English teacher introduces recreational reading program in her classroom

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English teacher Lindsay Allen is passionate about bringing the joy of reading back to high school students in her classroom. Last year, her first at Mater Dei, she initiated a program in which she offers a library of contemporary books for students to choose from and gives her AP Literature and sophomore English students at least 10 minutes daily to read a book simply for the purpose of enjoying it. A rolling shelf of approximately 100 books sits in the corner of her classroom, and students swarm around it at the beginning of each class to find their current reads or start a new one.

“[I] made it my goal as a teacher to let my students rediscover that love, because everyone loves reading, they just forgot,” Allen said. “There’s nothing more important that you can teach a child than a love of reading. There’s no worksheet, there’s no test, there’s no skill more important than reading.”

During her graduate program at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, Allen conducted extensive research about the changing reading habits of students.

“One thing I learned is that teenagers used to not read as much around age twelve, or age thirteen, and now, it’s age eight when kids have stopped reading, because they spend their time on electronics,” Allen said. “Especially with electronics, we’re skim reading, so we’re actually losing the brain capacity for the deep extended prolonged reading.”

Motivated by this research, Allen began to introduce her own personal library of books into her classroom.

“It rekindled my love for reading,” said junior Ethan Cohen, one of Allen’s AP Literature students.

Junior Tiffany Le, a former student of Allen, fully embraced Allen’s reading program, completing 7 books by the end of last school year.

“We got to read books [about] drama, high school… books that would interest high schoolers,” Le said. “It’s like we get to watch Netflix in our mind, but we’re actually reading a book.”

Allen described her process of carefully selecting the books she offers in her library. “I want students to be able to see themselves in it, and I want there to be issues that they can relate to and I want to meet all the interests,” Allen said. She also emphasized the importance of finding representation of all cultures, age groups, genders, and identities, and how it allows students to really connect with the book they have chosen. Another unique aspect of Allen’s program is the freedom she gives her students with their books. Books are not assigned, no project or test is issued, and there is no requirement to finish a book if a student is not enjoying it.

“There’s something about allowing a student to choose their own book too, and not assigning it, because I think human beings thrive on the ability to choose and think for themselves,” Allen said. “Books aren’t one size fits all, you need to find what speaks to you… I have something for everyone.”

After a year of implementing the activity in her classes, Allen has noticed the benefits of the reading program extend far beyond the enjoyment of students.

“Research shows that reading just 10-12 minutes a day, students will score on the top half of the SAT because you’re building that vocabulary,” Allen said.

Allen also said that, through books, students “can have deep psychological healing.”

“I want books that address modern issues that teenagers are facing and give them an outlet to maybe see how someone else is dealing with this issue,” Allen said.

Le said she felt this personal connection to the books she was able to read as part of Allen’s class.

“[I thought to myself,] wow, I’m not the only one struggling,” Le said. “Even though those people are fictional, they’re still struggling and you learn from them.”

The most rewarding aspect of the program for Allen, however, lies in the visible results she sees in her students.

“I think my favorite, favorite moment of the day is watching students walk in 10 minutes before the bell rings to grab a book, just so they can read, and I’ll look out at the class and every single student is nose-deep in their book,” Allen said.

As Allen’s students continue reading in class, some have implemented reading into their daily lives.

“I actually started reading outside of school… [including] some books that I never would have been interested in,” Cohen said.

Now, the impact of Allen’s efforts can be seen beyond the walls of her classroom. The positive feedback from students and parents have encouraged many other English teachers like Michelle Elkerton and Meredith Clayton to implement similar programs into their classes.

“I think teachers themselves are remembering how important it is, just to give choice and time to students,” Allen said.

Allen’s hope for students is that they become receptive to the healing and inspiration that books offer and that they open their minds to the lessons they can learn from a good story.

“Books, I think more than anything, they stay with you,” Allen said. “Like the memory somehow stays with you, more than movies, more than anything. They really have changed my life, and I just want that for my students, too.”