While taking a course in young adult literature, I surveyed four students from a local high school about their reading habits. During the interview, I was able to learn what they liked and/or disliked about reading, whether or not they considered themselves to be strong readers, what their favorite (and least favorite) book is, and where they like to read. I found this experience to be extremely beneficial, as many of the responses will certainly influence and inform the choices I make in my own classroom. In fact, I will continue to use informal surveys such as this at the beginning of each school year.
Survey of Adolescent Readers
Ashley enjoys being able to relate to the text. Her favorite genre is “realistic fiction” and her least favorite is “sci-fi.” This made sense then, when she mentioned that her favorite book is Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy. She labeled one of the “classics,” John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, as her least favorite. Not being the one to choose the book she reads is what Ashley likes the least about reading. In fact, she is very resentful if she is assigned a book that does not speak to her, or spark her interest. This statement shows how choosing and reading a book can be a very intimate affair. I have also found myself in the same situation, being forced to read book after book because it’s what the teacher thought was “best.” Ashley considers herself a strong reader. She likes to read on the train and often reads at home while lying down before bed. In school, she reads mostly books, but at home she reads almost everything from books to magazines and newspapers, as well as reading news and features on the Internet.
Sarika considers herself to be an average reader. When asked what she likes most about reading, Sarika mentioned that she liked discovering the imagery within books. However, when I asked her what she disliked, she really couldn’t come up with an answer. Her favorite genre is romance, and she does not like sci-fi. Her favorite book is Dana Davidson’s Jason & Kyra, and her least favorite is Boy Toy. Sarika explained that she does most of her reading at home, but she also does a good amount while riding the ferry. She mainly reads books while at school, but branches out to magazines, newspapers, etc. while outside of school. As a side note, Sarika mentioned how much she appreciated the way that her English teacher “breaks down” the text for her and her classmates, which makes the reading experience much more enjoyable.
Michael has a lot of confidence in his reading and considers himself a very strong reader. When Michael reads a book, he loves to discover new and interesting words that expand his vocabulary. What upsets him the most is when the cover of a book “deceives” him. His favorite genre is “realistic fiction,” and his least favorite is poor ol’ Sci-Fi. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, and Just As I Am by Virginia Smith are his favorites, while Bait, by Alex Sanchez is the book he likes the least. In school, he primarily reads books, while outside of school he reads books as well as newspapers and magazines. Michael believes that if you’re going to read a book, you have to be “100% committed” in order to get anything out of it. This was an interesting statement, and I too believe that reading is a commitment. I believe it’s good to be picky about the books we read because it shows that we’re putting some thought into it. If we don’t put any thought into what books we read, why are we going to think critically about it?
Niana loves to experience situations from others’ point of view. At the time, however, she couldn’t think of any dislikes. Her favorite genres are mystery and drama, while she also does not like to read sci-fi. Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon is her favorite book. When I asked about her least favorite, Niana stated that she couldn’t think of any because she stops reading if she’s not interested. My wife tends to do the same thing, and I sometimes give her a hard time for “giving up” too early. However, for adolescents, I do think it’s best to move on to something appealing rather than force it. Niana considers herself to be a fairly good reader who regularly reads at night before going to bed. Like the others three students, Niana primarily reads books while in school, but opens it up to other types of reading outside of school.
Although the answers varied regarding overall classroom performance and reading ability, each student enjoyed reading because they had choices as well as support from a collaborative classroom. By using words like “imagery,” “vocab,” and “point of view” to show what they enjoy about reading, instead of words like “plot” or “action” shows me that these students are definitely gaining from their classroom experiences and thinking critically about what they read. As educators we need to show students that their world is important. I want students to be comfortable asking questions, and to feel comfortable discussing as many aspects of their texts as possible, using a variety of literary devices such as text-to-self or text-to-world connections. I also want them to feel personally invested in their education, and that they do in fact have some control over it through the choices they make regarding their reading.
Furthermore, what is best for one student might not be good for another. This is why I believe in the importance of finding the right book for each individual. In my class, students will have as much choice as I can possibly give to find books that they are interested in. Choosing a book to read can be a very intimate and personal activity, and as we can see from Ashley’s response, taking that ability away from teen readers can lead to rejection of the book due not only to frustration, but to a lack of personal investment.