Assigned Reading Causes Mixed Reactions in Students

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Books assigned by Chamblee teachers

Christina Jordan, Author

Teacher-assigned books, meant to promote appreciation and understanding of great literature, seems to have the opposite effect on some students.

“It’s just when they assign it, it makes me not want to read it, no matter how interesting,” said Rouse Moreno, a freshman at Chamblee. “Most of the the time if we don’t have interest in something, we tend not to do it. Or at least we don’t actually retain any of the information.”

Keren Sahar, also a freshman, echoed the sentiment.

“I feel like whenever you’re assigned a book, it makes you less inclined to enjoy it.” she said.

Moreno believes that it’s reverse psychology that’s behind the phenomenon—teenagers don’t like being told what to do, or what to read. Others disagree.

“But I think one of the biggest problems with it is when a student is assigned to read a book, they take a lot less interest in in it than if they choose the book,” said senior Manav Mathews. “When the teachers provide choices of books and then you choose from the books, you get more that sense of ‘I’m reading this book because I want to read it and not just because I have to’.”

Mathews remembers his freshman year, when his teacher did give the class that freedom.

“We had a choice between two or three books and I chose “Illustrated Man”,” he said. “And that’s probably one of my favorite assigned readings that I’ve had. It was a really interesting book.”

Sahar gives a similar view, but has a different focus.

“If you’re given an option, it makes you more inclined to want to read it,” said Sahar. “I think that assigned reading is important, but they should also give more of a choice in what the kids can read. The students should be able to choose within a certain subject.”

Content of the book was also an issue for Bryce Messer.

“Normally the books that teachers pick for us to be assigned reading are classic books,” said Messer. “They’re books that are well known, normally best-sellers, so the content is really high-quality, but lots of times they’re not really that interesting to us.”

Christine Holland, the head librarian, daily comes into contact with students’ tastes.

“I notice a lot of fantasy, sci fi, and manga, and a lot of realistic fiction.” said Holland.

Holland is allowed to carry up to two copies of the same book, so she also keeps an eye on what teachers are assigning, so students can access these books.

“Teachers are picking a lot more contemporary novels, which is good because students are liking them,” said Holland. “Yet I feel like the classics need to be taught.”

Another source of dissatisfaction is the way that assigned reading is structured.

“They should give us more projects on it, rather than just have us reading it,” said Victoria Lin. “I don’t like assigned reading when it’s just done for busywork.”

Since teachers handle their courses differently, students have a wide variety of experiences with assigned reading.

“In our department we have a lot of freedom to choose literature,” said Shervette Miller-Payton, who formerly taught English and is now the assistant principal at Chamblee. “Traditionally, we want certain books to happen in certain grades, so if you’re reading a book, in ninth grade, a tenth grade teacher won’t choose it. But for the most part we choose based on what we love and what’s in the bookroom.”

Often, a student’s ideal structure for a novel may be the reality in another class.

“I actually like how she’s having discussions and assigning pages, and not just an entire section to read in a couple of days,” said Moreno. “She’s doing piece by piece, and the end of a part in the book, she discusses what happened. I like that because I can see things differently and understand things that I didn’t understand before.”

Deadlines also are a common complaint.

“Teachers seem to think that you have nothing better to do than to read the books that they assign you, so they assign way too much reading in a short period of time,” said Messer.

Messer says that this usually prevents him from reading other books at the same time, and enjoying the ones he is able to read.

“It’s just that thinking about reading makes me think about the assigned reading, which makes me dread it, like a chore,” said Messer. “But when there’s no assigned reading assigned, when it’s the summer or something, I can just read a book for pleasure. I won’t feel forced to read.”

Some feel that deadlines cause unnecessary stress.

“The way teachers I’ve had have done is just like read every single day,” said Mathews. “Which I think if you put in break days then it’s just better, and it makes it more flexible for students who have a lot of homework one day they can catch up on the day assigned for breaks.”

However, that change may be unlikely.

“Well, I think it’s important that students be reading every single day,” said Adrienne Keathley, a teacher of AP Literature and Composition and AP British Literature. “It’s the only way to improve vocabulary. Also, the way to improve one’s writing is through reading, in terms of syntactic variety, understanding fluency, the building of piece of fiction, there’s a real artistry to it.”

Assigned reading is something students just have to deal with.

“It’s not going anywhere,” said Keathley. “And it extends beyond you secondary schooling. Once you get to college and you get to your graduate studies, your doctorate, however far you want to go, there is assigned reading for said degrees.”