The last post concerned elementary teachers who read to their classes. Today I'm thinking of those who teach middle school.

Research has all sorts of things to say about the middle school brain, but anyone who's worked with kids that age knows the basics: they're fluttery. They don't often sit still, they are anxious about themselves and how they fit in with others. So how does that fit with reading?

The most successful teachers I've known in middle school English let students have choices about what they read. There are lots of great books available, and good teachers have them lying all over their classrooms: mysteries, relationship books, comedies, real-life stories, etc. Students who wouldn't touch a novel will often devour books that list world records for strange things or books that describe spooky events that supposedly happen. Other students have already found their reading niche and are working their way through everything ever written by Stephen King or whoever. A few are way ahead of the curve and challenge themselves with Shakespeare, Hemingway, or the like.

The good teacher at this level is a guide rather than a dictator, because this is the age when kids want to have choices. It's also the age when we lose them if they aren't allowed some leeway. Somewhere around age eleven many kids stop loving school, books, and learning, and we don't really know why. But good teachers keep them interested with what may seem to some like trickery: gimmick books, light books, funny books, magazines, and even pamphlets on how to deal with your parents. I say good for them: whatever works to keep those reading skills building is good. I've seen it work, and I applaud teachers who arrange for reading kids can enjoy.

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Comment by Dana King on November 22, 2007 at 3:43am
I heartily agree. I also worry that a love of books (music, too) is drummed out of children of any school age, as they are made to read "important" literature they may not be ready for. They may lack the life experience to relate to the book, and the entire thing becomes an ordeal to them. Later in life, they won't dream of reading anything "good" or "important," as they remember what it was like when they were younger.

I reread THE GRAPES OF WRATH a few years. It was like I'd never seen it before. I've also read, and enjoyed, some of Faulkner's short stories. But there's no way I'm trying A LIGHT IN AUGUST again. The scars are still there.

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