Top 5 Reasons to Give Students CHOICE! By Jennie K. Brown


I love to see my classroom bookshelf empty. I know this might sound strange coming from an English teacher. But I mean it. A sparse collection means more books in the hands of my students. One thing I’ve been doing over the last eight years of teaching is stocking my classroom library with high-interest young adult novels. I’ve picked up ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) at local and national conferences, made monthly trips to used book stores and grab books on the clearance rack at B&N– all in an effort to beef up my classroom book collection.

In addition to teaching my ninth graders some of the classics such as Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet –all novels with value, insight and universal and timeless themes – I’ve created an “Independent Novel Assignment” where students have free reign over book selection. I don’t require the students to keep a reading log of this book, complete a time-consuming project, or write an extensive book report. Instead, they simply write a two-paragraph book review once they’ve finished the novel. (Bonus: As a teacher, you get some great books to add to your TBR – to be read – pile!) Because they choose their own novels, rather than choosing one book from a list of 20 or so selected by me, the teacher, they see reading not as an assignment, but rather as a fun, enjoyable experience.

By relinquishing a bit of control and allowing students ownership over the books that they read, we put learning into their own hands and help foster a relationship with reading for the sake of reading! After discussing the topic of student choice with my English class, and then piecing together what I’ve observed over the years, I’ve come up with the TOP FIVE positive outcomes that come from students having choice when it comes to reading.

You’ll look at reading as more of a fun activity to enjoy, instead of thinking of it as an assignment. – Morgan Z.

 1. Enjoyment. This one is a no-brainer. When students have a choice in their reading, they more than likely are going to choose books that they will enjoy. This enjoyment continues on beyond that one book, as they will find a certain author or genre that they like more than others, and continue to pick up books because they KNOW they will enjoy them. It’s apparent that my own students find joy in reading because when I ask them to get out their independent novels (novels that they select), there is an audible and collective “YES” from the group. They think reading is fun. Period.

 When a teacher gives us a choice, I feel like s/he has more trust in us, as students, and that makes me enjoy the class and respect the teacher even more. – Olivia M.

 2. Respect. By allowing choice, not only will students gain a greater respect for reading, they will also gain a greater respect of you – their teacher. When we allow our students to choose their own novels, learning is placed into their hands. No longer do the students have a teacher who “forces” them to read one novel in particular. They are in control. They have choice. They can read whatever they want. And most importantly, they garner respect for you for allowing them to do so. And when students respect their teacher, they will work harder. Win-win.

 My passion for reading ever since I was little has grown with my teachers giving me choice of independent novels. While I get to learn more and expand my knowledge with reading, I’m also enjoying it and motivated to read more. – Morgan

 3. Motivation. What I am learning is that when students have a choice in regards to reading, they are more motivated to read even more books. That makes sense, right? This motivation factor also ties into the enjoyment factor. By giving students choice, they have the opportunity to select books that appeal most to their own interests, hobbies and tastes. Because they are reading books that appeal to these interests, the outcome is increased drive and motivation to read even more books similar to that last one. And get this… according to Guthrie and Wingfield, authors of Handbook of Reading Research, providing genuine student choices increases effort and commitment to reading. Two things that all English teachers want to see. Now, that’s awesome.

 Lets us find new books through each other. – Abby D.

 4. Collaboration.  I love when students argue. Over books, that is. Not only have my students argued over who gets to sign out my one and only copy of Divergentnext, but they bicker over whether or not they found an ending of a novel/series good or bad. (Allegiant, anyone?) Because a variety of books are getting into the hands of students, there are more student recommendations floating around. This leads to novel discussion. When I have book talks in my classroom, all students are excited to hear about the latest trending books. And these book talks continue outside of the classroom, in the hallways, on the bus, over the weekend, and beyond…

 5. Life-long Love of Reading. A student of mine wrapped this one up perfectly when she wrote, “By being able to choose your own novels, you are more likely to come across a genre or author you like, which only makes you want to find similar books to continue reading in your free time.” (Alyssa B.) She certainly hit the nail on the head. Giving students choice in their reading instills a life-long love of it, and what’s better than that?

 When I asked my students what they feel the positive outcomes from having complete CHOICE regarding the books they read, I received the following responses.

(Note: many of these fit into the TOP 5 above!)

 You can choose something you’re interested in, instead of being told what to read.

 You connect to the story and get more into what you’re reading.  –Morgan Z.

 It’s nice to have a teacher who gives you some freedom. We can look forward to class. – Carrington M.

 Makes reading more fun when it feels like you’re choosing to read rather than being forced. -Abby D.

 Does not seem as much like a project, but just a fun hobby. – Cole W.

 Choice can guarantee that the reader will like the story. You can pick any genre, any style. Plus, there are thousands of options. –Carrington M.

 I enjoy the book more. –Brad B.

 Makes reading more enjoyable. – Gabby C.

 Gives freedom to find our own books and develop our own favorite types. –Abby D.

 I have more respect for my teacher. She doesn’t just throw a list of books at you and say, “here. Pick one.” – Maia G.

A bit about Jennie….

 I am an English teacher by day, MG/YA author by night, and freelance magazine writer by late night and weekend. Currently I serve as the President of the PA Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, and my debut middle-grade novel and its first sequel will be released by month9books (Tantrum Books imprint) in 2016!

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4 Responses to Top 5 Reasons to Give Students CHOICE! By Jennie K. Brown

  1. Carol says:

    Out of all these, my favorite one you listed is RESPECT. There’s not enough of that and I think it’s something that really does impact students. Good for you!

  2. Lindsay Bandy says:

    I love so much about this post, Jennie! As a student, I always knew I was good at Language Arts and enjoyed writing, but I struggled to really connect with the texts I was forced to read for school. I pick up a lot of books and put them down, but when you’re forced to read something you hate, it becomes a painful chore, or like a riddle to solve instead of a story to become emotionally involved in. I don’t think I really, really loved to read until I was out of college and free to just pick up whatever I wanted, or put down what I hated. As readers (and as humans!) the books we learn the most from are the ones that are most meaningful to us….not just books we’ve been forced to extrapolate symbols and vocab words from, but books that change the way we look at ourselves and the world. As writers, we have the power to make reading a wonderful, enriching experience, and teachers like you make it possible for students to get in touch with books that will change their lives. Hats off to you!

  3. Thanks, Lindsay! 🙂

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