Saturday, August 20, 2011

Choice in Reading Materials

A teacher in my school recently talked with me about choosing a book for her students to read. These students had enjoyed reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and she wanted something like that, something they would enjoy. There were a few of us in the discussion, throwing out titles with the hope that one of them might work.

This evening I was reading a chapter from Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards about constructivism and allowing students choice. An idea struck me that I will pitch to the teacher. It might work.

The idea is to select five titles that the students might like. The teacher would narrow the field of books by choosing five. Without having done that, students would have to choose from millions of titles, some completely inappropriate for a public high school in a conservative community. So, the teacher chooses five titles. She then secures three or four or five copies of each title. The next step is to put the students in groups of three or four.

One student in each group would be designated the task leader or time keeper, making certain that the group completes their project on time. Another student would be the recorder, taking notes on everything that is important to the group's work. Another student would be designated the presenter, the one who will present the findings of the group. If there is a fourth student, he is fortunate to have to do no more than all the others have to do in fulfilling the requirements of the project.

The project is to determine which of the five books the class should read. Each group would be required to create a rubric with the criteria that the group decides is important in choosing a book. During the presentation, the presenter would be required to explain the criteria and to defend it as important and valid.

Then the group would assess each book according to the criteria and rank them according to preference, resulting in one book being that group's choice. During the presentation, the presenter would make a strong case for the group's choice book.

While the presentations were being made, the whole class would take notes as to which book they would like. It could be that the presentation of one group might sway a vote from members of another group.

The end result would come from a whole class, secret ballot vote, and the class would have chosen a book to read.

Through the lesson, students would have learned collaboration, how to create a rubric in making a decision, how to make a persuasive presentation, and how differing perspectives might sway a person's thinking. Oh, and they would also have learned how a representative democracy operates.

Not to mention, they would have decided on a book that most of the class would want to read.

This process could be repeated every time the class reads a book, allowing that the same students would not always get to choose the book and creating a genuine learning community where students have voice and choice.

It couldn't be too bad.

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