& Callahan, 1998). The whole-class instruction model in middle schools may be largely driven by the reading materials available to teachers. The most commonly used materials, typically textbooks and basal readers, presuppose that a single text written at a certain level of difficulty will be suitable for all students at a particular grade level or in a given class.
Even when trade books or novels are used, all students may be assigned the same book, and this was profoundly evident in our survey of sixth graders (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999). When we asked over 1,700 students to name two good books or stories they had read in their reading or language arts class, they mentioned only a limited number of titles, with numerous students in the same classes citing the same books. For instance, hundreds of students named Island of the Blue Dolphins (O'Dell, 1960) and Tuck Everlasting (Babbitt, 1975). In contrast, students reported reading a large variety of materials at home. With such limited range in materials in terms of both difficulty level and interest, we fear that struggling readers in particular may never have opportunities in school to practice reading in books they can actually read. Even when developing theme-centered curricula that incorporate multiple texts, teachers may be focused on finding materials that relate to a selected topic rather than on locating texts that are accessible to struggling readers.
This mismatch between what many students are able to read and what they are expected to read is further complicated by the reality that in middle school they are unlikely to get the support they need to ever become proficient at reading the more difficult texts. Comprehension strategy instruction is sparse in middle schools, particularly in content area classrooms (Gee & Forrester, 1988; Smith & Feathers, 1983), and we have found little evidence that middle school students with limited word analysis skills and spelling knowledge get the help they need to read and write fluently. Likewise, if fluency instruction is neglected in elementary schools (Allington, 1983), we are certain that it is overlooked in the middle grades.
The materials problem. Middle school readers may have limited access in school to the books they like (Worthy & McKool, 1996; Worthy et al., 1999), and even seemingly motivated and competent readers may be secretly bothered by the books their teachers select (Ivey, 1999). In contrast, many students who are frustrated by school reading opt to read when their preferred materials are available (Ivey, 1999; Bintz, 1993; Worthy & McKool, 1996). There is growing evidence, however, that middle school students are most likely to get their preferred books from bookstores and libraries and are least likely to find preferred materials through their teachers or the classroom (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999; Worthy et al., 1999). This finding is not surprising if teachers are including only a limited range of materials for instruction. Expository texts, in particular, appear to be missing from reading and language arts instruction, despite the fact that students report reading these materials out of school (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999). Ironically, reading nonfiction materials would increase students' depth of knowledge in the content areas, and probably help students score higher on the standardized tests that are of such concern to teachers and administrators.
The ownership problem. Middle school students have limited ownership over the texts they read in school and the conversations they have about those texts. Rather, teachers govern the learning in a number of ways. In middle and secondary schools, reading across the curriculum focuses on facts and skills (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Becker, 1990) with few planned opportunities for students to engage in higher level thinking. Conversely, when even reluctant young adolescent readers initiate readings based on their own interests and questions, they deal with texts in more complex ways, such as relating stories to their own lives and recording information they find interesting (Bintz, 1993). Likewise, discussions in middle schools can be more accurately characterized as lectures and exercises in recitation (Alvermann & Moore, 1991; Alvermann, O'Brien, & Dillon, 1990) rather than opportunities for students to interpret text or construct and challenge their understandings. Research indicates that when implemented thoughtfully and carefully, student-centered discussions can have a powerful effect on student learning (e.g., Almasi, 1995; Goatley, Brock, & Raphael, 1995). However, in our survey of sixth-grade readers (Ivey & Broaddus, 1999), peers and social learning did not emerge as critical components of reading and language arts classes, leading us to believe that effective strategies for social literacy learning may be rarely used in middle school classrooms.
Confusion over priorities. Despite compelling evidence about the importance of time spent reading, independent reading time has not become a priority in middle schools. Although teachers agree that self-