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Teachers choose books with eye to student interests

Staff carefully choose book lists with attention to student enjoyment and challenge level.

Every English class at Malvern has books assigned to students to read over the summer as well as throughout the year.

One of the goals in mind when picking the books students read is getting the students to enjoy the book. “We don’t have any uniform process that we abide by, generally we try to give everybody in the department the leeway to pick texts that they feel like they can dig into, and they feel will work with their classes,” English Department Leader Mr. Francis Rogai said.

“I just feel like in my mind that it’s so much better to do Nathaniel Hawthorne in the context of some of the other things that you learn, otherwise you’re reading it in a kind of vacuum on a beach in Avalon.”
-Ms. Nicole Wilkinson

Rogai explained that the teachers of each class have the ability to choose their own books. However, teachers seem to collaborate with teachers of the same subject and have the same book lists. They work together to make sure the books will be appropriate for the level of their classes and will relate to the curriculum of the course.

The freshmen english teachers have worked together to pick books that create an experience across the entire grade. Rogai said, “The last two years they’ve done ‘A Long Way Gone’ and ‘The Giver,’ and that was intentional, to try and create a unified experience at the start of their high school career.”

Some teachers choose books for other reasons. English teacher Ms. Nicole Wilkinson assigned the book “Threatened” by Eliot Schrefer. “I had suggested when it first came out because I know the author, and he had sent the research packets and a lot of really good activities we could do along with with the book,” she said.

Teacher Mr. John Bohannon has a special opportunity as he is the only teacher of the AP Literature classes. “I have complete freedom to choose what I want to,” Bohannon said. His students read six or seven books over the summer, and he referred to them as part of the course.

With there being so many books the students read, Bohannon and others in the English department also depend on student feedback when choosing new books and reviewing current books.

“At the end of the year I’ll ask which books did you like, which ones do you think we should toss, and that sometimes has led to changes,” Rogai said.

Bohannon agreed. “At the end of the year I take a survey of the kids about summer reading and books we read during the course of the year, and I say which ones would you keep, which ones would you get rid of, and it does change over the course,” he said.

Students also occasionally offer recommendations for books. “Sometimes students will reccomend summer reading books and we do look into them,” Wilkinson said.

Bohannon had an experience where a recommendation became part of the reading list. He said, “One time I had never heard of this book, it was a long time ago. It was called ‘Enders Game,’ and the kid said it was the best book he had ever read. So I made it the freshman book when I taught freshmen.”

Books are removed from reading lists for a variety of reasons.“When I first started teaching sophomores a couple of years ago, the honors sophomores were reading a bunch of Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories over the summer,” Wilkinson said. “They were really difficult to understand so they came in, like, I have no idea what was going on.”

Wilkinson explained that certain books such as the Hawthorne short stories make more sense in context of themes presented throughout the year. “I just feel like in my mind that it’s so much better to do Nathaniel Hawthorne in the context of some of the other things that you learn, otherwise you’re reading it in a kind of vacuum on a beach in Avalon,” she said.

While teachers try to choose books the students will enjoy, they are not trying to simply make the books easy to read. They are most interested in the cognitive benefit of the students.

“I think generally we want to give the faculty a chance to pick some things that might be challenging, that a student might not have read on their own, and try to rely on the expertise of the faculty to identify texts that are appropriate, challenging, and that students might find interesting,” Rogai said.

About Dan King

Dan has been involved with the Blackfriar Chronicle for two years and was promoted to Media and Culture editor this year. He is part of the rugby and squash teams as well as multiple clubs.

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