Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trusting Kids to Assume Responsibility for Learning


What happens when you give students the opportunity to choose a direction for their own reading and writing?

Amazing things, apparently.

My students are currently involved in their own reading during Reading Workshop in Academic English 11 (most would call this General English).  The class of 26 students is a mix of abilities.  Though there are many who are performing at the post high school level some are as low as a fourth grade reading level. 

All have chosen books that might surprise those who feel students will not set a high bar for their own performance.

Here is a selection of books that are currently being read and written about in English 11:

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

The Hunger Games series.  (This has been extremely popular in the past two years.  One student, and English language learner, has zoomed through all three in just three weeks of reading and has just begun a fourth book.)

The Inferno by Dante

A non-fiction book on the Civil War.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

And numerous young adult romances and coming of age tales.

In general, when given the latitude and a purpose for reading (our stated goal is growing dendrites—i.e. getting smarter—building  vocabulary, focusing on text for longer and longer periods of time, and developing a love of reading) students choose books that are both challenging and generally right on target for their ability level.

Students converse about their books in weekly letters to me and the co-teacher in the room.  We ask them to discuss their books by noticing what the author is doing.  In the weekly letter they tell us:


  • What is the setting?  How does this limit the characters in their actions or behaviors?
  • Does your author use any of the following?  Provide an example from the book of:         
    • imagery
    • flashbacks
    • figurative language
  • How does the author capture and keep your interest from the beginning?
  • How would you rate this book?
  • How did your prediction compare to the ending of the book?
  • Would you recommend the book to others?  Who would like to read this and why?

In just 20 minutes of class time daily, students are able to read a minimum of four books a semester in addition to the titles we learn together.  Their selections, listed above, indicate that most students know what they want to learn. 

Sometimes we need to get out of their way, and let them go for it.