The Reading Teacher – Is Choice Enough?

Recently I asked Laura to share some reading teacher wisdom on a question I often hear. When students choose books they want to read, is that enough to ensure they become lifetime readers?

Enjoy Laura’s response.

I view that as the first step in their journey. Choice means the book interests the student. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students have selected a book they can actually read. Choice is a start—albeit an excellent start. But students need more than choice if they are going to want to read during free time at school and at home.  Transforming students who avoid reading, who fake read, has to do with head and heart!


When a book affects a student’s head and heart, a metamorphosis can occur. The book might change the reader’s thinking about a topic. The story might raise awareness of new feelings about a situation, a character, or person. A book has the power to transform the reader by heightening self-awareness.


During independent reading in an eighth-grade class, I heard a student sob.I looked up from the conference I was having.  Then Kira shouted, “You can’t do that! You just hurt Gilly so much.” Kira was reacting to Courtney, Gilly’s mother, returning to San Francisco and not staying with Gilly. That hit Kira in the gut. Her best friend’s mom had recently left. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t continue the conference. Kira needed me. I had to be there for her. Gently, I told Ben we would finish our conference later, and he could find a comfortable place to read. I bent down next to Kira and asked if she wanted to talk. She nodded and followed me out the door. Tears poured down her cheeks. “I felt so bad for Gilly,” she said. “I know why she never lasts at a foster home. She wants her mom.”


Like Kira, we want readers to feel the story, live life as if they are the character or person and leave the text changed.  So, the big question is, What can teachers do to make reading a transforming experience for students?  To help students experience the emotional and/or intellectual changeover that reading can bring about, teachers need to set aside time for students to read at school. Try reserving 20 to 30 minutes of independent reading time two to three times a week. When students read at school, they come to see how much their teacher values reading, and the habit can eventually become a treasured experience. In addition, include the experiences that follow–I can’t say enough how important each one is.


Put Books at the Center. Read aloud every day from books you love, you enjoy. Your passion for the book will spill over to your students. Cry. Laugh. Express your anger. This shows students the deep feelings books can arouse, and you give them the right to have similar feelings when they read. Encourage students to share books by book talking in class or through an online blog. Show students a book you’re currently reading and tell them why it’s compelling.

Provide time for students to sit back and reflect. Think about the time you closed a book and could hardly breathe. You needed time to relive some parts, to reread some pages, and just think about a character and what happened. This reflection is a key part of bonding students to books and reading. The text lingers, and the desire to keep what has happened in our minds stirs the enjoyment and pleasure readers feel. Reflection supports reading far more than answering ten questions or writing a summary.  

Make reading social. Students, like you and me, don’t want to answer ten questions about a book or write chapter summaries. They want to talk, to share parts that touched their hearts, to tell a classmate why he or she “must read the book.” The benefits of putting book talks online is that students can return to and reread posts that reveal what their classmates are reading. They can pose questions, write comments, and recommend other books about a similar topic, genre, or by a favorite author.  Encourage student-led discussions about books with a partner or small group.

Become a coach and a cheerleader. Coach reluctant readers by showing them how to find books they can read and want to read, who have difficulty decoding, or making meaning by connecting a text to their experiences. But, also make sure you’re their cheerleader, pointing out progress in a conversation, or even better, in a handwritten note that they can reread.

Suggest books to them, but always respect their choices.

Closing Reflection

When choice works in concert with the four elements, there’s a solid chance that the book will affect students’ minds and hearts. The hope is that students will want to revisit these thoughts and feelings and choose a new book.  We teachers need to find ways to help students experience reading as a transformational experience.

Enjoy this great book by Laura: Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student