In July 2013, Bob Probst and I posted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com asking teachers in grades 4-8 to tell us about their teaching of novels and chapter books. This survey was a slightly modified version of a survey we had first conducted in 2008. We hoped that the current survey would tell us something about the novels finding their way into classrooms, about the approaches teachers were taking to the instruction, and about the influence of the Common Core State Standards. What follows is a look at some of the data.
How many books are we teaching?
We received 435 responses, mostly from teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience. Of those 435 teachers, 426 responded to the question that asked how many novels or chapter books were taught during the school year. Of that number, about 90% reported that they teach at least one novel a year. About 20% reported teaching four a year. We were surprised that 10% — 41 teachers – did not teach any novels or chapter books at all and just as surprised that a little over 10% reported teaching more than seven books in one year.
Who chooses the books?
Most of the teachers responding choose the books they will teach, with 60% apparently having great autonomy and another 28% required to choose from a list established by the district or at the school level. Only 2.2% reported that they had no choice whatsoever.
What’s the criteria for choosing books?
We were especially interested in the criteria teachers employed in choosing books for their classes. To over 50% of respondents, the potential for student enjoyment was the single most important criterion. Of somewhat lesser significance were the elements or standards the novel would enable them to teach, the literary quality of the books, and the theme. Only a few—4%—choose a book for the genre it would enable them to study, and only one solitary teacher chooses the novel for author study.
How are books being taught?
We were also interested in how novels/chapter books were being taught. We offered respondents a variety of scenarios from which to choose. We found that about 34% of the respondents said that they introduced the book, gave some structure over how much should be read, and then had large or small group discussions about each section. We found that the same number responded that they introduced the book and then read the book with the class either through read-alouds or listening to portions on tape.
What books are being taught?
Many of the books we inquired about in our 2008 survey are still being taught. The Giver is still the most commonly taught of all the young adult novels we listed, and none of the other titles had vanished from the list. Teachers still teach the titles that appeared in the list resulting from our earlier survey. Here is that 2008 list as it appears in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading:
What new titles have you added?
There were some new titles, however, to add to our list. Some are new books teachers reported they are now teaching, and some are books they’d like to teach. Among the most popular of the new books now being taught are, listed in order of frequency mentioned:
Wonder The Hunger Games The One and Only Ivan The Lightning Thief The Westing Game
Wonder, The Hunger Games, and The One and Only Ivan were also the three most commonly mentioned books teacher would like to teach if given the opportunity. Other titles that appeared in that list with noticeable frequency were:
Divergent Out of My Mind The Book Thief
What changes when we look at data by grade?
When we look at data by grade level, we found that “Potential Enjoyment” continued to be the decisive factor in choosing a book. While we’re still culling data by grade level, here are some first results:
Most commonly taught books from the list provided
4th Grade: Because of Winn Dixie 5th Grade: Bud, Not Buddy and Number the Stars 6th Grade: The Giver and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 7th Grade: The Giver and The Outsiders 8th Grade: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Giver, and The Outsiders
Mostly commonly taught book that was not on the list provided
4th Grade: Wonder 5th Grade: Wonder 6th Grade: Wonder 7th Grade: Wonder and Hunger Games 8th Grade: Hunger Games
Most common length of time spent teaching one book
4th Grade: 3 weeks 5th Grade: 3 weeks 6th Grade: 4 weeks 7th Grade: 4 weeks 8th Grade: 4-6 weeks
How has or will the Common Core State Standards affect your teaching of novels/chapter books?
When we looked at information about the effects of the CCSS, as many teachers reported that it would not affect their teaching of novels/chapter books as reported that it would. Those who reported teaching 1-3 novels a year thought they would continue teaching that number. Those who taught more, feared that they would be unable to continue teaching as many. An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the focus on nonfiction, more than anything else, would change their teaching.
Many teachers offered comments, but one resonated with us and we want to share it here: “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft. I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read. And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels. They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry. We’ll read some together, and they’ll read some on their own. We read novels because novels take us places we’ve never been and let us be people we are not. That’s why I teach novels.”