English department considering book choice for all classes

Chau Nguyen

The English department is considering self-selected book choices for all classes starting next year. The new model serves as an attempt to enhance students’ comprehension and engagement in reading while also introducing a more racially diverse book selection.

English teacher Spencer Nissly and English Department Chair Jennifer McLaughlin are currently implementing the model into their AP English Language and English III classes. The results will be evaluated in the English department for further adjustments. “The books are split into three categories right now, as we test it out and fine tune it,” Nissly said. 

The first category of the curriculum is unit books, from which students choose two to read.

The second category is a list of books divided into two timeframes: classic, which have publication dates ranging from ancient to 1989; and contemporary, from 1990 to the present. Each timeframe features established sections of literature, which include American, World, poetry, and short stories or essays. Nonfiction is expected to be added next year. Individual timeframes are characterized as “Mild,” “Medium,” and “Spicy” based on Lexile level, book length, subject matter, style and language. Students choose at least one book from this list.

The third category is self-selection, where students read two books of their choosing. The options can be, but are not limited to: Young Adult novels, fan fiction, graphic novels, biographies of a famous person, and others.

Academic rigor is also achieved by having students participate in weekly journals and conferences rather than reading checks or tests, Nissly explained. By allowing students to choose books out of personal preference, teachers hope to address the lack of diversity and representation in curricular book choice. “Even though we try really hard as a department, the [books] still end up skewing towards having more white male authors. This is hopefully trying to address the problem, when students are able to self-select books whose authors are not just white men,” sophomore English teacher Joseph Welch said.

The idea of self-selected reading is one that many English teachers are excited about and eager to try out with their classes. There is much room for discussion and modification; however, Nissly has already noticed promising results from his students. “I think it’s a really effective way of encouraging reading without forcing any certain books,” junior Walker Price said, who chose to read Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides for the third advisory. “[The new model] gives students choice in what and how they read, making it far more enjoyable in my opinion.”