Tag Archives: Reading research

Assigned Reading often Fails where Choice Reading Soars

Sometimes things just hit me wrong. A joke that’s more cutting than cute. A meeting where complaining is the conversation. A book that gets ruined in the rain. A comment on social media that shows we are ignorant or arrogant or just right out rude.

I get asked often about whole class novels. If you’ve read this blog awhile, you know I am not a fan, not a fan in the traditional teacher-makes-all-the-choices-and-all-students-read-the-same-book-at-the-same-speed kind of fan. I do think there’s a place for a shared novel experience. I also think there’s a place for a lot more conversation about the pros and cons of it.

If you read the posts in the NCTE Connected Community Teaching and Learning Forum, perhaps you saw this one Whole Class Novel Studies, which began with this request for help:


This teacher shares a legitimate concern. I would imagine that most of us who reflect upon our practice and want to do what’s best for students have at some point shared this struggle.

Those of us who read Penny Kittle’s Book Love (or perhaps we came to similar conclusions on our own) understand that every room of readers means many readers reading at a variety of reading rates. And we know it’s not just because students aren’t interested, are too busy, seem apathetic. It just makes sense:  students will be at “different places in their books” because students are all different.

We keep trying to make them all the same.

In response to this teacher’s query, four very helpful teachers shared what works for them. There are some good ideas here. Then, this response, which made my head nod:


Followed by this one, which…well, you’ll see:


Did a professional just dis another professional? Did a curriculum designer and educator on a public ELA forum just dis Dick Allington, one of the lead researchers on reading acquisition and best practices in literacy instruction?

This is just wrong. Wrong on many levels.

Now, I know that Mr. Allington was being sly in his comment here. He wanted to furrow some foreheads and force some frowns. I’m sure. And it worked to instigate some important discussion, which many of us would like to see more often.

One person commented from the perspective of a parent:

“When my son received the summer reading list to prepare for his first year in high school, Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club topped the list. Being the rule follower I am, I forced that copious and joyful reader to trudge through that text. He didn’t read a thing in English class for the next four years. A brilliant reader and thinker, totally disenfranchised. As Allington said, he didn’t read the text.

“…the abusive pedagogy of the whole class novel described here is oppressive and culturally irresponsible. Sure, there are strategies that teachers can employ that mediate the boredom and disengagement. There are methods that utilize a whole class novel as a shared or mentor text and as a model for instruction or springboard for discourse. And there are a few teachers that can engage the readers throughout a methodical plodding through a classic text. But the question remains: what exactly is taught with the whole class novel? Are you teaching the novel itself? The habits of mind to diffuse any text? Or the student? When do they do their own thinking, independent practice, with influential and engaging texts?”

Shona, you won my heart. My four sons were very similar to yours. All avid readers but not when it came to reading for school.

Yetta wrote this comment:

“Richard Allington is raising a very important curricular issue.  Why should readers only read books chosen by other folks? Self selection of books is a concept that needs to be part of every class concerned with reading development including fiction and non fiction.

Book clubs, reading discussion groups, etc. are organized by many teachers to involve and support students with self selection of reading materials.”

Followed by Yvonne:  “Self-selection works. I was/am always surprised by what students choose to read. Students  amaze me.”


Leslie and Yoly with their favorite reads of the fall

Me, too. And students will read more when they have choice. When we couple volume with instructional practices that teach students what readers do when they get stumped or confused or even bored, using mini-lessons and shorter whole class texts, we help students learn how to navigate and improve their own reading lives.

Shona continues, quoting from the work of Louise Rosenblatt, a researcher who has shaped much of my work:

“A history of the teaching of English (Applebee, 1974, 1996) reports in all periods dissatisfaction at the lack of success in achieving the humanistic goals of literature teaching that school profess and the failure to understand that the traditional approach conflicts with these aims. Literature is treated as primarily a body of knowledge about literary works rather than as a series of experiences. To produce readers capable of critically evoking literary works for themselves and deriving the pleasures and insights claimed for literary study evidently requires different methods and a different educational climate from the from the traditional teacher-dominated explication of literary texts” (p. 71).”

Think about this for a second:  What does Rosenblatt mean by a “series of experiences”? Ones the teacher carefully crafts through engaging and interesting novel studies, or experiences each student knows how to create for him or herself

Reading in English classes cannot be about the books. Reading in English classes must be about the readers. 

I know what some may say. I’ve heard it a lot:  “But I loved English is high school. I read every book. I wrote every paper on every book. I enjoyed the discussion around those books. That’s why I wanted to become a teacher.”

Yes, I know. Me, too. And you know what (and this is embarrassing to admit):  It wasn’t until I was a teacher myself, dragging sophomores through To Kill A Mockingbird in 1st through 3rd period and juniors through The Scarlet Letter in 6th and 7th when I had this epiphany:  “There are some students who are so different than I was when I was in school. They don’t read. They don’t do their homework.”

How naive. How sad that I was so unprepared for the readers I would face in my classroom.

In Lisa’s post last week, among other things, these few sentences rang true for me, too: “Students bought any books they needed for independent reading, and I happily progressed with assigning reading, providing study guides, giving content quizzes, lather, rinse, repeat. This is what I knew. This is what I had experienced myself. This is how I was taught to teach.”

Assigning reading

Providing study guides

Giving content quizzes

For the first three years of my career, this is how I taught, too. I thought I was supposed to teach great literature — and then test on it — instead of helping students become readers who engage with great literature.

I believe we can do both. I believe when we keep the student — his abilities and needs, her interests and desires — as the pilot of our pedagogy, we can do both.

the quiet table reads

My quiet table — readers all.

I know you can click on that link at the top of this post and read the thread on the NCTE forum about whole class novels. I hope you do. In case you don’t, I’ll quote a bit of what Dr. Paul Thomas wrote:

“Teaching ELA/English involves a unique (compared to other disciplines, although somewhat shares by math) tension between our obligations to teaching disciplinary content (knowledge such as Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as a part of American literature) and also literacy skills . . .

“And thus many high school teachers become trapped in teaching, for example, The Scarlet Letter to make students experts on that specific novel and/or the work of Hawthorne, all as part of gaining so-called cultural knowledge of American literature.

“In that pursuit, often the process negatively impacts students’ eagerness, joy in reading and writing because, as Yetta and others have noted, assigned reading often fails where choice reading soars.

I appreciate Dr. Thomas delineating disciplinary content and literacy skills in such a way. Perhaps this distinction is at the core of the tension between what often seems like two sides of our field: #teamstudentchoice and #teamteachercontrol.

Dr. Thomas goes on to caution against “demonizing” those who choose one approach over the other, and this is where, I’ll be honest, I might be a bit like Screwtape, except in a good way.

My writers and I hold fast to our tag line:  Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop. We write this blog to encourage others to take a chance on choice, to share student reflections and accomplishments, to promote current books and diverse authors, to show how choice works, and research matters. And sometimes it’s hard to not speak up and speak out a whole lot more.

This semester I have this amazing student teacher. (Anyone in north TX hiring?) He’s brilliant, proactive, a natural. He “gets” our students, and they love him. Throughout the fall semester, Joseph observed my classroom. After “hello” the first thing Joseph said to me was “I have never been in an English class like this. I was so bored with English is high school.” Joseph has stepped right into a workshop pedagogy and embraced its benefits, as a student and as a teacher.

But I share Joseph with a teacher down the hall. He joins her each afternoon and mostly watches as she assigns reading, provides study guides, and gives content quizzes. Heavy boots walk back to my classroom every single day.

And this makes crazy.

We can do so much more. We owe our students so much more.


Maybe we can help each other out:  How do you have critical conversations about choice and workshop and the wonders of books with your colleagues? Please share in the comments.


For more from Dr. Thomas see his post “We Teach English” Revisited. For more on the research around student learning and choice, see Rosenblatt, Krashen, Allington, LaBrant, and this post on Donalyn Miller’s blog.


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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Guest Post: The Case for Teaching Reading in High School

cherry-blossoms-from-our-bedroom-window-april-2014As spring arrives, the cherry blossoms start to bloom, the daffodils open their petals towards the sun, and high schools across the country begin their own feverish rite of spring, end of course test intervention and remediation. Schools will hold after school opportunities to help students prepare for a reading test that they must pass. In my state, Virginia, if students don’t pass the test, they don’t graduate, the school’s graduation rate is affected, and accreditation is considered. All this is not to say that schools don’t want to do what is absolutely best for students, because we do. We know that a high school diploma can make the difference between a mediocre job and a career. But we don’t grant a high school diploma unless a student passes the reading test. The irony is that, undoubtedly, when we sit down with these students to help them prepare, we will be doing little reading at all.

What are the costs of not reading well? The Alliance for Excellent Education, estimates the cost in terms of lost wages over a lifetime due to low literacy skills is around $335 billion per year. According to Reading at Risk, a survey conducted by the National Endowment of Arts, there is a sharp divide in reading skills of incarcerated adults versus non-prisoners. On the flip side, those who read more for pleasure exercise and volunteer more. They even vote more. And students are not going to read more, are not going to become avid readers, if they are not reading. Students should be engaged in what they are reading in order to become more competent readers. Not surprisingly, reading more makes us better readers. The Department of Education reports that frequency of reading for pleasure correlates strongly with better test scores in reading and writing. Students who read outside of school see more vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and background knowledge growth, all of which are skills students need in order to pass the reading test. Right now, there is a decline in voluntary reading rates among teenagers while at the same time reading skills in schools remain stagnant or worsen. A required reading test is not the problem. Students graduating from high school should have the skills and strategies to pass the test. The problem, instead, is that in this era of high stakes testing and accountability, schools, divisions, and states have lost track of the original goal of the test, to ensure that all students who graduate from high school in the United States are competent readers. Instead, we are focused on teaching for and to a test.

According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our country’s 4th grade reading scores are slowly moving up and are the highest they have been in the past 33 years. This is great news as it shows the achievement gap is shrinking with our elementary school population. Unfortunately, the numbers are much different for our adolescent learners. The 2013 average reading score for adolescents has gone down from the first assessment and remains unchanged since 2009. In Virginia, only 36% of eighth grade students scored at or above proficiency level on the NAEP reading test. Students with disabilities and English language learners are often struggling readers, and schools have a difficult time meeting accreditation as these subgroups continue to score poorly on state reading tests. In fact, the achievement gap among high school seniors with and without disabilities is growing.

In our current era of accountability, it is required for states to have a reading test in order to be accountable to the federal government. States need to show that students are making adequate progress in reading. These scores are not only used for accountability at a state level but also on a more local level. Community members look at these scores in an effort to understand the needs of a school or division. Unfortunately, when we look at the demographics of the students we are currently cajoling to stay after school for extra test preparation, we don’t see good results. Last year, although 90% of students in Virginia passed the end of course reading test, only 62% of students with disabilities and 70% of limited English proficient students passed. This, in turn, is affecting Virginia’s accountability score for the federal government, as students with disabilities and limited English proficient gap groups did not make adequate progress.

Instead of prepping students to pass a specific test, schools should focus on teaching students how to girl-reading1read better. Schools can do this by teaching students at the appropriate reading level and using explicit instruction while at the same time increasing teachers’ professional development on literacy. Students need to be reading high interest books that aren’t too difficult or they will give up and not read at all. English language learners may start school with little literacy preparation which, according to the NAEP study, results in only 3% of English language learners in the 8th grade scoring at or above proficient in reading. These students will not pass a test by having test prep. Instead, they should be reading, analyzing, and talking about books and passages that they can read so that they can do the rigorous work asked of them.

In Reading Next, a Carnegie Corporation report, researchers map out fifteen elements of effective adolescent literacy programs, none of which include test preparation. Instead, this report focuses on the importance of explicit instruction in comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, writing, and motivation for struggling readers. Schools should be providing these literacy interventions in the school day every day, not just after school as the test looms near. Time must be spent in class with texts in order to read and write effectively. Research suggests that these texts should ideally consist of good literature on and slightly above students’ reading level to grow as readers. Professional development should be provided for teachers so that students who struggle can work on strategic reading skills in all their content classes.

boy readingWe cannot better prepare students for the test by having them practice process of elimination in answering the multiple choice questions. Instead, we must require a shift in instruction to do the hard work of teaching students to be more strategic, aware, and yes, avid readers. We can do this by helping students where they are, providing support where they need, and allowing them time to read. Schools should shift our focus towards real reading in order to better prepare for the reading test. We need to prepare stronger readers to help them be successful both in their professional lives as well as in their community. So as spring is upon us, we cannot get caught up in the flurry of test prep remediation but instead should teach reading by having students read. What a better season for it? For surely, it is not a coincidence that a perfect way to enjoy this spring weather is to sit outside and read a good book.

References Pfautz article

Jeannie Pfautz is a reading specialist in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She loves the opportunities she gets to work on reading and writing every day with her students.

Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English

I’m going to just say this right up front:  I hope to challenge some thinking.

I asked some friends for feedback on this post and got opposing advice. I let it rest for half a week. I prayed about it. And then today I read this post by Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure she wrote it in a response to a comment on this post by Amanda Palmer, Secondary Language Arts Coordinator in Katy, TX. I’ve written about my own students and their experiences as they’ve grown as readers before at Nerdy Book Club and on this blog; and I’ve presented on how I advocate for choice in AP English at conferences.

I hope I can be a voice of reason and an inspiration for the good of all students. So, if you’ll hang with me here, I’ve got a case for choice reading in AP English.

“I wish my daughter was in your AP English class,” my friend told me. “She has to decorate Kleenex boxes in hers.”

We’d had this conversation before:  I am an advocate of self-selected reading, and I fully embrace readers and writers workshop in my AP English Language and Composition classroom; Sarah is an advanced reader in an AP English course where the teacher chooses all the texts and assigns “clever” ways for the students to show that they are reading. Anyone who knows Penny Kittle’s work, and Donalyn Miller’s work, and my work, which is so much about helping students develop as life-long readers, understands that Sarah is not having the kind of experience in her English class that we advocate and hope for all children.

Making the Move to Move Readers

Many teachers and administrators across the country have recognized that students in secondary classrooms are not reading. If students are not readers, they tend to struggle in all academic subjects — not just English. Schools adopt interdisciplinary practices, whole school vocabulary instruction and stop-everything-and-read programs in an attempt to improve reading scores on standardized tests. Many have moved to readers and writers workshop, where choice-independent reading is key, instead of the traditional secondary-English pedagogy where the teacher selects all the texts, usually classics, and all the writing topics a student is expected to write about for class. Those who have made the move will tell you that choice matters, along with time to read and write, when it comes to student engagement and real movement in our teenage readers and writers.

However, from what I’ve seen and heard, most of this choice is happening in general education classes — not honors and AP English. The teachers in most advanced classes I know of are still making all the choices. It’s like we do not trust our high-achieving students to move themselves into complex texts. We focus on the literature instead of the literacy. And we rob children who already have a grasp of language, who already have many of the study skills they need to pass English classes, with the opportunities to grow as much as they are able.

We make changes in our pedagogy that allow our reluctant and struggling learners to grow but not our proficient kids? Where is the sense it that?

Evidence that Readers and Writers Workshop Works

One day last week, I sat and listened to my district’s ELA director share our state re-tester data. I usually hate this kind of meeting, but our gains are huge — due in large part because of the redesign of tutorial lessons, many of which teachers have adopted into their mainstream instruction. The ELA director changed the model and worked closely with North Star of TX Writing Project to produce writing workshop lessons (most of which came out of my classroom and pedagogy) that broke the mold of Response to Intervention. The dramatic increase in re-tester scores (an average of 200+ point increase per student) proves the lessons are working to move student readers and writers. Workshop-style writing lessons and a campus-wide, district-wide commitment to independent reading is working.

Making the Move in Advanced English Classes — or Not

The next day I sat in a meeting with the AP English team on my home campus. (Important note:  The same day that in second period a young woman asked me to recommend her a book of classic literature because she wanted to read something more complex. She and I stood in front of my “Challenge Yourself” shelf, and in about six minutes while the rest of the class read silently, I taught a mini-lesson on Gothic literature and the Regency Era and book talked the Bronte sisters’ books and Jane Austen. Rebecca left class with Pride and Prejudice, a book she chose to read because she wanted a romance that sounded interesting.) In that vertical alignment meeting, the conversation bounced around to what students must know and returned a few times to the books “all students must read.” After a while, someone asked me what I thought.

“Is it really about the book, or is it about the reader?” I asked.

“Well, it’s both,” two teachers answered.

“Then why does the book matter as much as the students’ abilities to read the books?”

“Because they will never read these books on their own, and they have to read a storehouse of canonical texts in order to write on the AP Lit exam,” they said.

“So you’re basing the reading lives of all pre-AP students in 9th and 10th grade on one open-ended question on the AP exam their senior year?”

“Well, they also have to analyze a passage,” one teacher added.

“Yes, and that’s like studying lists of SAT words hoping students learn the few out of 5,000 that might be on the SAT exam. It’s a total crapshoot.

“Shouldn’t we be more concerned about students being able to read at complex levels than deciding which books they must read?”

Another teacher joined in “I want my students to be prepared for the kinds of reading they will be expected to know when they go into college classrooms. That is providing equity. If they know The Iliad, Beowulf, Dante, they will be on equal footing as those classmates who read those things at the affluent schools across town.”

“Shouldn’t the equity be in the skills our students possess? Can they read and understand complex texts like the students across town?”


How Do We Know If Students Are Reading

I know that many, if not most, of those students at other schools are not reading those books. Few high school students read the assigned texts in English classes. Ask them. I have student writing from the past five years that tells me in their own words about their reading habits in high school. And there are plenty of well-researched articles like this one from the English Journal that concur. It is true: few high school students read the assigned texts in English classes. Why doesn’t this matter to their teachers?

“How do you know they are reading the independent reading books you let them choose?” a teacher asked me.

“Because I talk to them about what they are reading,” I answered.

“I do that, too, about the books I assign,” she said, but I am pretty sure that her idea of talking about books with students and mine are very different. I call it conferences. She calls it lectures.

I felt disheartened and sad for the honor student at the outcome of that vertical alignment meeting:  AP teachers deciding what four books teachers in preAP 9th and 10th grade must teach in order to prepare students for Advanced Placement in 11th and 12th grade.*

I fear that students will be just as prepared as they have been, which in my one-semester at this campus is not much. At the most, they will read four books a year, and the only students who will read the assigned texts are the ones who are readers anyway, who are studious enough, or care about their grades enough, to do what the teacher says. Everyone else will read a little and Sparknotes a lot, listening in to class discussions, and learning enough to pass exams that cover the conflict, plot, symbolism, and theme of the assigned text. Few, if any, will grow as readers who fall in love with words and characters and the beauty and the texture of carefully crafted stories.  It happens over and over and over again.

We deprive the students who take advantage of the College Board’s open enrollment policy, the students who voluntarily agree to more rigor, and we allow them to make it through high school English without growing as readers. I would argue that in many cases, there is high probability that they regress as readers.

How does that make any sense?


Looks Like the College Board Advocates for Readers Writers Workshop

The College Board provides course descriptions for each of the 34 AP courses and exams it offers. The descriptions reflect the course material that might be taught in a comparable college course. This makes designing a curriculum relatively easy for many of the courses taught. Biology and World History, for example, have definite knowledge-based skills that must be covered throughout the course. AP English courses are another story. Since first-year college composition courses are so diverse and vary from college to college, the structure of these classes on high school campuses can be diverse as well. AP programs, and even individual teachers, may design their courses based on their own interests and desires. Of course, the AP classes must reflect and assess college-level expectations, but that’s pretty much the only requirement. There are no prescribed essays that students must write, although there are suggestions of form. There are no required novels to read, although there is a suggested list of authors. Suggested being a key word. Teachers have a great deal of freedom in how they design their courses and what they put on their syllabi. See

AP English Language and Composition Course Overview

AP English Literature and Composition Course Overview

We can still read texts spanning from the 1600’s to the 21 century. We can still read literature that we deem important to our literary canon. But do we have to make all the choices in our Advanced Classes?

We can foster literate lives if we will take the same approach to literacy that is working in thousands of classrooms across the country:  Readers and Writers Workshop where choice matters and time to read and write mean deep and lasting learning.

So What’s the Real Deal

After talking this over with several of my peers, I’ve decided on a few reasons why honors and AP English teachers refuse to “drink the Kool Aid” (Isn’t that a nice derogatory way of describing readers/writers workshop? I hear it often):

  • Some teachers loved the experience they had with literature in their high school English classes. This is the reason they chose to be English teachers. (I am one of these teachers.) They want to duplicate those positive experiences for their students. A worthy ambition. However, I wonder if they have considered how many of their classmates experienced the same excitement at reading (or not) the literature that the teacher mandated.
  • Some teachers are not readers themselves. They love the books they’ve chosen to use in their classes, but rarely do they read anything from a best-seller list, or an awards list. They want to stay with what is known and comfortable. Many times these teachers mistake their duty:  to teach the child and not the book.
  • Some teachers believe that certain pieces of literature must be read by every student on the planet. “If I don’t teach this book, then these students will never read it” is a statement I’ve heard many times. My answer is always “Yes, but many are still not reading it when you teach it.” We ruin the the taste of great literature for many students when we force books on them that they are not ready for. I’ve asked all of my students this year about their reading in 10th grade. Not one of them has said they love To Kill a Mockingbird, one of two books they had to read last year. Why would we want to turn students off of a much beloved book like TKMB?
  • Some teachers believe that 10 to 15 minutes of sustained silent reading at the beginning of class is the same as instruction with choice reading. Sure, this reading time, especially if students are reading books that they choose, is important. It is a step. But it is not the same as structuring instruction around readers workshop where students not only read books that they choose, they think about them, talk about them, learn within them. They confer with a teacher intent on moving the reader in the best differentiated instruction possible.
  • Some teachers are afraid of giving up control. They fear that if students are all reading different texts they won’t know how to manage the class or guide the learning. This is a valid concern, but it is also something they can learn how to do. Many of us are doing it. We are happy to share how.

I am sure there are other reasons, and really, I mean no disrespect. I know my colleagues are hardworking and loving educators. I like them a lot. I respect them for the work they do, and I am sure that their students are learning in their classes. I know this is true for many other teachers and classrooms across America, too. I just really want to challenge some thinking.

What if we can do more?


Let’s Allow all Students the Advantages of Choice

More than anything, I want all students to have opportunities to rise above the norm, and maybe, just

~Joseph, AP English Language and Composition Student

maybe, we will see many more students, not just our struggling ones, immersed in books they love, and thinking about their reading in ways we’ve never imagined. Their engagement will improve. Their growth will astound us. They will develop as critical thinkers, accomplished writers, and as empathetic individuals ready to take on the challenges of college and their world.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I shared a draft of it with my writing partners. This response from Shana is important:

“I was an AP Lit kid, and an Honors English kid.  I SparkNoted The Scarlet Letter, Beowulf, Iliad, Catcher in the Rye, and the rest.  I never read a bit of it.  In fact, I didn’t read ANYTHING that was assigned to me simply because of the fact that it had been ASSIGNED.  I was stubborn like that.  And I got A’s all the way through.  And a 5 on the AP test.  All the while tearing through John Grisham, Elizabeth Peters, and the entire Bestsellers section of my public library outside of class.

“Then, my freshman year of college, when I took a workshop class in which I was allowed to self-select what I read, I chose the Scarlet Letter and thought it was the most beautiful love story I’d ever read.  I finished it and read it again.  Since that day, when I realized that because I was one of those AP kids and I COULD read those works, I’ve discovered that I LOVE them.  But I never read a single one of them until after high school.  My well-known love for Jane Austen didn’t emerge until I wrote a paper on Pride and Prejudice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my Shakespeare capstone.  I just read Mockingbird last summer for the first time ever.  [Note: I read it when I was 40.]

“I was never allowed to choose for myself in AP or Honors English, but had I been allowed to…I would have read all of those books, and arrived at a deeper level of love and reverence for literature, much earlier in my reading life.

“One thing I might add — I totally disagree with that AP Lit teacher saying that students needed to draw from classic lit for the test.  Many of my AP kids who got 5s wrote about modern classics…Oscar Wao, Life of Pi, whatever.  You don’t have to know CLASSICS to ace the Lit exam…you just have to know how to write authentically about complex texts, and that’s what we do in workshop, and what kids should be doing in AP classes.”

I know there are others who have made the shift. I got this in an email message just today from Jeannine in CA. We had a nice chat at NCTE:  “Thank you for our November communication. I have altered much of my instruction to incorporate choice reading.  The students are soaring!!!”

Another AP English teacher trusting herself and her students enough to make a change and see where it takes them.


Why, Yes, There’s Research to Support This Pedagogy

I mentioned Donalyn’s post at the beginning of this long one. It is all about the research, the theory that outlines and supports what it takes to grow readers. Allington, Atwell, Krashen, Moss, Fisher, Ivey, and Kittle, and Gallagher and more.

I add another:  Last summer at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute Penny Kittle had us read Making Meaning with Texts, Selected Essays by Louise Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt’s research spans decades and is just as applicable today as when she wrote it years ago. I challenge every English educator to read the whole of Rosenblatt’s essay “The Acid Test for Literature Teaching, published in 1956. Or, at least to respond honestly to Rosenblatt’s conclusion. Odds are you will make the shift to choice, if you haven’t already:

“As we review our current high school programs in literature, we need to hold on to the essentials, or take the opportunity as re-adjustments come about, to create the practice that will meet the acid test:

Does this practice or approach hinder or foster a sense that literature exists as a form of personally meaningful experiences?

Is the pupil’s interaction with the literary work itself the center from which all else radiates?

Is the student being helped to grow into a relationship of integrity to language and literature?

Is he building a lifetime habit of significant reading?”


*In an email after I’d written this post, I received the notes from that meeting, and I am happy to say that there were no specific book titles listed, just the admonition that students in 9 and 10 grade preAP classes read 3-5 whole class texts of a complex nature. And students need to read 15-20 books a year to grow as readers. (Yes, I did throw in that bit of research while in that meeting.)

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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