Top 5 Reasons to Let Kids Choose Their Own Books
Over the past 18 years, I’ve done my share of “traditional” teaching: I chose a book, I decided how many pages my students would read each night, I wrote questions to see if they read the book, I came up with what I thought were awesome projects so the kids could have fun after reading the books.
Then, about six years ago, I started realizing that most of what happened in my classroom was about ME, not about the kids. I try not to beat myself up about it, because that was the way everyone in my department taught, and honestly, it was the way I had been taught. The thing that changed was I started reading more than I ever had before.
I started to read professional books about literacy instruction.
And I stepped up my reading of young adult books in an effort to overhaul my classroom library.
And once I started reading all of those books and talking about the books I was reading with my students, I started to realize that I needed to change the way I was doing things.
So here is what I’ve learned over the past few years about kids and choice, in no particular order.
1. When you let kids choose what they read, they will take risks. This year, I asked my students to read widely across a variety of genres. While I required a certain number of books in particular genres, I left the titles up to the kids. I found in my conversations that students who had been stuck in a reading rut appreciated the nudge to explore other genres and picked up books they never would have read otherwise. I now have students who at the beginning of the year said, “I hate fantasy books, especially ones with dragons and fairies” reading books like The Sixty Eight Rooms and Small Persons With Wings, which is not your typical fairy book!
2. When you let kids choose what they read, they will read more. Back in the day of the whole class novel, I was lucky if my students read five books over the course of a school year. Now, I have students reading upwards of 100 books a year. Of course, not every student reaches that volume, but honestly, my goal is for them to read more than they did the year before. Students repeatedly tell me in conferences, “Mrs. Rench, I’ve never read so much before in my life!” Music to my ears, not because they are speeding through books, because most of them aren’t. Rather, I’m thrilled because these students are discovering reading can have an important place in their lives.
3. When you let kids choose what they read, they become better writers. See Reason #2. We know that kids who read more tend to be better writers. I have found that students not only are better writers, but they WANT to write, often “fan fiction” that takes them farther into the worlds of the books they love.
4. When you let kids choose what they read, they enjoy reading; it’s not a chore. This is the response I got over and over again when I asked my students why teachers should let their kids choose their own books. They related stories of lock-step reading and how frustrating it was. They shared how much they hated filling out reading logs and answering canned questions that didn’t ask about their thinking about their reading. Now my students beg for more reading time in class and are eager to share their thoughts with their classmates AND with me. They know I’m a reader, too, so we have some great conversations!
5. When you let kids choose what they read, they become empowered. When I asked my students about the importance of self-selected reading, I didn’t expect them to tell me that letting them choose their books showed I trusted them. After thinking about it, I realized they’re right… I had to trust them to make good choices about their reading, and they had to trust me to suggest new books and push them to challenge themselves over the course of the year. Because of this foundation of trust and respect, my students are much more willing to make (and take) book recommendations to each other and to seek out new titles even before I can bring them into the classroom.
The communities language arts teachers create in their classrooms are special. In no other content area do kids have the opportunity to think and talk about the issues that affect them in the same ways as they can through the books they read and the pieces they write. When we trust our students to take control of their own reading and give up some of the control we’ve become accustomed to, great things can happen.
Check out my students’ thoughts on this matter in their own words:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
(To see the video larger, click on EMBED and then VISIT THIS VIDEO at Animoto.)
Great points and love the video.
Such wonderful thoughts! I’m lucky that my students tend to already be kids who love to read, but I do try to encourage them to “branch out” in their reading choices. Once a few kids do that, the word spreads and they all start to do it. Gotta love empowering students!
I am so happy for the Nerdy Book Club because of posts like this. I’m planning on taking this summer to dramatically alter my classroom to one that centers around choice, as opposed to one that merely high-fives choice in the hallway. It’s posts like these that give me the motivation, courage, and resources needed to make this change. THANK YOU!
I gave your post a shout out today on my teaching blog. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote! We need to give our students more freedom in book choice.
This post came at the perfect time. I just finished writing a 20+ page paper about why choice is important but when it came to justifying it to a few parents who seem to think what I’m doing is frivolous, I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t articulate what it is that I do in my classroom that is so important – even though I know why it’s important. Hearing and reading about other teachers who do the same thing I do is a way for me to arm myself with reasons. Because I’m the only teacher at school doing it this way, I often get the “Why aren’t you teaching like everyone else?” kind of response. And, I’m not going to lie, it can get lonely going out on a limb sometimes. Not that I would ever go back to the “traditional” way of teaching. It’s just hard to explain myself when I don’t really have anyone who has my back – besides the principal, but I’m not interacting with her everyday.
And you’re not alone there either. Trust me. I cannot go back having seen firsthand what choice does for my students. Thank goodness for the internet making our world smaller so we can benefit from other teachers sharing their classrooms and know we’re not alone. More than that, we can interact with them and find out what we can do better. (I’m with Brian…I have a long list of things I want to do next year!!!) Glad this site can be part of the cheering section for those of us offering our students choice.
The small rural school where I substitute teach (having retired from full-time teaching) does this, and I have been impressed. Allowed to select their own books, I have seen fourth-graders reading everything from Level I early readers to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
Mindi — First of all, thanks. Just thanks. As a high school teacher, I would love to “inherit” the kids who come through your classroom.
So many freshmen arrive in their high school English classes without having read and enjoyed a book of their own choice for years. Their teachers and their parents can share the blame on that. These students’ concept of “book” is basically something that they do as drudge work. The typical student arriving in high school cannot effectively choose an age-appropriate book to enjoy because he or she has no experience doing so since about third or fourth grade.
But kids like those shining faces in this video who then have the opportunity to read books of their own choosing in high school, along with a reasonable dose of canonical requirements, are likely to be lifelong readers.
You’re doing your part, Mindi. Thanks for sharing this and for being such a leader in promoting the importance of choice reading. I’m proud to be hooked up with you here and elsewhere.
Mindi, I wish more teachers thought this way! I work with deaf/hard of hearing high school students (also in the Chicago suburbs) as an itinerant teacher and I’ve seen the increased enthusiasm and commitment when their teachers allow them to choose their own books to read. Conversely, I’ve seen the glazed-over look they get when forced to read books they don’t like! Keep up the good work!!
Mindi, great post. Way to go on taking the steps you did to think differently, to teach in a brand new way. If we want kids to take risks, we need to be willing to do the same. Our middle schools went to a reading workshop model a couple of years ago and it’s wonderful to see kids carrying around books all the time. Kids reading, test scores rising…action research at its finest.
YES! You say it so well. And as a author, I’ve been shouting for years . . . if you want to write, then you’ve got to read, read, read, and then read some more!
Mindi, I wholeheartedly agree with you about giving students choice in what they read. I teach high school English, and wish that all of my colleagues would share my love all things reading. I do give students choices when it comes to reading, and many times face criticism from my colleagues for that. This summer the other teacher who teaches 10th grade classes and I are planning to revamp our curriculum to expose students to as many different genres as possible. Thank you forsharing what you do so successfully. It is truly inspiring!
Great Post! Agree 100%
Great post, Mindi. You mention that your students respond negatively to reading logs. Without logs, do you have some other shorthand way to keep track of what everyone is reading in order to help with recommendations and to know when students need an extra nudge? I make independent, self-selected reading a big part of my classroom, but some of my best readers hate logging what they’ve read. I’d love to hear some new ideas.
Thanks for sharing! I feel the same way about student choice. I will be sharing this blog post with colleagues and administrators.
Clearly your students love the ‘choice’ they have in your classroom. Your last point about being “empowered” and “trust” is key. We are trusting the students to make ‘good fit’ choices and they in turn are trusting us that we understand and will continue to encourage their reading – no matter what level their at. This year I employed the Daily5 in my classroom which allows choice in reading and writing (and other aspects of reading). It has been received well by the students, but the biggest success is that there are several students in my classroom who now LOVE reading – who feel it isn’t a chore. Isn’t that what we want for our students….the love of reading.
Thank you for your post – I will be sharing this with others.
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Awesome! I wish more teachers would follow your example. Too many kids get turned off by the god-awful reading selections thrust upon them in the name of “good literature.” Some of the things my son had to read in middle school just left me with my mouth hanging open, saying, “Really?!?”
Loved reading this, have reflagged in my UK based site for UK teachers, pupils and their parents to read.
Whoops, spell checker changed reblogged to reflagged.
Reblogged this on kipmcgrathashford and commented:
Loved reading this blog from a teacher in Chicago. Some really good points, particularly liked the point that reading makes students own creative writing better. Likewise the importance of teachers letting go of the control sometimes. It goes against the grain of our natural desire!
Wonderful article! Change “let” to “help” and we’re on the same page. Supported autonomy helps learners of all ages. (and by help I mean drive them to the library and local bookstore!:))
What a wonderful, comprehensive list!
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I really wish I could have you as a teacher now! My school used to let us pick books to read from a list,then we would take a small test on each chapter and have a project after we finished. It was really fun,but this year (8th grade) they will not allow me to choose and picked all the books for me. I have to read Lord Of The Flies,which I know the plot of and have no desire to read it because the violence disturbs me greatly,and other books that are either for children below my age group or extremely difficult for me to understand