Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Funny Thing Has Been Happening...

I teach American Literature. Usually that means the classics (Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, The House on Mango Street, The Great Gatsby...).

Young Adult novels have always been meant for independent reading time (which I try to do each day for twenty minutes at the start of my 90 minute class). The kids love their independent reading books. They complain if I try to take away some of the 20 minutes. The English department have had other teachers bring up the issue of kids reading their independent books in their class (yay!). So while my students read and most often like the classic books, they are also clammering for YA fiction.

There has always been the idea that you teach the classics in school and read for fun outside of school. Many people believe that the two should be separate and the high school curriculum should only focus on the classics. In fact, my former agent didn't think YA should be the focus on a high school English classroom. While I understand the importance of having kids read from the literary canon, I also know how amazing YA books can be in helping to teach the course objectives.

That's why I'm a strong supporter for integrating both.

Last year was my department's review and revise year and we were able to discuss, analyze and consider new literature for the classroom. I chose three current YA novels for my course that can be taught in a whole group setting or in small reading circles based on student interests and abilities. They are The Absoluetly True Diary of a Part Time Indian (Alexie), Things a Brother Knows (Reinhardt) and Stolen(Christopher).

I introduced these books to my students at the start of the year because I always talk about what we'll be reading.

Well...I've noticed that a bunch of them (at least 8-10) have checked the copies of these books out from my school library. They are reading the books before they have to read them!

Really, how amazing is that!?! On one hand, I want to tell them to stop reading these books because they're class novels, but on the other hand, how can I tell them to stop reading! It's crazy, funny and exciting. I can't wait to teach them in the classroom.

What about you? What are your thoughts on teaching both YA literature and the classics in school? Should it be done? Or should teachers just stick to the classics?


Cynthia Lee said...

I think they should read both YA novels and the classics.

If I had my way, honestly, I would want them to read the classics pretty exclusively but that's just not something they are going to want to do. Most people don't read the classics, let's face it.

Let's get them into reading by giving them material that will hold their attention and won't make them immediately head for the Cliff's Notes.

My best friend's teenaged son was tortured this summer by The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. He HATED it. His mother has been trying to get him to read more and now he's turned off completely.

I'm neither a teacher nor a parent so take whatever I say with a grain of salt, please. ;)

Heidi Windmiller said...

Absolutely it YA books should be combined with the classics!

I used to teach Lit, and the school I was at most recently frowned on teaching anything but the classics. Most of the kids struggled with reading--big surprise when their only choices are To KIll A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men.

But the school before that, I had almost free reign. We read all sorts of stuff. For most of the kids in that school, they had never finished a book before. So giving them something like the CIty of Ember built their confidence and soon they were selecting their own books eagerly for independent reading time.

If the goal is to get students to think about and question their reading--then what does it matter what they read? What matters is questioning and grappling with the text.

Sorry for the long comment. I just feel very strongly about this issue.

Kristan said...

I think integration is great, but I definitely think classics are important too. People (not just kids) already think "newer is better" most of the time, but I don't want the beauty and the lessons of the past to be lost to us.

Sarah Pearson said...

Teach them both. Of course we don't want to lose the classics, but some of these YA books are going to become classics too one day. Anything that makes a young person want to pick up a book is all right by me.

Meredith said...

I would have LOVED this in high school! I love the classics, too, but current YA would have made me even more of a reader. So awesome that the kids are so into it!

J said...

Of course it should be both! The classics have so much to offer in terms of teaching themes and how to tell a great story, but so does newer YA. I love hearing about schools that read The Hunger Games or Speak in class. I feel like any book has the power to be a great teacher (unless it's chick lit...that, while fun, does nothing for your brain), so use whatever ones you want! :)

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

classics are good, and I like a lot of them, but they dont interest everyone.

I have a lot of friends who hate reading because there memory is that they had to read a certain book and they hated it so thats what htey think reading is.

If they are able to read what interests them there might be more books and less Jersey Shore!

Faith E. Hough said...

Definitely both should be used. I think it's unfair to assume that new YA books are less meritorious than classics, simply because they're new--as I think it is wrong to assume that classics aren't exciting simply because they're old. I'm glad you're taking a balanced view of it and introducing your classic to great modern literature!

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Anonymous said...

It has to be both. I do think the classics are great, but I would have liked to read some YA in school. I think I would have read more on my own if I had known about the awesomeness that was out there.