AP English and Choice Reading

Last week Lisa inspired me with a post she called Books Can’t Be Bullied. Her last line:

“Let’s produce millions of resilient readers, hungry for truth, who will open books and listen, because a book is always ready to talk, and frankly, we could all stand to listen a lot more than we do.”

Then, a friend and colleague of mine wrote a post on her blog about the importance of choice in her AP Literature class, a topic near and dear to my own AP English heart. (I’ve written about choice in AP and how I feel about AP test scores quite a lot.)

And I knew I would share Amber’s testament to readers-writers workshop in AP English. She builds resilient readers, hungry for the truth, who open books and listen.

In this world of fake news and clickbait sharing, we might all want to evaluate how we can provide more opportunities for our students, at every level, to take more ownership of their learning and grow as resilient readers who are hungry for the truth.

Let’s stop saying choice does not work in AP English. It does. And it’s the students’ voices that prove it the most.

Here’s an excerpt from Amber’s post. I especially love the student comments:

. . .

I am currently in my fifth year of teaching AP Lit., and I feel confident that the feedback I have received supports the idea that choice and Advanced Placement courses are not mutually exclusive; in fact, choice might just be essential to our students’ future as readers. Not only have my AP scores supported this (I taught the class of 2013 using full-class novels which were chosen based on how many times they were referenced on the AP exam as well as the desire to cover all of the major literary eras, and my AP scores have increased, and have remained above national averages, since I began to offer students some choice in which texts they read), but my students have also provided positive feedback about how the ability to choose what they read has provided them with more incentive to thoroughly read and explore their texts.

I should probably note that the reason I felt compelled to write this post is because recently, I heard several well-meaning, experienced teachers express genuine concern that the classics “are not being taught anymore” and that “we should make students read them because if we don’t, they won’t ever choose to read them on their own.” Yes, that’s right – I clearly heard the words “make them read…” – because yeah, that works.

Here are a few snippets from students:

  • “Being able to pick our own book to read made the class even better, because we got to choose something to read that would fit our own styles instead of being forced to read something we may not like.” –Tiffany
  • “The book I enjoyed the most…are all the ones I chose to read. I had been wanting to read 1984 for a while and I got the chance. It was so interesting to me because my favorite books to read are dystopias. I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray because it’s different form what I’m used to reading. I like the fact that it was controversial. The Nightingale just had me feeling all kinds of emotions. It was hard to put it down because it was full of suspense. Although I loved 1984, Animal Farm was not for me. I was excited to read it, but it let me down. I don’t think it was the book itself, just the fact that it was assigned with a lot of work. Also, that we had assigned chapters every week, so I couldn’t read it and enjoy it at my own pace.” -Isela
  • “By you giving us freedom, we’ve been able to produce more creative ideas and products. You have definitely helped me prepare just a little bit more for college. Thank you!” –Kara
  • “I suppose I should designate Beowulf as my least favorite book that I had been assigned to read in the duration of my high school years.  I did not despise it entirely; it simply was not very appealing.  In addition, I never completed it.  With only a handful of chapters left, it is one of the few books I have not at least forced myself to finish.  Thus, it will always be a sore spot on my conscious. For my final remarks (at least my final mandated remarks, but I am not making any promises), I would like to state that I prioritized this class over my others even though from the grading perspective this made the least amount of sense.  I honestly felt the need to learn and not just merely make last minute memorizations.”  –Allison
  • “The book I liked best that I read for the class was Les Miserables because I liked it the best and because it was so long I cracked and got the audio book, and I enjoyed having the book read to me as I followed along even though it was a 12 1/2 hour audiobook. My all time least favorite book from my high school Englishes was Bless Me Ultima. It was plainly a boring book and the more I tried to read it the less I was interested in it. I didn’t even end up reading it, honestly. I just sat in class and listened to everyone else’s discussions and from that I got the general gist of the story and such.” –Clancy


Read Amber’s full post Choosing Readers Over Texts with the whole of her students comments. You’ll get it.

What are you thinking? Please let me know in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.



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10 thoughts on “AP English and Choice Reading

  1. plthomasedd February 14, 2017 at 7:43 am Reply
  2. […] I saw a recent post, AP English and Choice Reading, I was prompted to revisit some of the key elements of how all teachers can remain committed to […]


  3. […] are taken because the grade is more important than the actual book.” Amy’s post on choice yesterday, shared this same sentiment: When we “make kids read a book,” we might as […]


  4. SusanGBarber February 14, 2017 at 4:53 am Reply

    We are like minded AP Lit teachers and are promoting the same thing on our site (http://www.aplithelp.com/choice-reading-ap-lit-can-done/). Today my class is celebrating Valentine’s Day by speed dating books for choice reading over winter break (complete with candles and chocolate).

    I don’t comment often but love your blog. Keep inspiring and making a difference!


  5. estersohn February 13, 2017 at 8:10 pm Reply


    I’ve played around with reading groups a few different ways. My suggestion would be to start small …. students take time to practice the “subroutines” of literature circles. They don’t just happen overnight because they are “fun.” (I wish!)

    I suggest you try lit circles again using short stories or essays (more manageable, more readable and re-readable.) You could also try doing “issue clubs” or “research clubs” where students all gather around one issue, find articles that relate to the issue, and present their findings to the group.

    Some teachers have also played around with entry tickets for discussion participation (e.g. arrive with two questions that are going to sustain conversation.)


    • Tammy February 13, 2017 at 8:13 pm Reply

      Amy – thank you! I appreciate it.

      Estersohn – This is one of those “duh” moments with the smaller pieces. I did use the discussion starters and had specific roles that shifted for each discussion session. I think the smaller skill building is the next step. Thanks!


  6. Tammy February 13, 2017 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Me, three! How do you structure the reading assignments? This year I tried a unit with guided choice and literature circles based on six pieces of more contemporary literature. The oldest piece was Catch-22 (which no one selected because it is long). The students enjoyed it, and enjoyed the choice, but I don’t know that it produced any better results. The analysis was more shallow (less deep?) because there wasn’t a common title, and when a student did not arrive prepared, I felt it harmed the group members more than that student because it affected discussion and analysis. I love the idea, but don’t feel like I executed it well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amy Rasmussen February 13, 2017 at 7:57 pm Reply

      Tammy, I’m forwarding your message to Amber. I’d like to know her response to your questions about reading assignments.


  7. estersohn February 13, 2017 at 7:39 am Reply

    My follow-up question: what do you mean by choice?

    There are contemporary titles (examples: INQUISITOR’S TALE by Adam Gidwitz, WHEN THE SEA TURNED SILVER by Grace Lin, THE PASSION OF DOLSSA by Julie Berry) that naturally open themselves up for rigorous readings and opportunities to write research papers. These books could also be “readalikes” to canonical texts.

    There are also contemporary titles that might not be as laden with Big Idea opportunities, but open themselves up to rhetorical analysis that can be taught into, like ORBITING JUPITER by Gary Schmidt and anything by author Jason Reynolds.

    And then there’s open season choice, where anything goes and the purpose for reading it emerges from reader and from text.

    If you believe in choice, when do you open up choice and when do you restrict it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jessica Paxson February 13, 2017 at 7:45 am Reply

      I second Amy’s question. The trend I’ve been seeing in my department as of late is the notion that COMPLETE free choice is not preparing them. I disagree with this statement, but I’m curious if you do restrict, or rather, GUIDE students in what they should choose because they are in an advanced class. I think a student reading what they want will build their skills in SOME WAY, even if that skill is just the enjoyment or fluency of becoming a reader. I would like to know how to talk to the advanced teachers in my dept. about this! Thanks for this post!

      Liked by 1 person

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