Let’s be real: the average high-schooler doesn’t get home from a long day at school and cozy up with an 800 page American Gothic Novel (and who would blame ‘em). Sure, it’s not unheard of for teens to stay up into the wee hours binge reading Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or The Hate U Give—but reading for English class is another story. But why? Does J.K. Rowling have the corner on the Gen Z mind? Is young adult fiction the only genre worth a teen’s time?
As Dumbledore reminded us in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Jam-packed wisdom with a simple truth: choice matters. So much of what makes reading for fun fun is getting to CHOOSE what to read. And innovative Memphis educators are using that idea to inspire a new generation of literary scholars.
Traditionally, high school English has a heavy emphasis on reading classic literature. But research suggests that students engage more with reading if they are invested in the content.
If fostering a love for reading is what really matters, why not give students the chance to choose to read what they are actually interested in? What could students’ investment in their reading look like if their curriculum was designed to fit their interests?
For students at the Collegiate School of Memphis (CSM), this dream for a student-centered English experience is now a reality.
CSM English teacher Thomas Pillow shared that “A few years ago, a few other English teachers and I were reflecting on our time with students and realizing we weren’t satisfied with their volume of reading.” Pillow and his colleagues also realized they needed to make a change.
To help excite students about reading and writing, CSM pivoted away from traditional English classes to a curriculum designed with the students’ interests in mind.This semester at Collegiate, scholars in grades 10-12 can choose from a variety of genre-themed English classes: Coming of Age Literature, Women’s Literature, Mysteries and Psychological Thrillers, or Sci-Fi and Fantasy.
We know what you’re thinking: where were those classes when I was in school!? Through these high-interest classes, instructors aim to increase students’ engagement with the material while also growing their literacy skills.
“Now our students have agency in what they want to study, what they want to read, and what they want to write,” Mr. Pillow explained.
Justin Siebert, CSM’s STEM Department Chair and newly-appointed Sci-Fi and Fantasy teacher, shared his hopes for the future of these new classes: “I’m excited to see [students] grow as writers—every time we work on a new story or a new draft they’re getting to implement things they learned from the previous draft.”
CSM will continue to engage students through reading and writing in the spring semester with innovative nonfiction literature subjects, including Business, Social Justice, Mental Health, and True Crime and Criminology. With so many great options, it will make it hard for students to pick! Whatever their choice, it’s the opportunity to choose that will make all the difference.
In the words of Mr. Pillow, “Choice maximizes engagement. So we’re trying to maximize that choice so we can maximize engagement.”