What should high school students be reading?–follow-up

Because this website is getting so many hits from people Googling some variation of “What high school students should read,” I thought I would post this follow-up. (Original post here.) What follows is curriculum- and research-oriented.

When we were looking into redesigning the English curriculum where I taught, two sources were at the top of our list, and both have stated positions on kids and reading. The first is the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, published by the Massachusetts Department of Education (obviously my school was in Massachusetts, but you can find the equivalent for your state). The second is the National Council of Teachers of English, of which I am a member (and would recommend you become a member, too, if you are an English teacher at any level). Although I post a couple of passages below, you might consider researching at each source more thoroughly.

From the Massachusetts Frameworks in Language Arts:

Note on range and content of student reading: To become college and career ready, students must grapple with works of exceptional craft and thought whose range extends across genres, cultures, and centuries. Such works offer profound insights into the human condition and serve as models for students own thinking and writing. Along with high-quality contemporary works, these texts should be chosen from among seminal U.S. documents, the classics of American literature, and the timeless dramas of Shakespeare. Through wide and deep reading of literature and literary nonfiction of steadily increasing sophistication, students gain a reservoir of literary and cultural knowledge, references, and images; the ability to evaluate intricate arguments; and the capacity to surmount the challenges posed by complex texts.

From the National Council of Teachers of English:

In order to make sure that all individuals have access to the personal pleasures and intellectual benefits of full literacy, NCTE believes that our society and our schools must provide students with:

  • access to a wide range of texts that mirror the range of students’ abilities and interests;
  • ample time to read a wide range of materials, from the very simple to the very challenging;
  • teachers who help them develop an extensive repertoire of skills and strategies;
  • opportunities to learn how reading, writing, speaking, and listening support each other;
  • and access to the literacy skills needed in a technologically advanced society.

You may also benefit from looking at NCTE’s position statements on literature.

Also note that while we were researching effective ways to update our curriculum, we spent a lot of time on the websites of other schools in our area and of the top-performing schools in our state. We looked at such variables as what schools offered for required courses vs. electives, what texts were taught at each grade level and each competency level, and how much room there was for individual teachers to select books that worked best in their classroom (as opposed to everyone, across the course, reading lock-step identical texts). You may find it quite eye-opening to see what is being taught in the schools near you.

There are many reasons you might be researching “high school reading choices.” Perhaps you are a high schooler looking for the title of a worthwhile read (in which case, I’m sorry this post isn’t helpful), or perhaps you are questioning the curriculum at your school. Maybe you are a parent concerned about your child’s reading at school or at home. Maybe you are a teacher or administrator looking to reform your school’s curriculum. Although schools vary widely in their approach to change, I found my experience trying to update the curriculum a little frustrating. In the end I had to turn to alternative methods for introducing contemporary texts. The most important alternative was my classroom library, which I might address in another post.


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There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

— Ernest Hemingway