Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Myths Surrounding Independent Reading in High School {Teach}

Often, when I'm out visiting with teachers and consulting, I make the positive presupposition (Thank you Kathryn Kee! ) that teachers are having their students read a text of their choice everyday.  I might make such comments as, "This would be an easy strategy to integrate into students' independent response time during their free reading time in class."  Or, "When you book-talk to your students, you might frame it in terms of genre..."
Sometimes I receive polite head-nods and sometimes I receive eye-rolling.  Independent reading time in a high school English classroom?  (And unicorns poop rainbows.)
Every now and then, I'm greatful for the honest and inquisitive participant who timidly raises her hand to ask, "What exactly do you mean by 'independent reading'?"  She is usually within her first 5 years of teaching,  graduated from a stellar English literature/ composition program, and is the dark horse of the English department who spends her time reading things like  English Journal or following Jim Burke on Twitter.
When these gems come my way, I leap at the opportunity to unravel some perpetuative myths that exist in high school English departments and their most faithful faculty regarding independent reading.  These conversations allow me to dig down to my most fervent beliefs about reading communities and often do challenge some of those beliefs.  But, by the end of our conversation, whereas we may not still agree with one another, both the participant and myself have expanded our views just a little bit broader.
And so, here they are!  The top 5 most common myths surrounding independent reading in high school:
Myth #1--Today's teenagers don't read.
Myth #2--I have to know a lot about YA literature.
Myth #3--Students won't read in class if I give them time.
Myth #4--It'll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.
Myth #5--I don't have the time.  We have all this literature we have to "cover."
Boiling down all of the-- honestly-- valid obstacles to independent reading I have encountered myself and heard from colleagues to these five things is probably oversimplifying the issue.  If I've learned anything about problem solving as an educator, it's that I need to start with what seems simple first.  Then, as I work my way through one problem at a time, the larger obstacle doesn't feel quite so overwhelming.
As a novice teacher, the five statements above floated above my head as I began to dig more into the possibility I knew was there for amazing reading experiences for myself and my students.  Please understand, I am not trying to be-little anyone's experience or perspective.  The following "myths" I'll offer as a series of posts echo my deepest, darkest, and most powerful experiences along my own journey.
More importanlty than de-bunking these "myths,"  I hope to provide a snippet of success here and there and resources that I rely on to create a transformative, empowering reading community.
Happy reading!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. I've taught ninth grade English for a while, and I'm definitely working on carving more space for independent reading. But I have trouble with #5. I don't feel a huge need for teacher-assigned novels (though I like to do some), but my big thing is that I also like nonfiction (and not just because of the Common Core State Standards). So yes, I have difficulty figuring out how to spend my limited classroom time.

    Of course, there's always homework, but at my school, I can't necessarily count on it being done. I'd like to do independent reading two times out of the four classes per week and then assign additional reading for homework, but I didn't find that effective the last time I tried.

    Do you have any ideas on how to proceed? Thank you.