Alongside the whiteboard in the front of my 12th-grade English classroom in Philadelphia, there are sentence strips listing the names of the authors we have read thus far this school year. The names read like a syllabus to “Political Philosophy 101”: Hobbes. Locke. Rousseau. Plato. Marx. Hume. Machiavelli. Sun Tzu.
These authors and their writings represent a pointed choice in how I, and the many outstanding English educators I have been privileged to collaborate with, support struggling readers develop the skills and confidence to attack, decode and comprehend complex texts.
It is counterintuitive to be sure. A common choice might be, when trying to design a curriculum to accelerate the reading abilities of students who read below grade level, to modify texts in such a way as to meet the students near where their reading ability happens to be presently.
If a student is not on a 12th-grade reading level, but rather on a fourth-grade reading level, then it would likely feel correct to choose a text closer to the fourth-grade level than not. Often, this is an absolutely effective, appropriate and logical choice. What I’ve found, however, is that there is benefit to tackling a student’s reading struggles from the opposite flank as well.