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A new kind of reading assignment: Pick only books you like


A movement is under way to revolutionize the way literature is taught in U.S. schools, reports the New York Times. For years, Lorrie McNeill loved teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird," the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage. But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, McNeill did not assign "Mockingbird"–or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in Georgia. The approach McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a growing movement. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on. Fans of the new approach say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading. But critics say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics–often-difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves…

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