where trouble was needed

August 30, 2009

Pick Books You Like

Filed under: Uncategorized — Aravinda @ 8:16 pm

A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

After reading comments and the author’s replies to the readers, I posted this to the author, Motoko Rich,
Perhaps the opening para containing the line "Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students …" was meant as an argument-starter but I am a little sad to see you step back from that bold approach so readily in response to readers’ objections. I agree that most teachers would opt for the best of both worlds and have some assigned readings and leave some space for the students to choose. Were I a school teacher I might do that myself. But not because it is necessarily a better approach to meet the goals of both learning to read more challenging work as well as enjoying reading. It may be neither, but it may be more practical for me to use within the constraints of the school system. What I remember from elementary school (Klondike, an open-concept school in W. Lafayette, Indiana) is that we had a regular period called USSR (yep!) – Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. TO the best of my recollection we were allowed to select our own books for this and I dont think we had to report on them either. It was truly free reading. We also had assigned reading. I also spent hours at home reading for pleasure.

What I remember as I climbed the ladder through middle and on to high school was that not only did I have less time to read for pleasure but it started happening that I wouldn’t always finish the assigned reading either. This was shocking at first, yet soon became habitual. In college I frequently got lost in the stacks of the library irresistibly drawn towards books in myriad subjects while leaving my own required reading unread. I can’t count the number of course materials that I finally understood only after the semester ended.

What might happen if we could change the culture of assignments and grades, and allow freedom in learning in a more comprehensive way, even extending it to math and science as some have asked incredulously? Whether it is practical to do it right here and right now, we can learn much from thinking about this. There is a growing movement towards making this kind of freedom in learning possible, or at least overcoming a basic level of distrust in children’s ability to learn and willingness, indeed craving to challenge themselves, that makes people like Diane Ravitch (former assistant education secretary) ask, "“What child is going to pick up ‘Moby-Dick’?”

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