feel like almost every kid in my classroom is engaged in a novel that they’re actually interacting with,” she explains. 

Although she hit some snags in her “experiment,” her efforts were rewarded by her students’ performance on standardized state reading tests. Of her 18 8th graders, 15 exceeded requirements, scoring in the highest bracket. The year before, only 4 of those same students had reached that level.

Inspired by Award-Winning Teacher, Nancie Atwell

The teacher featured in this article changed her approach to teaching English after attending a seminar led by Nancie Atwell. Featured in an earlier Envision spotlight article, Ms. Atwell is a trailblazing educator and winner of the Global Teacher Prize, a $1,000,000 award that has come to be known as the “Nobel Prize of Teaching.” She is also the author of In the Middle and other acclaimed books for educators.

Along with Lucy M. Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Ms. Atwell is known as a guru of the reading workshop approach. The New York Times article provides a vivid description of Ms. Atwell’s workshop, for any teacher who’d like to emulate it.

Also In the Article:

  • Pros and cons of students selecting their own reading assignments
  • Literacy experts’ views on the positive effect of choice in learning
  • Other schools transitioning to the reading workshop approach
  • Individual student responses to their new-found reading freedom

Read full New York Times article here.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do students select their own reading material in your class? Why do you think the “reading workshop” approach would or would not work? Please share in our Comments section.

Related Articles:

“Nobel of Teaching” Award – A Cool $1 Million

Book Review: In the Middle, Third Edition: A Lifetime of Learning about Writing, Reading and Adolescents

Great Books That Inspire a Love of Reading in Kids — Recommended by Kids

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