I’ve always believed that in order to become better writers my students need to read.  A lot.  In many different genres and styles.  They also need a lot of time exploring big ideas and sharing what they are learning with each other.   I’ve also been a strong proponent of choice when it came to selecting books, and usually my students have made interesting and challenging choices.   I’ve watched over the last few years as certain novels went viral.  Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Lightning Thief, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Lovely Bones, House of Scorpions all spread from one reader to another.

Recently though I’ve noticed a shift.  Students don’t seem to be exploring new authors, but rather reading and rereading the same “favorite” books throughout the year.    As an avid reader I’m all for rereading a well-loved book, but they weren’t branching and exploring new ideas or genres.   I was struggling for a solution.  How could I continue to allow students the freedom to choose books for themselves, and encourage them push themselves to explore new authors and genres?

After reading the article, “Becoming a Classroom of Readers” I knew that I needed to make a change if I wanted to help my  students to continue to grow as readers and writers.   From this the “stretch” novel assignment was born.   The idea behind it was simple, provide my students with a list of challenging and engaging book choices, and let them choose what they would like to read.  I know, this sounds like a no-brainer, but I was really worried about how my students would react to the reading lists.  I should have had more faith.    Students continue to revisit the book list to find ideas for their next read, and they are now offering suggestions for books that I should include on next year’s list.

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