What We Have in Common: Listening for Truths Among Dissidence

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photo (2)There’s this terrific conversation happening in my Facebook feed inspired by Amy’s recent post on threeteacherstalk.com on free-choice reading in the AP classroom.  Friends of mine who are teachers themselves, parents of students in HS English classes, and former students are sharing their thoughts and wishes for their ideal English experience in secondary classrooms.  Who says there’s nothing good on Facebook anymore?

Here’s what they all have in common: no matter where they fall in the spectrum of whether or not free-choice reading belongs in the AP classroom, developing a love for reading and identifying yourself as a reader is an integral part of being a happy, successful, compassionate human being.

Slowly, thanks in large part to Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and Penny Kittle’s Book Love free-choice or independent reading is starting to take root in many secondary English Language Arts classes.  But, the conversation seems to stall-out when when we get to the AP and Pre-AP classes.  How do you convince traditionally trained teachers, most of whom were at the top of their Literature classes in high school and college, that they don’t have to tell their students what to read every time, all the time?  How do you convince them to let go of Billy Budd to allow their students 30-45 minutes a week to read and talk about books of their own choice?

Even among my National Writing Project colleagues who I consider to be revolutionaries in English instruction, there is much dissidence between those who teach AP.  And, it’s interesting listening to them politely talk around the subject.  As an outsider, I can see that they clearly aren’t hearing what the other is saying when it comes to what one they believe about free-choice reading.  Apart from one another, they reveal to me the following misconceptions:

Jill: Andy doesn’t provide her students with the collective experience of reading and sharing a complex text.  As advanced readers, this is one of the benefits of being in an AP classroom–the phenomenon that happens as a group of humans grapple with Literature together to make sense of their world and understanding themselves.

Andy:  Jill doesn’t let her students read their own books in class and still practices the whole-class novel approach.  Even advanced students need to continue to develop their skills through texts that they choose for themselves.  I can still teach them AP strategies and skills in conjunction with free-choice reading.

Guess what Andy and Jill, you are both right! Here’s what you may not be seeing in one another’s practices that I know to be true:

Both of you:

  • Talk to your students about what you are reading everyday.  You share what surprises, excites, frustrates, and challenges you as readers.  Your students then flock to your well-stocked classroom libraries or school libraries to read the books you recommend–whether during or outside your class time.

  • Invite students to examine challenging and diverse text.  Whether your students read the entire text or excerpts, they are ALL experiencing the wonderfully critical world of Literature!

  • Consider your students needs as life-long readers and AP students when designing your instruction and selecting texts.  You both keep your eye on the evolving world of College Board AP test writers who are bringing in more and more diverse and contemporary texts for students to grapple with in the exam.  When you choose a whole-class text it is deliberate and in direct response to your students needs and experiences.

  • Celebrate your students experiences as readers through innovative and engaging reader response and discussion.  Whether it’s a shared reading experience or self-selected reading, students learn the value and importance of developing personal responses to texts in order to think critically about the text and their world.

  • Continue to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge as teachers of literature and facilitators of thriving reading and writing communities.

Perhaps the divide isn’t nearly as wide as we perceive it to be.  The question remains, how do we get more secondary ELA teachers on board with re-imagining our adolescent students’ experiences in English?

See also:

5 Myths About Independent Reading

One thought on “What We Have in Common: Listening for Truths Among Dissidence

    Amy said:
    January 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    You know I love this. Finding the balance is the allusive sweet spot–still figuring that out myself.

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