Reading Materials Choice in Secondary Schools

The introduction of the Common Core across the schools in the U.S was aimed at providing students with clear and consistent goals that are expected to prepare the students for their future college, career, and general life. The Common Core standards are inclusive as they stipulate what students are supposed to learn in each grade so that the guardians and teachers can support them. However, the issue of text complexity has become central in matters relating to what the secondary school kids are reading and what they should be learning. There are several voices and stances relating to the issue. As such, different authors have tried to shed light on the matter of what the kids should be reading. Therefore, the following paper examines some of the key authors’ sediments to determine the most relevant voice and stance concerning the subject of the reading materials in secondary schools.

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The selection of the reading materials and their relevance to students has elicited mixed reactions for many years. This is due to various issues such as the complexity of the selected texts and their relevance to students. Therefore, it is important to ensure that what students read resonates with their expectations in the context of the 21st developments. After reading the resources by the various authors, the stance I most agree with is that of David E. Kirkland, in the article “Teaching the (Uni) Verse: An Essay for Teachers of Languages, Texts, and Cultures.” The entire work by Kirkland (2013) resonates with what a transformative education should be all about in the 21st century, i.e. leading to the liberation of the learner. Literacy should be connoted by its ability to emancipate the learner from ignorance. As such, Kirkland (2013) argues that a student should not just read the words on a page but should go further and understand the world beyond the text. In essence, the author is pointing to the need of the students being exposed to different texts which reflect the globalized society rather than being limited to a universe in which the teachers have defined boundaries by selecting specific texts for them.

Specifically, the part of the stance that resonated with me is that literacy should be about teaching anything meaningful to the students and that helps them to tell their story (Kirkland, 2013). Kirkland (2013) further states, “This kind of literacy, critical literacy, is very much about reading the world to expose what’s hidden in it to challenge unfair conditions that plague people” (p. 43). The sediment points out to the importance of critical thinking in teaching the learners different texts that they can relate to; besides, Kirkland’s (2013) notion ensures that literacy is in line with social, political, and cultural issues that affect the young adolescents.

By teaching anything meaningful, it points out to the fact that the learners have some background knowledge. This is very important in addressing the issue of complexity as it enhances the interaction between the student and the book (Shanahan, Fisher, & Frey, 2012). Shanahan et al. (2012) pointed out that the background the student such as experiential, influences, cognitive factors and developmental factors affects the ability to fathom the qualities of a text; thus, the issue of complexity can be overcome through the interest which emerges due to the free interaction. In realism, it denotes the relevance of the text to the learners rather than the complexity. Such sediments also relate Tonya B. Perry and B. Joyce Stallworth’s article “21st-Century Students Demand a Balanced, More Inclusive Canon”. The argument by Perry and Stallworth (2013) discourages the reading literature which is mono-ethnic as it limits the student’s ability to think about the other cultures. Instead, the literature should help the students relate to the realities of the 21st century such as increasing the cultural knowledge; thus, the need for a balanced and more inclusive canon which should factor in the experiences of the students.

Even though most of the resources provide an in-depth analysis of what the students should be learning, there are some stances provided by the authors that to some degree limits the participation of the students in the learning process. For example, I disagree with Wepner and Strickland (2008) on how children’s literature should be selected. Wepner and Strickland (2008) stipulate the need for the materials chosen to cover a variety of genres, which is recommendable; however, the proposed selection seems to be limited to traditional texts and a variety of challenging topics. The main shortcoming of the authors’ arguments is that the primary focus is on the graphics and illustrations, cohesiveness, special features, and text accuracy. These are important in the learning but at the same time, they are not explorative, and hence the likelihood to maintain the traditional texts that do not represent the realities of contemporary society. Also, the selection of such books is dictated by the administrators and teachers who put more focus on what they believe is good for the students.

It is important to supervise what the children should be reading but not on a level that it becomes a dictum that fails to consider the modern requirements. A case in point, one standard of the common core is that it should be “based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills.” This implies that it should be rife to the needs of the students. As such, Perry and Stallworth state, “… the reading curriculum must reflect our global society, and to ignore the impact of technology on today’s young adolescents would be a disservice, given that media is endemic in the way our students interact daily” (p. 16). Teachers should not impose reading materials that are not relevant to the contemporary society because they result in the students not only losing interest in reading but also in the evaluation and critical thinking which are concepts of Common Core (Wombat, 2012).

My point of view is that students should be given the liberty to select texts which they feel ‘talk’ to their lives. This should be done with the assistance of the teachers rather than the teachers solely choosing the reading materials for them. It resonates with Gilmore (2011) who stated that there should be respect for what students want to say and how they think through the help of the teachers. This will create interest in the reading and develop their evaluation and critical thinking skills. This calls for an approach in which all the key stakeholders should be included in deciding what the students should be learning. According to Wepner and Strickland (2008), instructional materials adopted have a direct impact on students learning. In such a case, literary texts should not be imposed on the students without evaluating the impact they are likely to have on them. Besides, the key stakeholders include the administrators, the teachers, parents, and students. However, in most cases, there is an implicit dictum in which educators and administrators provide the list of the materials they believe are good and designate them as “acceptable” texts. In essence, this locks out the students from exploring new texts which may resonate with them and are more relevant in the 21st century. According to Gilmore (2011) in most cases, students are told, “Read this, it’s good for you.”(p. 47). The mandate to read the dictated texts hinders the joy which students could have had if they discovered the reading materials on their own.

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The secondary school teachers can deal with the issue of text complexity by coming up with intervention measures to address the challenges. For example, they should help the students to develop decoding skills by allowing them to practice reading the same texts. The teachers should help the students to make sense of the texts, i.e. understanding the meaning and relating to different contexts (Shanahan et al., 2012). Also, the teachers should help the learners establish purpose about the text they read. This is in relation to the importance of the information to avoid confusion that results due to failure by students to understand the intention of the texts. This will also help in fostering motivation and persistence among the students.

References

Gilmore, B. (2011). Worthy texts: Who decides? Educational Leadership, 68(6), 46-50.

Kirkland, D. (2013). Teaching the (Uni)Verse: An essay for teachers of languages, texts, and cultures. Voices from the Middle, 21(1), 41-47.

Perry, T., & Stallworth, B. (2013). 21st-Century students demand a balanced, more inclusive canon. Voices from the Middle, 21(1), 15-18.

Shanahan, T., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2012). The challenge of challenging text. Educational Leadership, 69(1), 58-62.

Wepner, S. & Strickland, D. (2008). The administration and supervision of reading programs (4th ed.). New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.

Wombat, H.C. (2012). Re: 4 ways high school makes you hate reading. Web.

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