Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guys Read--but may not like the books they're assigned in high school!

A "Read In"
Today our school had a "Read In"--a whole day, in between midyear exams and the second semester, in which we shared books, read, and talked about reading. During one of my free blocks I was on a panel of four male teachers; we talked to an audience of about a hundred and fifty students about our own reading, we read to them from a book we liked, and we took their questions.

Even future teachers don't like assigned reading
In the course of the discussion, every single one of us let it slip that he had not liked much of the assigned reading in high school--that we liked reading, but not the books we were given in our English classes.  I remembered that the same thing happened on the panel I was on last year, and I asked a friend who was on another panel today, and he said he and the guys he was up on stage with had said the same thing.

Does high school discourage reading?
At a certain point in the discussion, when we were asked when we had really been turned on to reading, I turned the question back around to the audience and asked them to raise their hands if they read more now than they did in elementary school.  A few brave souls raised their hands.  Then I asked them to raise their hands if they read more in elementary school than they do now.  eighty percent of the audience raised a hand.

We need to change this
One day is a nice start, but we high school teachers really need to think about how we can change the way we encourage-- or discourage--student reading.  What we are doing now is not working very well.  I think the way to go is toward more independent reading and group discussion and analysis focused on shorter passages (and of course a lot of writing); in any case, what we are doing now, and what has been done at most high schools over the past fifty years or more, is not very inspiring.

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