Does School Kill Leisure Reading?
By Catherine Van Weele
While assigned reading in English class is intended to benefit the student, many Novato High students have found reading to be a chore rather than a fun, leisure activity.
Each school year, teachers have three books they are required to assign students and then select another two from a list created by the Novato High English Department.
“We want students to have this shared experience in these culture touchstones from the novels,” said English teacher Kathryn Korff. “The selections that we chose are meant to push the students reading and to push them into new ideas and analysis; and if we just pick books that students liked we wouldn't be able to push their skills.”
Oftentimes, the books selected are chosen for their themes about the human nature, providing students with new insights on human interactions and behaviors as well as serving as social commentary. However, many students find it difficult to maintain interest in their assigned readings.
“Some of the books we read in class are a little hard to get started on, especially since you have to focus so much attention on it,” sophomore Samantha Rapp said. “Usually the books that we read, the plots aren’t as exciting as modern books and usually older books have a lesson in history.”
“Some of them are kind of long and kind of hard and you don't have time to read them; those ones I don't really like. But the ones that are interesting and intriguing and relatively short, I enjoy,” junior Aidan Parikh said.
Students have attached their disinterest in school readings to the essays and tests connected to them.
“Now I just read stuff for school and it makes me sad,” senior Hattie Bleeker said. “I feel like there’s an assignment attached to it so there’s more pressure to understand the book the way the teacher wants you to understand the book, instead of getting your own conclusion to it.”
Bleeker believes there should be a stronger focus on individual student analysis on the book. Students should share individual analyses rather than be tested on the book.
“It is interesting to balance ideas off of each other like balance individual analysis in a socratic seminar or something,” Bleeker said. “But if there's a test on the book, I don't think that’s the right way that people should be analyzing literature. The teacher has so much of a say in it, instead of just like here’s how I thought of the book and how does it compare to how you think of it?”
Korff notices that student interest in their reading reflects the grades they receive.
“Anytime any of us read, we are more engaged and thinking about it more, and that thought and reflection and enthusiasm definitely means you are more likely to write a strong essay or think that the assignments we do with the book are important. They put more energy into them,” Korff said.
Parikh believes students can still succeed even if students do not enjoy their reading.
“Even if you’re not interested, you can still understand the reading and you can still do well on it. But I guess you probably do better if you enjoy it because you’re more intrigued,” Parikh said.
Some students find independent reading assignments and choosing their own reading more enjoyable.
“I think independent reading is much more enjoyed because you get to choose what kind of genre you want and you’re still having to analyze the plot and themes,” Rapp said. “Compared to having to read a mandatory book and talking about the same thing every chapter, and you have to study more for the mandatory book because you have chapter quizzes.”
Parikh agrees students should have more individual choice.
“If you get a ton of books and a ton of readings assigned in school, you’re not going to want to read outside of school. So if you get a few interesting readings or choose your own reading and then write your own thing, then maybe students will find more genres and more things they are interested in and then they will like it better,” Parikh said. “But if they are forced to keep reading books and things that they don’t want, they’re not going to read on their own.”
Teachers and students agree that students should read both classics and modern books.
“I think there needs to be a balance of both,” said Korff. “I think that maintaining the classics is important but at the same time we have to introduce new literature because both tell us about what it means to be human and provide different things to think about.”
“It is one thing to be interested in old literature but if that’s all you're reading and it's all for school, it kind of gets a bad stigma,” Bleeker said. “If a teacher assigns something that's more up to date as well as the older stuff, then I think people would be more interested. Also I think presenting options to us is better because we can choose what we want.”
Not only might assigned school reading influence teenagers’ desire to read for fun, but the rise of social media is also believed to be a major influencer.
Rapp believes technology has been beneficial and damaging.
“I use my Kindle all the time and most of reading is electronic reading,” Rapp said. “But then my sister has an iPad and she watches more videos and TV. She doesn't pick up real books at all. She gets so focused on watching her YouTubers and all the jazz; she doesn't have time to read.”
Korff believes that technology and social media are not the only things that stop kids from reading.
“Students today spend a lot of time online and on social media, but I think there’s always been other things to do besides read,” Korff said.
Students need more freedom to chose the books they want to read. Teachers can encourage them to enjoy reading on their own. Forcing students to read only assigned books will result in a lack of effort and less appreciation for literature.