more sophisticated strategies for reading self-selected, high-interest materials than for assigned school reading (Bintz, 1993). Even struggling readers who are unable to use the strategies they have learned may be motivated to improve their abilities but hopeless about doing so in their current school situations (Kos, 1991) where the instruction and immediate expectations are far beyond what they are prepared to tackle. When schools or teachers do provide appropriate instruction, however, even middle school students who have been referred for special education services can make marked advancements in their reading (e.g., Morris, Ervin, & Conrad, 1996). Two critical responsibilities for teachers are to match instruction to individual student development and to provide contexts in which students can become engaged in reading.
Middle school readers have interests and preferences
The second theme deals with students' interest in reading. Whereas previous research indicates that middle school students are generally uninterested in reading, it is now becoming clear that they at least have opinions about what they like to read. There are notable consistencies between the results of a survey of over 400 sixth graders in the southwestern U.S. (Worthy, Moorman, & Turner, 1999) and our own survey (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999) of over 1,700 sixth graders in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. In both studies, students ranked scary stories, sports books, comics, and magazines among their favorite things to read, and students in our study also preferred adventure stories. Overall, the students who responded to our survey reported reading a wide range of materials outside of school, including series books, popular adult fiction, picture books, and even some classic children's novels.
Regardless of achievement level in school reading, middle school readers find interesting things to read on their own, although sometimes these materials may be easier to read than what they read in school (Ivey, 1999). Most students in these grades have figured out the kinds of texts they can read most comfortably even if they are not provided with these materials in school. In addition, young adolescents discuss their preferred books with their peers, but these conversations probably do not resemble book discussions in school (Alvermann, Young, & Green, in press; Worthy, 1998). For them, the purpose of discussion is personal rather than academic.
Middle school students want time to read
Third, although middle school students may not often choose to read in their leisure time, they value time to read in school, and they are more inclined to read when a specific time is set aside to do so (Stewart, Paradis, Ross, & Lewis, 1996; Worthy & McKool, 1996). When we asked sixth graders what they enjoy about their reading and language arts classes among a range of options (e.g., reading with the whole class, reading class novels, book discussion groups), free reading time was mentioned twice as many times as most other activities (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999). Likewise, when we asked students to write "the best thing" about being in their reading or language arts class, the majority of their responses were related to having time to read silently and independently.
Who are middle school students as readers? In general, it appears that they are not the competent, motivated readers we would like them to be. Nevertheless, teachers may be able to bring out the best in middle school readers. Research indicates that what middle school students need is instruction that is responsive to individual differences; meaningful, self-determined purposes for reading; and time to read. However, we believe that in most cases schools are not meeting these conditions.
Middle school reading instruction: An uncomfortable fit
Middle school educators undoubtedly recognize students' continued need to learn about reading, but reading curriculum and instruction as it currently exists may be inadequate and ineffective, particularly in light of what fosters young adolescents' motivation and ability to read. Here we suggest four common practices that are incongruent with what middle school readers need: a one-size-fits-all curriculum, use of a narrow range of materials for instruction, a lack of student directedness and ownership in the reading curriculum, and ineffective prioritizing of instructional time.
The one-size-fits-all problem.
Despite the range and diversity of students in middle schools, instruction is neither conceptualized nor organized to address individual differences, and middle school teachers admit that they rarely differentiate their teaching to address the wide range of developmental needs within the classroom (Tomlinson, Moon,