How many students learn for the sake of learning? It’s a question I think about a lot in this age of overtesting. In New York, children start with the ELA, Math, and Science tests in the early grades and then move on to the PSATs, SATs/ACTs, Regents, and AP/IB exams in high school. It’s no wonder that all too often learners lose sight of their natural thirst for knowledge.
Realistically there’s not much I can do to change this testing culture, although if it were up to me I’d mandate that all school curriculums be centered around books and independent reading. Studies like The Impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success have shown that reading increases the average academic grades of high school students (2013). What I can do, though, is urge teachers to encourage their students to read more.
Anyone who works in a high school knows that there’s a lull after the weeks of AP/IB exams. It’s a time that teachers try to fill with meaning, creating assignments and projects to engage the students. After the stress of studying for the exams, teens usually do the minimum amount of work required to get a decent grade in the class. After all, they know that the hard part is over. I’ve seen teachers create innovative post-AP projects involving mediums such as podcasts and film making, but their efforts are not embraced by burnt-out students.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I say let’s go back to the basics and have students read books for the rest of the year. They may initially groan at the thought of reading a book or two (sad as that sounds!). But when presented to them as simple assignments that they’ll have time in class to complete, they’re likely to see the appeal: no brainstorming ideas, no late nights writing papers, no coordinating group meet-ups with classmates. Just straight up reading with a few reflection questions to answer afterward. With so many narrative nonfiction and relatable fiction works out there, readers are sure to connect in some way with one of the options. Unless they’re students who struggle with reading (if you haven’t listened to the podcast series Sold A Story, it’s a must!), they’ll likely think reading a book is easy compared to the intense AP/IB assignments they’ve had all year.
Though there are dozens of books related to the AP/IB subjects, I created a list with four titles for each corresponding AP course offered in my high school. I emailed the list to staff members, including a link to 20 reflection questions separated into academic, inquiry-based, motivational, and personal categories. Offering to help teachers implement end-of-year reading activities, I invited them to bring their classes into the school library, where I can teach a research, writing, or reading reflection lesson to their students.
Though many teachers feel pressure to invent dynamic final projects for their AP/IB courses, by setting aside time for silent reading during class periods they will strengthen students’ critical thinking in the final months of school. As school librarians, we don’t have a say about what’s in the curriculum for each subject but by providing teachers with easy access to books and reading-related assignments, we can play a part in promoting reading among teens even outside the school library.
“The impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success.” Sam Houston State University, https://www.shsu.edu/academics/education/journal-of-multidisciplinary-graduate-research/documents/2016/WhittenJournalFinal.pdf. Accessed 31 March 2023.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.