STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.7, Civ.10

NCSS: Individual development and identity; Culture

DEBATE IT!

Should You Be Able to Choose Which Books You Read in School?

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When was the last time you read a book for fun? One out of every three teens responding to a recent survey said it had been at least a year.

That worries a lot of educators and parents because studies routinely show that strong reading skills are a key factor in succeeding at school—and in life.

Some experts say that one of the most effective ways to get young people to read more often is to let them choose the books that they read in school. After all, when asked which book they had enjoyed most, 80 percent of students polled said it was one they had picked them­selves. Letting teens do that in school, some people say, can help them develop a lifelong habit of reading for fun.

But other experts say that the books kids want to read aren’t always what they need to read—especially when it comes to improving test scores and critical-thinking skills. And if students aren’t all reading the same books at the same time, how can teachers fairly compare their progress? Besides, an experienced educator can help guide students toward books they might never have chosen in the first place but end up really enjoying.

Should you be able to choose which books you read in school? Two education experts weigh in.

YES

Being able to understand and analyze a text are among the most important skills students can gain in school. Having a say in what they read is key to learning to apply those skills. But many school officials and policy makers no longer set aside class time for kids to read—let alone choose their own books.

That’s because many teachers worry it would mean less time to cover necessary material. Plus, they’re concerned that some students will pick books that are too easy.

Given a choice, aren’t kids more likely to read something they find interesting?

Yet studies have shown that when kids read about a topic they’re interested in, they’re more likely to keep reading—and problem-solve tough vocabulary in the process. They’ll also make new connections to what they already know about the topic—even when what they’re reading is challenging. What teacher wouldn’t want students to learn and practice this kind of perseverance?

Other studies have shown that kids ages 12-17 who are allowed to read books of their choosing in school are more likely to enjoy reading and do it regularly. The more often students read, the more they learn about grammar and spelling from an author’s choices. Those lessons then transfer to their own writing. The research is clear: Kids who select their own books read more often and with more care.

But it’s not just the basics of reading and writing that matter. Kids who read more books learn about a wider variety of ideas and experience different points of view. This broadens their perspectives on other people and the world—a key part of helping kids grow as both students and citizens.

—Mallory Locke
Middle school literacy coach and adjunct lecturer, CUNY Hunter College, New York

NO

Reading is great! If no grade or credit is involved, you should read whatever you want during study period or independent class time. But for the sake of fairness, when it comes to what you’ll be graded on, everyone in class should read the same book—one that your teacher has picked.

What’s fair about that? Well, in every school subject, you’re graded on the same materials and challenges as your classmates. It’s by comparing each student’s work against all the others’ that teachers are able to evaluate learning and progress. If everyone is reading a different book, how can your teacher make fair comparisons?

Reading a book you might not have chosen can expose you to new and exciting stories.

Having everyone read the same books at the same time also enriches class discussions. Everyone can participate and no one will feel left out. Readers often interpret the same material differently. Comparing and thinking about those differences makes what you’ve read more memorable. It also makes the discussion more interesting. If your teacher assigns Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example, some kids will find it spooky, others won’t. Why is that? Talking about it develops critical-thinking skills that will help you in all of your schoolwork—and in life.

Many people argue that kids are more likely to enjoy a book they’ve chosen than one picked by the teacher. But if you read only what you think you’d like, you may never discover writers and subjects you’d find fascinating. Having a well-read teacher choose books can expose you to material you might never come across otherwise. And discovering new worlds between the covers of a book is one of life’s great pleasures.

—Sandra L. Stotsky
Former K-12 teacher and professor of education, University of Arkansas

Write About It! What evidence does each writer use to support her claims? How does each writer address the other side’s arguments? Who do you think makes the stronger case? Why?

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