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Marketing books to high school students

Posted By: James McCabe on May 20, 2003
A couple of suggestions about how to increase the volume of reading accomplished by high school students with reading problems:

1. Find high quality reading lists
If your budget allows, try to move away from the standard history textbook and push the curriculum toward more reading assignments from biographies and novels which may be of higher interest and written at a wider variety of reading levels. One resource is an excellent reading list called “Doing the Decades” which has books on each decade of the 20th century. This list was complied by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN) and is online at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/spring99/brewbaker.html

2. Internal Marketing
Berkeley Carroll, a private school which I admire in Brooklyn NY, has its humanities teachers publicize their reading lists before a semester begins and students then make choices of classes based on their commitment to the books. I haven’t seen this approach in public secondary schools, but it might help build a commitment to specific titles before a semester starts. And it might give weak readers a chance to gain a head start on reading assignments. Could parents become more involved if reading lists are public and choice is required?

3. Tie each book to writing assignments.
Many schools believe that by tying reading assignments to writing assignments they are able to reduce the number of students who try “to get over” on reading by just listening to class discussions rather than actually reading. If a teenager can only complete the writing assignment by actually having read the book, there may be some increase in the number of students who read the whole book. Of course, the instructors have to be tough-minded enough to return writing assignments which don’t refer to the book being read.

4. Tie the personal to the historical in writing assignments if possible.
In many years of teaching writing at a community college in New York City, I found that providing a space for the personal in writing assignments seemed to lead to a lot more energy in these assignments. For example, in writing about a biography of Thurgood Marshall, I asked students to compare their early schooling to what Marshall received in Jim Crow Baltimore.

5. Fight the battle for an American Studies program so each teacher will face only 80 students. Critics have argued for years that the 160 students a day that secondary school teachers face will limit writing assignments. One widely proposed solution is to combine history and English so that each instructor will face only 80 students. I hope that you are already in this situation.

If I can be more any more help, please email me at work: jmccabe@american.edu

Jim McCabe

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 Teaching high school aged non and low readers to read by R. Warren Donelan on April 15, 2003
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