No, you may not read this for outside reading: 

Don't mind me, I'm just sitting shirtless on a ball of straw.

Or this:

So bad they can't show faces.

The English Department at our school has decided to implement mandatory outside reading- something I've never done, since teenagers are cheaters. They aren't bad kids, they just get lazy or wait until the last minute. But now that I am teaching IB students I really believe that this is a necessary move and would have done it even if it wasn't policy- students simply aren't reading enough academic or literary works that will help them prepare for the texts in college. Sure, some of them read, but the majority of it is books that belong in the "reading for pleasure" category- YA fiction, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, etc... These books aren't going to help them build better vocabularies or develop the comprehension skills necessary for higher-level books. 

With that in mind I told my students that the 700 pages they have to read per semester has to be approved by me, and that it has to be a text (nonfiction or fiction) that lends itself to college readiness (they also have some assignments to do with it). Basically, I've become the Outside Reading Nazi* in a matter of a week. I have to admit I'm kinda sorta loving having the authority to veto the less challenging (I didn't say "crap"- this is all kinds of progress, guys) books they come up with. The ultimate power trip for a book nerd like myself.

I'd say 75% of the 150 IB kids I have are embracing the challenge- they've asked about Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, On the Road, Macbeth, Into the Wild, Oedipus, The Odyssey, The Bluest Eye, To the Lighthouse, Eva Luna, The Left Hand of Darkness, and plenty of other great titles (and don't worry, their parents have to approve what they read... I know not every parent is as liberal as mine were). And I'm not being insanely, unreasonably picky- I'm letting one girl read The Help and another a horror story by HP Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, some are really struggling to come up with quality selections (see pictures above). The first day I was a little frustrated, but it occurred to me that they really just don't know what distinguishes "for fun" books and "for at least semi-academic purposes" books. I've worked with several of the students to try to figure out what their interests are and suggest books that I think would work, so we'll see. I am a little concerned that some of these kids are going to be in shock making the transition between text types, but, honestly, I ultimately don't care. If they want to survive IB and go to college they have to make the jump. It's for their own good. 

I know a lot of teachers are letting their students read whatever they want, and I did seriously consider that option. But then I read their summer work and saw the difficulties the students were having with higher level fiction and realized these kids need to stretch themselves. Whatever they're reading right now probably isn't working (not for all, though, some of them read great stuff- many of those kids are the same ones that write well, too, of course). Believe it or not, I've actually felt some guilt telling kids that they had to find a new book. Didn't see that coming! I want them to develop a love of reading, which I know is hard when you're having your titles being shot down, but they also need to be prepared for IB testing and college, and Nicky Sparks is not going to help them there. I'm hoping, though, as they transition to their second and third books they'll start seeing the value.

They'll thank me later.

*No disrespect to Jewish readers; the Nazis were bad, bad people.


  1. Hahaha I think I would enjoy that power, too.

  2. I'm curious, where do you stand on Tolkein? I nixed The Hobbit for my seniors last year, but have second thoughts going forward.

    1. One or two asked about the Lord of the Rings, so I let them. I'm on the fence too, about The Hobbit- it really is a kid's book. I think if they ask I'll just direct them to LOTR. I think it would be a great choice for kids with maybe a little bit lower of a reading level, though.

  3. Here's a pretty great flowchart of 101 reading choices based on personal interest.

  4. I want this power...only I want to be able to wield it over adults...

    You are a very lucky woman ;).

  5. I'm surprised there isn't some sort of master list of acceptable fiction you can give them. Didn't we have one at MoHigh? I seem to remember one...

    You could make your copious amounts of spare time, haha.