[Note: Much of the following is more directed at the upper elementary grades.]
Like I said, this is a topic I've been passionate about for a while, but I was reminded of it in another iteration today. Instead of teaching my photojournalism class, I went and watched my students take a grammar benchmark test, while their teacher was on prep. Basically, this meant lots of pointed looks at shifty-eyed students, while reading from Pocket on my phone. (I had already cleared out my junk email box and played on Pinterest for quite a while yesterday while in other classes. Good solid teaching here.)
Pocket is one of my favorite apps for storing longer articles that I want to read later, particularly in times when I don't have an internet connection. Either way, the articles I read today were about how sports have impacted American education in positive and negative ways, and the science behind how addicts are still capable of making choices about their addiction, despite society (and most science), assuming that they can't. Both of these articles were absolutely fascinating.
The other thing I do when I'm in classrooms is to look around at the walls and assignments sitting around to see what students are doing during regular classtime. Many times, it includes basal readers and accompanying information, Weekly Readers (with provocative articles like "Why This Adorable Dog is Doomed" and so on) or "informative texts" about things like a page of random facts about the brain. While these things are ok, there is just SO much more interesting information out there (or at least more interesting angles to take on the same topics)! I'm fairly certain that my 8th graders would have found just as much interest in sections of what I was reading, as well as many other things I read about.
Why don't we give them a chance to do this? Immersing kids in actual texts that are meant to be interesting to the general population has all kinds of benefits. I have no data on this, but it seems like giving them something interesting, but slightly above their reading level would encourage them to make sense of what they're reading, even if they don't know every word. This would, in turn, breed confidence in students to try more in-depth writing.
We need to give kids permission to not feel out of place looking in the "grown up" section of the library. They need to know that there are plenty of fascinating things to read about. Why aren't we bringing TIME magazine (not Time for Kids) or the like into the classroom, instead of specially-designed, millions of dollars worth of 4 page excerpts of stories written for the basal? There are experts out there writing about everything they are interested in. They just have to learn to look for it! Teach them about Twitter and curating their own list of experts to track. For example, show them the articles that National Geographic is writing about that endangered species their interested in, and petitions that have been started on it's behalf. Help them know that there are tons of sports analysts writing about their favorite team. And so on.
That is our job as educators in the older grades. We have to teach them how to use their reading skills to become a more knowledgeable, fascinating human being, and not just only read what they are told to read.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jody_art/2099710671/