Assigning Classic Literature

As I lounge in my cushioned chair, complete with a fleece blanket and my cat, Zoe, on my lap, I open the cover of a poignant, hysterical, and intricate young adult novel.


This is my reading life: cozy, individualized, and, like Goldilocks, just right for me. But when I watch students’ reading lives in school there is a major disconnect:

Read this, answer these questions, and write an essay that will be evaluated with the Six Traits rubric.

Today during silent reading the assignment was to read Gulliver’s Travels part 3 chapters 7-11. He opened his book, propped open his binder, and proceeded to open up a Hemingway novel, avoiding Swift’s ancient satire. classics

I have no idea how this student will finish the Gulliver’s Travels quiz over part 3 tomorrow.

Skim Sparknotes? Ask a friend for details? I don’t know and I doubt he really cares.

Too often teachers are afraid of reading workshop because they fear students will never pick up the beloved classics. Today that fear was proved inaccurate. If you let students read what they want to read, they will eventually stumble upon the “revered” classics. Trading Swift for Hemingway is trading a classic for a classic.

However, I admit that not all students will pick up the classics, but what are your goals? Would you rather force students to read or let them develop independent reading lives?

I want my students to find enjoyment in literacy. Will they survive if they never read Steinbeck? Yes. Will they have a reading life outside of the classroom if they don’t develop independent reading skills? Probably not.

To teach classic whole class novels or not to teach them? Depends on your long-term goals for your students’ reading lives.