Discussion: School Required Reading

As a soon to be (as in 20 more credits) certified secondary school English teacher, I have been pondering this question:

What do you think about required reading lists in school?

I’m torn on this question for two reasons (1) I like the idea of having a unified reading list and (2) I feel with a unified reading list there is no real sharing of ideas.

Working at a bookstore gives me an insight into what is being taught and sometimes most times I’m saddened by what’s being taught. Most kids come in with reading lists that are outdated and what I mean by outdated is that most if not all of the books on the list are out of print. And when teachers try and stray from these lists many of their requests are denied.

Anyway, having a unified reading list is definitely ideal because everyone is discussing the same book. The problem in my mind is that it does not really allow for independent thinking; which is something that we are supposed to be teaching. And I think the literary canon is becoming increasingly outdated and unrelatable. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should read the ‘classics’, but I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t more contemporary books that we can include that will spark and keep the kids’ interest and get them thinking independently.

When I tutored one of the questions I would ask my kids is what did YOU think of what you read. And in the beginning, I was surprised at how hard the question was. Then I thought about it. When I was in school I did exactly what those kids did – parrot my teacher. I didn’t have to think about how I liked it or formulate an independent thought because they told me what I should think. So, in that regard, I am against school reading lists.

I do wish that kids were allowed to choose what they wanted to read a little more often. The other day I was helping a customer and she said that she had to choose two books from the list and two other books within specific genres. I like that idea. And, I was pleasantly surprised that the books on the required list were not out of print and were easily obtainable.

So, I’m slightly concerned because I tend to march and march loudly to the beat of a different drummer and I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to contain my disdain for teaching outdated and out of print books.

What are your thoughts on the required reading for school?

This post is brought to you as part of the 2019 Discussion Challenge hosted over at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I finally started a Booktube channel and would love for you to stop by, let me know what you think and of course, if you feel so inclined subscribe. Here is the channel’s trailer. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to my booktube channel, The Broken Spine.

8 thoughts on “Discussion: School Required Reading

  1. Casey @ caseydillabooks July 22, 2019 / 8:55 pm

    I think class discussions are important and so is choice. What if you had a topic and then a short reading list people could choose from on that topic? Like the topic could be immigration narratives for example and you could give 3-5 options, and then have one class discussion on the topic? Or you could have a core book everyone reads and then a book that they choose (from a list or not) that has a complimentary theme or style. All of their work would have to be individual if they had to compare a core book to something most people aren’t reading. Overall though, I’m all for redefining what is a “classic” and what topics are important to teach and discuss.


  2. lydiaschoch July 22, 2019 / 8:03 pm

    This was such an interesting post. I think you’re going to make a great teacher. 🙂

    What books would you put on a reading list if your future employer let you assign contemporary books to your students?


  3. trentpmcd July 22, 2019 / 6:47 pm

    You need to put a link to your book-tube channel in the post 😉 To your question, I think having a short list of classics (old and new) and then a few free choice books that fit specific criteria would be the way to go. That’s pretty much how it was when I was a kid. Some of the “self-choice” books would be things like guys had to pick books by women about women issues while females had to pick from a selected “male oriented” genre (sports, westerns, etc.) (yes, in the 70s and early 80s!). Things to push kids outside of their safety zones and have to actually think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Broken Spine July 22, 2019 / 7:03 pm

      Thanks, Trent! I thought by clicking the video it would take you to the channel. Probably should have tested that out first. Hmmm, interesting. That’s a good idea. When I was in school we, unfortunately, did not have the option to choose what we wanted to read. And I hated it! It didn’t make a huge difference to me because I loved to read even then and was always reading something outside of the required reading that interested me. I completely agree about pushing kids out of their comfort zones. There are kids that if you let them will read nothing but graphic novels or stay in chapter books or with the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson type genres and there is so much more to explore. But it’s a slippery slope because we don’t want to push them too far that they won’t read. And, I think that’s why it’s important to find out what they like to read.

      Link updated!

      Liked by 1 person

      • trentpmcd July 22, 2019 / 7:49 pm

        I guess you need to find a way to challenge the kids who already like to read and find things that will make the kids who don’t want to read say, “Wow, cool!” OK, not easy 😉

        Typically I put something like “Click here if you don’t see the video” and make it a link. Some phones won’t show an embedded video, so that is often the best way. I’ll check out your fixed link.


  4. Sue Bursztynski July 22, 2019 / 6:00 pm

    Congratulations on your upcoming career in schools, and you will be valuable to your faculty, because you know what’s new. I’ve recently retired from my own career as a secondary English teacher and librarian. As a librarian I was much the same as you as a bookseller. And when the faculty met to discuss changes of texts for various year levels, I was the one who told them that the books they were seriously discussing for class texts were probably out of print or had been gathering dust on my library shelves. I will say that the choices they ended up making were usually of new books, and the kids enjoyed most of them. When I started teaching, I did let the kids choose their own books for a while, but there are issues with that too. Firstly, it assumes that all your students like reading and are capable of reading at the right level. That’s not necessarily the case, same as with class texts. Secondly, there is what they read – I had one girl whose reading was entirely a series of rural romances. “Hang on, didn’t you read that one last time?” “No, Miss, that was set on a sheep station, this is set on a cattle station!” I’m glad she enjoyed the books, but what did she learn from her reading? What exactly was the purpose of it? If your school has a library, they can read what they want in their own time, with your encouragement.

    In class, there is another way. For several years I was doing Literature Circles, till the faculty decided to return to class texts. That works! The kids get to choose from a set of texts, they read at their own levels, with a little fiddling from you, the teacher, and they learn to analyse books in a group discussion. One of our students was bright but dyslexic – we put him in a group reading a slim book and got them to read it aloud. And he listened and absorbed – better than the rest of the group, in fact! When I was team teaching with a teacher whose class was younger than mine, we put together a group including a couple of older, kindhearted girls to support the younger ones.

    I don’t know if this is an option for you, but if it is, do consider it.


  5. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction July 22, 2019 / 5:52 pm

    I agree that picking a couple of books from off of a list and then choosing a couple of others from specific genres seems like a good compromise. Like you say, there are both good and bad consequences from assigned reading!


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