What Students Read When They Can Read Anything

Our school's current media center book display of Teacher Favorites.

Our school’s current media center book display of Teacher Favorites.

Back in December, I posted a list of books students in my classes were reading. Now, four months later, my students are still reading, and I’ve added two new classes of readers to the mix. Today I made a list of books they are currently reading.

I think I can unscientifically discern some interesting trends when comparing the December and April lists. First, here is the new list:

Peter Abrahams: Reality Check
Jay Asher: Thirteen Reasons Why (3)
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler: The Future of Us (3)
Jay Bilus: Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court
S. A. Bodeen: The Compound
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Joan Brady: God on a Harley
Sam Brower: Prophet’s Prey
Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything
A.J. Butcher: Spy High: Mission One
Meg Cabot: Big Boned
Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game
Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales
Cinda Williams Chima: The Dragon Heir
Cinda Williams Chima: The Exiled Queen
Cassandra Clare: Clockwork Princess
Emma Clayton: The Whisper
Peter Clines: Ex-Heroes
Susane Colasanti: Take Me There
Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins: Mockingjay (3)
Ally Condie: Matched
Damien Cox and Gare Joyce: The Ovechkin Project
Chris Crutcher: Angry Management
Chris Crutcher: Deadline
James Dashner: The Maze Runner
James Dashner: The Scorch Trials
Penelope Delta: In the Heroic Age of Basil II: Emperor of Byzantium
Sarah Dessen: What Happened to Goodbye
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2
Debra Driza: Mila 2.0
Susan Ee: Angelfall
Simone Elkeles: How to Ruin Your Boyfriend’s Reputation
Laura Ellen: Blind Spot
Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho
John Feinstein: Last Shot
Jim Fergus: One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
John Flanagan: Ranger’s Apprentice
Alex Flinn: Beastly
Gregory A. Freeman: The Forgotten 500
Betty Friedan: The Feminine Mystique
Neil Gaiman: Stardust
Jean Craighead George: My Side of the Mountain
David Macinnis Gill: Black Hole Sun (2)
William Golding: Lord of the Flies (2)
Jim Gorant: The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption
John Green: An Abundance of Katherines
John Green: The Fault in Our Stars (3)
John Green: Paper Towns
Julie Halpern: Have a Nice Day (2)
Lorraine Hansberry: A Raisin in the Sun
Jack Higgins: Storm Warning
Charlie Higson: Double or Die
Ellen Hopkins: Burned
Ellen Hopkins: Crank
Ellen Hopkins: Impulse
Silas House: Eli the Good
Anthony Horowitz: Stormbreaker
Michael Hingson: Thunder Dog
Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner
Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Stephen King: 11/22/63
Karen Kingsbury: Unlocked
S. J. Kincaid: Insignia (2)
Jo Knowles: See You at Harry’s
Chris Kyle: American Sniper
Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg: Why Do Men Have Nipples?
Lois Lowry: The Giver
Marie Lu: Prodigy (2)
Mike Lupica: Summer Ball
Mike Lupica: Travel Team
Elizabeth Lunday: Secret Lives of Great Composers
Kimberly Marcus: Exposed
J. H. Marks: Conspiracy Theory
George R. R. Martin: A Game of Thrones
Morgan Matson: Second Chance Summer
Cormac McCarthy: The Road
Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus
Jaclyn Moriarty: A Corner of White
Kate Kae Myers: The Vanishing Game
Joe Navarro: What Every Body is Saying
Patrick Ness: The Ask and The Answer
Tim O’Brien: Going After Cacciato
James Patterson: Angel
James Patterson: London Bridges
Susan Beth Pfeffer: Life As We Knew It
Jodi Picoult: Change of Heart
Alexandra Robbins: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
Jeremy Roenick: J. R.
Veronica Roth: Divergent
J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
Nic Sheff: Tweak
Tim Shoemaker: Code of Silence
Robin Sloan: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Jennifer E. Smith: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Lemony Snicket: Who Could That Be at This Hour?
Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver
Bram Stoker: Dracula
Todd Strasser: Boot Camp
Danny Sugarman: Appetite for Destruction: The Days of Guns N’ Roses
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (2)
Richard Ungar: Time Snatchers
Ned Vizzini: It’s Kind of A Funny Story
Alice Walker: The Color Purple
Jessica Warman: Beautiful Lies
Scott Westerfield: Extras
Daisy Whitney: The Rivals
Evan Wright: Generation Kill
Gabrielle Zevin: Elsewhere
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (2)
Markus Zusak: I Am The Messenger

How does this list compare to the earlier list? I see more nonfiction titles now than earlier in the year. I have no idea why. Is it possible that these bright kids are now thinking a bit more bookishly and seeking out books derived from their interests outside of English class—for example, from science, history, athletics, music, or church?

I also see a higher percentage of non-YA titles now than before. I don’t necessarily see this as progress, but it might indicate that students are now open to more genres. One of the ideas I lifted from Penny Kittle’s Book Love is encouraging students to stretch themselves as readers. In January, I asked students to indicate at least one “stretch” book on their to-be-read list. Maybe some of those seeds are starting to grow.

Many of these students freely admit that they have not read a book in high school until entering my class. When that fact is coupled with a belief that students must pick up where they left off in their reading lives before they can climb any reading ladders, it makes sense that early in the year we would see a higher percentage of YA titles. After reading book after book throughout the school year, some ladders are now being climbed, and we’re seeing more self-selected non-YA books showing up in class.

We have about two months of school left, less for seniors. My biggest concern is what will happen to these students as readers over the summer when they do not have reading time automatically built into their schedules.

Penny Kittle’s Book Love has some wise words about that too:  “Summer is not the time to toss in the books we can’t get to during the school year or the books we think will make our school look more impressive if we require them. It’s not the time to make students who want to take honors English ‘earn’ it. Summer means they’re on their own. Summer reading in most schools is absent instruction or discussion. Many students won’t have parents reading beside them, ready to talk. We need books that can and will be read independently” (151).

I’m proud of the growth I’ve seen in these students over the course of our time together as readers. Although they will no longer be students in my class after the last bell rings in June, and many of them will no longer be high school students, my strongest hope for them is that they will continue to read and continue to grow as readers.

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10 Responses to What Students Read When They Can Read Anything

  1. Gary,
    Will the kids have access to you over the summer? Can they continue blogging on the Ning? Do they have their own blogs? I just wonder if somehow you can keep the culture going over the summer. A Weebly, perhaps, that they can all meet on? Or Edmodo? Let us know if you’re doing anything along those lines… I’d like to start a reading community “meet up” for my students this summer.

  2. JenniferM says:

    What a great list! It’s wonderful that you are seeing them grow in their choices, just as Penny writes about. My students have gone from non-readers to readers who are excited about their books, and I fear the summer slide just like you do! I hope many teachers who need to hear the power of independent reading find their way to your post. Thanks for spreading this important message!

  3. Pingback: What Students Read When They Can Read Anything ...

  4. Penny Kittle says:

    You are the teacher I wish I had had in high school, Gary. What a triumph.

  5. Love the list!!!! And I really appreciate your analysis of the changes you’ve found throughout the year, too. It’s incredible what students are capable of and what they will do if given choice, encouragement, and opportunity. Awesome.

  6. Glenda says:

    Gary,
    Tell your students about SYNC’s free audio book program for teens–two free books each week, one YA and one classic.

  7. Pingback: On Reading a YA (Young Adult) Book for Danyal | Book Jacket Letters

  8. Gary,

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. This list is awesome and exactly what people need to see. You should be proud of everything your students are reading. They have a great model and mentor in front of them each day. Hopefully you’ll hear a lot of these ideas and sentiments echoed at our department meeting next week.

  9. Pingback: What Students Read When They Can Read Anything ...

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