It’s an age-old question that every English teacher has wrestled with at some point: should I assign a whole class novel or let students read what they want? While my preference will always to be allow students to choose the books they want to read, I know that is not an option in every school or district.
As a teacher, you know that one of the most important parts of your job is choosing the right reading materials for your students. Curricular requirements aside, you want to make sure that the books you’re assigning are engaging and appropriate for your student’s abilities and interests. So how do you decide whether to assign a whole class novel or allow students to choose their own books? Here are some factors to consider.
In this blog, I want to explore the pros and cons of assigning choice reading vs whole-class novels. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of each approach.
The Pros of Choice Reading
When students are allowed to choose the books they read for class, they’re more likely to be engaged with the material. If a student is interested in the book they’re reading, they’re more likely to pay attention in class discussions and be willing to do reading work outside of class. In addition, students who are given choices are more likely to develop a lifelong love of reading.
Allowing students to choose their own reading books also gives you, the teacher, a chance to learn more about your students’ interests. This can be helpful when planning future lessons and assignments.
Additionally, giving students choices can help create a sense of community in your classroom. When students are able to share their favorite books with their classmates, they can develop relationships and bonds that go beyond the classroom.
One of the great things about being a teacher is that you get to help shape your students’ reading habits. If you’re looking to foster a love of reading in your students, choice reading is definitely the way to go.
The Cons of Choice Reading
However, there are also some drawbacks to allowing students to choose their own reading material. First, it can be difficult to ensure that all students are reading at an appropriate level if they’re choosing their own books. It’s important to make sure that students are being challenged, but not overwhelmed, by their reading material.
Another potential downside of choice reading is that it can be difficult to create common discussion points when students are all reading different books. It can be helpful to have a mentor text for the whole class so that everyone has a common text for learning skills and holding class discussions.
Some students may not be up to the challenge of choosing their own books and may take advantage of the situation and choose books that are easy or too short. However, I would argue that this by itself should not be the determining factor in dissuading anyone from choice reading. Having expectations and following up with conferences can help keep students reading books that will help them grow.
Whole Class Novels: The Pros
There are some definite advantages to assigning a whole class novel. Perhaps the most obvious one is that it allows you to ensure that everyone is reading the same material. This can make it easier to lead discussions and facilitate comprehension activities since everyone is reading the same story. Teaching reading skill can also be easier when students have examples from a common text.
Additionally, working through a novel together can help build a sense of community in your classroom—something that can be particularly beneficial if you have students who are struggling or feel disconnected from their classmates. Many books introduce topics that lend themselves to world discussions, life choices, and/or Social Emotional Learning (SEL) topics. Having a common story in which to discuss these things can bring up the level of discussion in your class. Reading a whole class novel can be a great way to teach your students about different cultures and worlds without them having to leave the comfort of your classroom.
Whole Class Novels: The Cons
However, there are also some potential drawbacks to assigning a whole class novel. One is that not every student will be interested in the book you’ve chosen, which can make it harder to keep them engaged. When students are not interested in the book they succumb to fake reading and doing the bare minimum.
Additionally, if you move too quickly through the book or don’t provide sufficient support, some students may struggle to understand what’s going on—and that can lead to frustration and discouragement. It is hard to meet individual learning goals when you are pushing everyone through a novel at the same time at the same speed. Even skilled readers read at different speeds.
So, which is better?
Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your students, your curriculum, and your school district. If you’re looking to create a love of reading in your students, choice reading is definitely the way to go. However, if you’re looking to ensure that everyone is understanding the same material at the same time, a whole class novel may be a better fit.
What do you think? Have you tried both whole class novels and choice reading in your classroom? What worked well for you and your students? Let us know in the Facebook group or in the comments below!