Students of all ages benefit from choosing real books

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

My graduate texts and professors have really emphasized the idea of letting students choose from a variety of texts. While pretty much everyone else in my graduate classes teach K-12 students,  I think this idea works well for older, college students as well. For anyone who is not familiar with me, I teach developmental college reading to freshman in Baltimore. When students take the community college placement test, if they don’t meet a certain score on reading comprehension, they are required to take a non-credit reading class before they are permitted to take most credit-bearing courses. That’s where they meet me!

My class has one required basal textbook. This semester I had a student say, on the very first day of class, that she didn’t like the textbook because she didn’t like “that kind of reading.” Check out one page from the text to see what she meant by “that kind of reading.” (click on any of the pictures for a zoomed-in view)

The textbook chapters are broken into different strategies. For example, one chapter may be dedicated to finding the topic and stated main ideas. Students typically read a paragraph, find the stated main idea, and then read another, completely unrelated topic, and find that stated main idea. This is not representative of real reading, and it is not engaging. The back of the text has about eight to ten short stories, and about one or two of them are interesting.

The book, Collaborating for Real Literacy recommends having “a large, rotating collection of high interest books and literacy materials.”  Another statement in the book that I find important is that “the key to higher student achievement suggested by research and demanded by new federal laws is not expensive reading series and special programs that publishers try to convince administrators that they need.” I am convinced that I can promote critical thinking and lifelong literacy in my classroom without even needing a basal textbook (although I do make some use of them since my students are required to purchase them).

One problem in a college setting is, if an instructor is going to provide students with a variety of books, where will those books come from? I have devised my own crafty way of getting books into the classroom for my students. Here are some books that I brought in for my students last week:

How did I get them? I found a thrift store that sells 5 paperback books for $.90, which breaks down to $.18 cents per book. I buy any books that I think my students would find engaging, and I also buy books that I can resell. I list the valuable books on Alibris. For example, today I sold an old photography book for $19.95. If I bought 50 books for my students at $.18 cents a piece, I would spend a total of $9. So when the math all works out, I’m pretty much getting the books for free.

Then once we have the books, we do activities like this (anonymous sample from last semester):

Students pull out information that they find interesting, and then they ask questions, and then other students ask question about the same topic. This activity gets students into the habit of formulating their own questions. Then later on, we can get into more complex readings and higher level questions.

Give students reading material that interests them, and they just might read it…

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