I just finished doing some updates to my Indian Epics reading options, and that inspired me to write a blog post here about reading choice. Encouraging students to cultivate a love of reading is a big goal for me; I teach Gen. Ed. Humanities, and helping students to become enthusiastic, confident readers is one of the most important purposes of Gen. Ed. Humanities.
And that is why, in my opinion, reading CHOICE is essential. How can we help students become enthusiastic, confident readers if they do not learn how to make their own reading choices? Sadly, in much of school, we do not let students choose what they want to read ... and as a result, students will freely tell me that they "hate to read." I cannot think of a bigger way that schools can fail students than to convince them that they hate to read.
By way of contrast, I've never heard a student tell me that they "hate to listen to music," and that's because when students are listening to music, it's the music that they choose. I think it needs to be the same way with reading: not everybody is going to like to read the same kinds of things, which is why students should be making their own reading choices, learning about what kinds of books they like by exploring and trying different things, just as they do with music. Instead of telling students what they should read, I see my role as providing them with a good range of reading choices, helping them to explore those materials to find what they will like... while sharing with them my love of reading ... and I really do love to read!
Here's a little bit about how I try to promote student choice and the love of reading in my classes, and I would be curious to know what strategies for reading work for you in your classes.
TOOLS: Blogs, Diigo, Randomizers. The tools I use to make this work in my Indian Epics class consist of a blog of reading guides, along with a separate blog that is a catalog of my school's Amar Chitra Katha comic book collection (imported from Mumbai to Norman, Oklahoma, thanks to a grant from my Library: yay!), and an extensive Diigo Library to help the students as they search the reading materials, and also to help me in managing and updating those materials. I use the RotateContent.com tool to create randomizers to help students browsing the online books and the comic book collection. In case they can be useful to others, I've shared my free book randomizers here in my Canvas Widget Warehouse:
FREE MATERIALS. The flexibility of the system comes from relying on free online materials (see my Freebookapalooza for example), plus free materials in my school's Library. I use both the Reserve option and also books for checkout; students can see what's available and what's checked out by clicking on the call number links. With flexible, free options, students can browse online, read, change their minds, etc. No advance bookstore purchases are required. To really let students explore and make spontaneous choices, I need the flexibility that these free options provide. Yes, it might be 3 in the morning and the Library might indeed be closed... but I always (ALWAYS) have a bunch of free online options ready to choose anytime 24/7. And, yes, these are mobile-friendly options too. :-)
CHEAP KINDLES. I also try to keep an eye out for cheap Kindles, especially Kindles that are under $5, and also Kindles that are under $10 which can serve for several weeks of reading (so that the cost per week is just a few dollars). I am personally a huge fan of Kindles, and I try to make sure students understand that Kindles are available to read on any device, including in their browser, along with very useful notetaking features: About Kindles. So, while Kindles are not free, they are very affordable and very convenient. I get a boost in my Indian Epics class that there are a lot of Indian authors who self-publish, or who publish with Indian publishers that set their book prices below $5. There are drinks at Starbucks that cost $5 after all (try a venti caramel frappuccino). A lot of the Kindle books that I can recommend to students cost just $3 dollars... including some really great books. (Note to self: I thank all the authors that I know already at Twitter, but I need to track down the other authors I rely on for Kindles and send them thank-you emails!)
STRUCTURED CHOICES. When students start the Indian Epics class, they are usually entering into a totally new world that they know nothing about (unless they have Indian heritage, in which case they are reading to make good reading choices from Day 1, based on the names and stories they already feel connected with). So, the way it works in my Indian Epics class is that we start out with TWO possible reading choices for the Ramayana, one free online option (an anthology that I created, with audio recorded by yours truly), or a very affordable Kindle book which is also available as a print book in the campus Bookstore. Then, we have a week of free reading based on that same epic (video, more online books, comic books in the Library, Kindles, etc.). After that, we move on to the other epic, the Mahabharata, with another free online or Kindle/print choice for two weeks, then another week of free reading based on that epic. Then, we have two weeks of free reading choices: Krishna legends or Buddhist jatakas. For both, there are public domain online books, comic books in the Library, and Kindles. Then, for the final four weeks of the semester, it is all-out free reading: epics, Krishna, Jatakas, other legends, public domain, comic books, Kindles... and by then, I hope students know their own likes well enough to make good reading choices from the HUGE range of options (literally hundreds of choices) that are available to them in those final weeks of the semester. Those final four weeks of all-out free reading begin this coming week, which is why I was updating things this weekend: double-checking Kindle prices, looking for new books to recommend, etc.
STUDENT READING NOTES. One of the things that happens when students are choosing from hundreds of things to read (which is the case in both of my classes), you cannot be controlling their reading with quizzes... well, I guess you could, but how wants to create hundreds of quizzes? Not me! So, instead of quizzing them on content, I ask the students to write blog posts with their reading notes, emphasizing the idea of "reading like a writer," because one of the forward-looking purposes of their reading each week is to find a story that they will rewrite/retell in their own words. For some students, it's clear that this idea of reading-to-write as opposed to reading-for-a-quiz is a new concept, and that is a really fun thing to work on. It's something I want to focus on more next year, where I am going to introduce more reading strategies (parallel to the way that I introduce students to storytelling strategies), since I can tell from their notes posts that some students are a bit lost when it comes to selecting their own notetaking strategies that are not just information-retrieval for taking a quiz. I would really like to get them used to the idea that notetaking is a very creative form of expression, open-ended and driven by their individual choices, their preferences, their curiosity as readers.
Anyway, as usual this blog post has gotten too long: there is more I could say here about social reading, what the students learn from reading the blogs of other students, and what I learn from that also... but I'll stop here just to say that I love reading, I love the public domain, and I love digital books... it's allowed me to do things with reading in my classes that I never would have dreamed possible when I first started teaching. And I wonder what kind of delights are yet to come...!