I am a big fan of choice reading in my classroom. With my 9th graders, our classroom culture largely focuses around our choice novels, and my students display their love of reading. And then I get them as seniors, and we hit AP Lit. Many teachers (and students) feel that choice reading and AP Lit cannot work together. But, I’ve been able to prove that they can. Here are the top 8 ways to make choice reading successful in an AP class:
- Realize that they might not get as much out of the novel as they would if it were a class read…and also realize this is OKAY.
Once upon a time, I used to think that unless I was directing them fully, students wouldn’t read novels with a critical eye and wouldn’t have the full experience. In some cases, this holds true, and the student gets the plot lines or whatever they can find on Sparknotes, and not much else. However, I continue to be amazed every single year by students who do a AWESOME job reading on their own and the level of depth in which they read. Each year, I’ve noticed more and more students choosing to write Q3 on their choice books, and I love this! Often times, they feel more connected to those books than our class reads, and therefore, do well writing on them.
- Give choice….to some extent.
In my 9th grade classes, I give unlimited range, but in AP, there’s that whole “literary merit” clause in Q3, so I keep this in mind. I start by giving them the list of past titles that have been on Q3, http://mseffie.com/AP/APtitles.html (by the way if you haven’t heard of the Ms. Effie website, it is an awesome resource). Then, I also allow them other works I think would be considered as “literary merit.” By doing this, I’m pretty successful at finding all of them something they like. I’ve listed some of my student favorites.
- Have them date their books.
If you haven’t tried book speed dating, boy are you and your students missing out. You need to do this. Immediately. Once I started this, my choice reading success improved immensely. In order to do this, you select a bunch of books of varying topics, genres, time periods, etc. If you don’t have a classroom library, work with your librarian. Then, when they walk in the classroom in the morning, they see all these books pulled and piled on their group tables and they are immediately curious. The students start in their own group and individually look at 1-3 books at that table that seem to interest them. I also have them fill out a rating sheet as they go through this process. Then, after about 7 minutes, I have them shift to the next table. I have 6 table groups, so we do this 6 times. By the end of it, the students usually have a list of anywhere from 10-20 books that they’ve “dated.” Then, I ask them to list their top 3. Students hold onto this sheet so that they can refer back to it as they make choice book selections. And we also date a few times a year to continue to help them find books.
- Give reading time…in class.
I can’t stress how important this is. I know it seems hard to get everything in and giving up precious time to read seems difficult, but it is worth it. At the end of each year, I give a survey about what makes choice reading successful and the top two are the aforementioned book speed dating and giving reading time in class. This is helpful for numerous reasons. First, it helps me to see where they are with their books and that they are TRULY reading. Second, it allows students to set aside time for reading. Because let’s face it, unfortunately reading often gets put on the back-burner as far as homework priority goes.
- Give them some sort of assessment or project that goes along with the book.
This is going to look different for every teacher. Book talks are great, but for me, they didn’t require enough depth of thinking of my students. Instead, I have them do what I call a “reduction” that breaks down the book and has them look for important elements that we work with on the AP test, such as themes, diction, syntax, imagery, selection of detail, and other literary devices. Students know about this ahead of time, so they can do this as they read, and not leave the project until the very end (although some of my best procrastinators still find a way to do this). My project also involves a small creative portion, which for some students is their favorite part and for some students it’s misery, but the one time I did away with the creative portion, students all claimed they missed it, so alas it stays put. Overall, my students do a really great job, and as mentioned earlier, I am often impressed with the level of depth in which they read these books.
- Find a balance.
No, my class is not all choice reading. I still believe firmly that class reads are important, and I try to strike a balance between the two. For each term (we have 12 week trimesters) and also the summer, we read one class novel and one choice read, for 8 total. We fill the rest of the time with poetry, short stories, college essays, and a little bit of test prep. This is my 9th year of teaching AP, and I’ve been trying to strike the right balance and think I’m almost there. In my class I focus on depth and not breadth, which also helps tremendously.
- Choice read with them
I used to feel I didn’t have time to read for “fun,” and boy was I missing out. Taking up choice reading again has reignited my love for literature and even for teaching! Now, I make it a priority to choice read, both on my own time and in front of my students. Sure, there’s always the day where they turn something in at the beginning of the hour, and I must put in the gradebook before we move onto the next thing, but I try to make these moments fewer and choice reading moments greater.
- Give students access to books
One thing I hear from students is that they don’t have time to go to the library. And it’s true! Most teachers, even English teachers (gasp!), can’t quite break away from their precious class time in order to allow students to go to the library. But, somehow, teachers need to figure out a way to give them access to books. I have a huge classroom library and students often prefer to just look in my class. However, ANY day that we are choice reading, students may use that time to go to the library, if need be. Allowing them access is what allows them to be successful readers.
Whether you adopt all of these suggestions or just 1, I hope you can experience some of the benefits of choice reading, and that it has as positive of an impact on your classroom as it has on mine.
Sarah has been teaching English for 12 years at Northwest High School in Jackson, MI and has been teaching AP Lit. for 8 of those. She has a love for both classics like Shakespeare and modern young adult literature. When she’s not teaching or grading essays, she’s busy being a wife and mommy, reading, working out, and attending Michigan football games.