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Selecting Texts for Your Students and Your Course

Perhaps during these hot and sticky summer days, you’re working on Build[ing] Your Stack™ of texts that you want to share with your students.  If so, I’m sure you’re thinking about the titles you may tackle as whole class reads, some that would anchor literature circles, and still others that will sit in your classroom library awaiting interested students to check them out. Selecting texts for our courses is where we begin that most important educational enterprise of connecting students and texts.

I hope that while you’re stacking up texts, you’re also working through your school’s/district’s selection policy. Two years ago, 3000 NCTE members and friends reported on text policies in their schools/districts in a survey conducted by NCTE and NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorship). Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported having a written, formally adopted policy, forty-one percent reported using a set of commonly accepted practices for selecting materials, and nineteen percent reported having no policy. You’ll want to make sure that your school/district is among the twenty-nine percent and has a formally adopted policy. You can check this on your school/district website. Look under School Board Policies and then under the categories of curriculum and/or text selection.

Why is a policy important? The NCTE Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs notes,

The cornerstone of consistent, pedagogically sound selection practices is a clear, written policy for the selection of materials in the English language arts program. Such a policy not only helps teachers to achieve program goals, but also helps schools protect the integrity of programs increasingly under pressure from censors, propagandists, and commercial interests.

Pay attention to the roles that teachers, administrators, parents, and the community play in the text selection policy. Again from the NCTE Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs,

Good schools, recognizing the importance of support from parents and the community, operate within a framework for democratic decision making. Materials selection and challenged materials policies are important parts of that framework. Well-established procedures for selecting instructional material ensure public involvement and professional guidance. Therefore, it is essential that materials selection policies clearly describe the steps involved in the selection process and the personnel responsible for each step.

You, the teacher, are the expert when it comes to selecting texts:

Selecting materials requires in-depth knowledge: not just of students’ backgrounds and learning experiences, but also of their abilities and interests; not just of educational objectives, but of the best practices and range and quality of materials for meeting them; not just of the particular work being considered, but of its place within the medium, genre, epoch, etc., it represents. In short, responsible selection demands not only the experience and education needed to make sound choices but also the ability to defend the choices made. . . . This level of expertise can be found in the English language arts professional. —NCTE Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs 

As the quotes above indicate, the right to select what to make available for classroom reading belongs to you. While parents can decide which texts are appropriate for their own children, they cannot select texts for others’ children. It’s your responsibility to select materials to meet course objectives, state or local standards, and your students’ needs. Having a formal text selection policy makes clear to all stakeholders how texts are selected and who has responsibility for various aspects of the procedure. Having and following a formal text selection policy can make a big difference in your favor should one of your selected texts be challenged.

Selection of instructional materials is part of sound program planning. Needless to say, careful selection is a powerful buffer against challenges because it assures that the program planning process was thoughtful and not haphazard.  —NCTE Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs