To Read or Not To Read

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To Read or Not To Read

Julia Padilla, Staff Writer

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Walk into a classroom in the English hallway and one is bound to find the students either having a discussion about last night’s chapter, holding Socratic Seminars or hastily scribbling annotations in the margins of their books. This is what English class has looked like since middle school. This is what’s considered normal ― right? Since the early days of one-room schoolhouses, teachers have been assigning their students a whole-class novel, which is often accompanied by some kind of note-taking or study guide. But is this really the right path to take in order to engage student readers?

Ask anyone what they read in high school and you’ll undoubtedly hear “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Odyssey” or “Romeo and Juliet. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Teri Lesesne, executive director of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents… said research shows that high school students have been reading the same rotation of texts since the 1960s.” Teachers, it seems, have made little progress in updating the practice of reading, relying instead on texts and methods that were effective in the past. The recycling of old novels reinforces one mindset instead of acknowledging the differences between the teenage mind today and that of sixty years ago.

“I like the classic literature sometimes, but I would like to see more current novels,” says Tori Mauerman, a student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.

Of course, one may argue that the students who want more modern literature can simply read it on their own. This, however, is not always possible. A survey conducted on a sample of WWS students found that 78 percent of students read fewer than 5 free read books this past year. In the cases of these students, it is likely that the only novels they picked up in the last year were assigned by a teacher.

Most students do not hold an overall hatred toward reading; they disengage in English classes because they are not reading a book that has meaning for them. The Guardian says, “The number of American children who say they love reading books for fun has dropped almost 10 percent in the last four years… with children citing the pressure of schoolwork and other distractions.” If a teacher’s goal really is to help students enjoy literature, then they should be making the most of their class time and allowing the teens to have more choice in what they read.  

WWS student Abbie Linhardt claims, “We should take less tests on basic comprehension and more on themes and how they relate to us today.”

It does appear that students are more engaged when they can connect with what they are taking in, whether it be a character, a plotline or an overall message. In the 21st century, it makes sense that the class texts being assigned do not quite have the same effect on teens as current novels.  Therefore, allowing students to choose the novel they would like to study, and apply reading techniques to, could be more effective in achieving the goals of English class because of higher engagement.  

The Atlantic says, “Recreational readers tend to have higher academic achievement and greater economic success, and even display more civic-mindedness.”

English teachers want their students to become more well-rounded and versed humans. With more and more students disengaging in required class readings, this intention is not reaching its full potential. Thus it stands to reason that literature classes in the modern day should employ more student choice in order to create better connection to the text and find a novel they truly enjoy.