Sunday, August 30, 2009

What They're Reading in Edgecomb

Who could miss the big article on the front page of the NY Times this morning about reading workshop? The piece profiles a teacher from Georgia who spends a week with Nancie Atwell at her school in Maine. (Full disclosure: I did that too!) Afterwards, she goes back home and reorganizes her reading program, basing it on student-selected texts. The reporter, Motoko Rich, summarizes the rationale behind the reading workshop, and she gives a round-up of several schools and systems that are using it, either in whole or in part, in order to motivate their students to read more and more thoughtfully.

I use a reading workshop in my sixth grade English class, and I have since I started teaching in 1993. Atwell's In the Middle was a required text in my graduate program, and her argument for engaging student agency resonated with me from the first. I wanted my class to be like hers: a place where kids really cared about what they were reading and writing and actively worked to improve their literacy skills and knowledge because it was important to them. Choice and accountability within a predictable structure are the keys to creating such a dynamic climate. Sixteen years later, I find it's still an ongoing process, which only makes sense, right?

Anyway. Like the Memphis article I posted about a few days ago, the comments on this one are fascinating to read, especially those written by non-educators. Many people are against such an approach on the grounds that we can't trust kids to choose quality literature. In their minds, it is the teacher's job to coerce and motivate kids to read texts of value. I must say I appreciate Ms. Rich's thoughtful and well-reasoned responses to several of these comments. She does an excellent job clarifying and extending the discussion while addressing the questions and concerns raised.

AND it's kind of cool that this conversation is happening in such a high profile place.


  1. My friend, Susan Straight, has a companion piece about the reading programs that assign numberical values to certain books. It's in the books section and she also comments that programs like this skew a child's interest, where we should give them chances to find the books they love, books that will possibly change their lives.


  2. Um, in the New York Times.

    (forgot to say that)