Given Me Freedom or Give Me Frustration

There has been much debate over whether or not school teachers should let children choose their own books to read or not. Those who are against allowing children to choose say that children are likely to pick books that aren’t challenging enough, which will lead to lower comprehension and various other reading skills. On the other hand, those who are for allowing children to choose argue that it is beneficial because it gets the children more involved in what they are reading, and they will likely read more often during their free time. In my own opinion, I think the best strategy would be to do a little of both.

When I think back to middle school and high school, I remember being so frustrated with reading because I felt like I was being forced to read books that I had no interest in reading. This frustration eventually led to me holding a negative outlook towards reading, and I stopped reading for fun during my free time, because reading wasn’t fun for me anymore. When I think back to elementary school, however, I had a little more freedom to choose what I wanted to read, and I enjoyed reading for fun. Not to mention, I had very involved parents who got me excited about reading at a younger age, and would actively read with me each night. Unfortunately, not all children are as lucky as I was, and for many children, what they experience in school is the sole predictor of their outlook on reading later in life.

Looking at one article published by Syracuse Media Group (found here), it is clear that choice-based reading definitely has some benefits for children. For example, one man named Kyle Good reported that he noticed in his own study and personal experience that, “when you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.” To support his argument, he relied on a study released by Scholastic Corp., a publisher of children’s books, which suggested that “middle and high school students who have time to read books of their own choosing during the school day are also more likely to read frequently for pleasure.” The study actually found that 78% of students who read frequently for fun, meaning at least five days a week, reported that they had time to read a book of their choice during the school day. This clearly shows that there is some correlation between free reading time during the school day and for pleasure reading outside of school. However, “only 26 percent of kids ages 12 and 14 and only 14 percent between ages 15 and 17 said they read for fun at least five days a week.”

reading-is-fun

So why is this? Just like me, we see this love for reading outside of school decline around middle school.  There could be two plausible reasons for this (1) children at this age become more involved in extra-curricular activities and have less time for reading outside of school, and (2) they are turned away from reading due to the lack of freedom in choosing books at school. Even though both probably play a role in this decline of for-pleasure reading outside of school, I would have to argue that, based on my personal experiences, it is more likely due to a lack of freedom in school than lack of time. When I was in middle school and high school, I participated in sports and academic clubs year-round, and although it did reduce my available free time, I still had a lot of time open to read if I wanted to. However, I had become so fed up with reading at this point, that I didn’t see it as enjoyable or worth my spare time. Looking back, if I was able to read more for fun during the school day, it is possible that my love for reading would have remained and I would have read more during my free time.

Therefore, I think it is important that teachers and administrators start making it a priority to allow more free-reading time during school. However, I also think it is important to assign some readings that we wouldn’t likely choose, such as some of the classics, because they are important to our academic curriculum. In all, though, the best way to learn from what you read is to get involved in what you read and  read more often, which are two areas that will likely improve if a child feels that he or she has more freedom in what he or she reads. If we enable more choice-based reading in school, we can likely instill a love for reading not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.

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3 Responses to Given Me Freedom or Give Me Frustration

  1. madisongoers1 says:

    Autumn, I agree that children should be able to have a part in choosing the books they read with a little guidance from their teacher, in cases. Throughout middle and high school, I had a similar experience with being forced to read books that I didn’t find relevant or captivating and and similarly, I didn’t enjoy it. Looking back, reading these historical/nonfiction books (this is what I struggled with reading the most) challenged me as a reader and I can’t say that I would have approached this genre without being forced to by a teacher. I remember constantly reading books throughout the summers of middle and high school but rarely did I finish a book of my choosing during the school year because of the combination of my academic workload, extra circulars, and sports. This is sad. Along the same lines as your final paragraph, I wish my teachers in these later grades would have given me more of the opportunity to choose the books that I was reading so that I was both challenging myself and cultivating a stronger desire to read. Or even assigned assignments based on a book of my choosing! I wonder how we can encourage reading to be more of a priority in the upper grades similar to that of kids first learning how to read? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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    • Autumn Grace says:

      Madison,

      Thank you for commenting! I completely agree with you that a certain level of challenge and frustration is healthy and very beneficial to all readers. However, just like you suggested, I think that it would be beneficial for teachers to create ways to allow more choice. For example, instead of assigning one particular book in a certain project, assign three or so related books and allow students to pick which they would like to read. Some of my teachers did this in high school, and I really liked this strategy.

      I am interested to hear your thoughts on this strategy and other possible strategies.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      – Autumn Grace

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  2. Pingback: Frustration in Reading and Why It’s Okay | The Politics of Reading

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