Renaissance Learning’s annual look at what books students choose when they read for pleasure found high school students reading “far fewer words” than younger students and middle and high school students choosing books that are below grade level.
That first finding might well be troubling, but it will surprise no one who interacts with adolescents (or who has ever been one themselves)—the thinner, bigger-font book seems to reach out and grab us rather than the other way around.
But students may unwittingly be getting help from their teachers when it comes to picking below grade-level books.
In a national survey of English, language arts, and reading teachers released last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the subgroup of teachers who said they do not assign novels for the whole class to read were asked, “When you help individual students pick a novel to read, which of these are you more likely to consider: a student’s reading level or the grade level of the class?” The vast majority of elementary school teachers (83 percent), a majority of middle school teachers (57 percent), and more than one-third of high school teachers (36 percent) picked the former; barely handfuls (between 3 and 7 percent) said they mostly rely on “the grade level of the class.”
This is not to say that teachers don’t care about grade level. Larger numbers of middle and high school teachers chose the “something else” category, which included a combination of both ability and appropriate grade level, as...