Thursday, June 25, 2009


By Chris Wilson

The high school dropout rate is troubling. According to this story at Open Education, 25 percent of high school students do not graduate “within the standard four-year secondary-school plan”. Even more disturbing for me as an elementary teacher is the fact that many students report that they feel their last year of academic success occurred in fourth grade, according to Lynne Strathman, director of Lydia Urban Academy.

Fourth grade? I cannot fathom it. Fourth grade!

I instantly think back to my student teaching experience and recall one particular fourth grade boy. His mother came to school with pizza in hand to eat lunch with her son one afternoon so I took them to the classroom and we ate lunch together.

She thanked me for exciting her son again. A gifted child, he was very intelligent but had grown noticeably disinterested in academics and reading. She reinforced to me that my emphasis on comics had changed his entire outlook. “He’s interested in school again,” she told me. I gave him my personal comics to take home and I didn’t have a checkout process. He returned them all, and she offered to write me a reference letter to get me hired at that district.

I wanted desperately to give him MARVEL ILLUSTRATED: THE ILIAD because of his interest in Greek mythology, but the book – like most of the books in the series – carries a parental advisory for teens ages 15 and older.

I was able to interest him in some lower reading level Greek mythology, but I really believe, after developing a relationship with him, that he could have handled Marvel’s version. It is my belief that reading something rich, deep and difficult would have exponentially expanded this boy’s reading motivation even more and would have led him toward reading the source material.

It behooves teachers to consider what librarians have done for years and institute a restricted shelf. In my case, this would involve restricted readings for the HALL OF HEROES comic book club so my books would be limited to comic literature, although a classroom teacher should use both traditional and comic literature.

My approach toward the restricted shelf is not born out of censorship or an attempt to keep kids from literature. Rather, I propose using the restricted readings as a way to promote literature to certain students who are prepared and ready for more without inundating the entire student body with something that might otherwise get banned altogether. For those kids who need to feel a bit naughty or special or challenged, the restricted shelf offers a chance to trust a student and to instill responsibility in a student. It might also be the only way to reach those kids who do not fit the traditional mold and who need to thump authority a bit, but in a way that is controlled and safe.

Students would only have access to the restricted books after parents sign a permission slip. I envision the choosing of books as a tandem experience between the student and I whereby we sit and down and peruse the stacks and talk about books of particular interest to that child. The goal is to feed students who are desperate for more powerful and challenging literature than the norm for that age group. This should not be limited to gifted students, but also students who have become disenfranchised with school or those who need more for whatever reason.

Here is a list of just few books off the top of my head that I would consider:

1 comment:

Big E said...

I've struggled with these same decisions. Though I know my students are permitted to watch/read teen and adult-oriented material at home, I often feel that I have to not acknowledge this fact in school.

I love the idea of a Restricted Reading section.