Abandoning the Whole Class Novel: Part 2

In October 2018, I wrote about my decision not to teach the whole class novel. I had read a book over Summer 2018 about giving students time to read what they want to read, and expecting them to do it, and how great their reading would improve, and for a bonus, they would actually enjoy reading. As an English teacher it sounds amazing. They have time to read in class and every student is reading something he or she wants, and they’re hooked, right? There would be no whining about having to read this boring book with everyone. Kids wouldn’t be done and waiting for others to catch up. It sounded amazing, but I had doubts.

The Problems With Independent Reading In 10th Grade

Fairly quickly I could see who struggled to read. All of my students are literate, but I know that I have a few who are significantly below grade level. Those students never really gave reading a chance. They knew that they weren’t very good, and no matter what they read, they were reminded that they couldn’t read very well. They had a big obstacle to overcome and it wasn’t worth it.

Students could still fake their reading checks. It takes great imagination to make up characters, plot, and setting, but it can be done. However, the students who were overly vague knew that they had been caught.

It took several students months of sitting there with a book and hating, it before they found a book that they connected with. Once they found that book though, they looked forward to that reading time and often begged for more.

For some reason, students think that they have reflexes fast enough to switch from their texting app to the book that they are “reading”. It’s annoying knowing that they think they’re getting away with something.

The students who love to read don’t put their books down.

The Benefits of Independent Reading In 10th Grade

The students who like to read, read more and enjoy reading more. The students who are already reading a wide variety of books continue to read a wide variety, and even recommend books to me.

Students have reported seeing vocabulary words we have worked on in school, in their personal reading.

In the end not all students love to read. Even some of the well-organized, intellectual students didn’t enjoy the time that they had to read. I would like to think that their writing has improved, though. I’ll watch that next year.

Conclusion

I’m sold. I would much rather recommend certain students read the books we would have read in class together, and let other students discover which books they connect with. They might not know what they like to read, but with time, they can discover it. Students need a break from their every day stress and other classes. Reading can be a form of relaxation, entertainment, or connection to someone or somewhere else. They recognize those connections, too. They recognize when they relate to the main character. They recognize when they connect with a person in non-fiction. They make connections to what is happening in the world around them. Most of all, they realize that they’re not the only one struggling. They understand that everyone has problems, and that we should be a little more sensitive and understanding when someone is having a bad day.

Hopefully they see that in their day-to-day lives, not just when they’re reading.

I still taught Macbeth whole class, but we watched it more than we read it, and now we’re writing about it. That’s different, right?

What I don’t understand, is how some call Macbeth boring.

If you teach ELA to any age group, I’d like to know what you think about whole class novel instruction. Do you enjoy it? Do you wish you could do something else?

Let me know.

Read on!

-Dave

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