Choosing Books for Students

Reading SiddharthaHow do you decide what your students read?

For many of us, which books we have available in the book room or which books are approved by the school system’s list may limit our choices.

I had a conversation the other day with an English student teacher I know, and she was telling me of her frustrations that her college is pushing her to integrate YA lit into her lesson plans, while the school where she is student teaching is advising her to limit her selections to the book room.  I remember taking a course in YA lit in college, and while I loved my professor, the venerable Dr. Agee, who has since retired from UGA, I was never able to use much of what I learned in the class in my high school teaching experience.  NCTE also pushes YA lit, to the point of recommending (or they did when I was in college, anyway) books like From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics by Sarah K. Herz and Donald R. Gallo — a book whose purpose is to help teachers learn which YA books might be paired with classics already in the classroom.

I actually really like YA lit.  I am reading New Moon, the second book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga.  I am a total Harry Potter nut.  For my money, The Giver is one of the best dystopian novels I’ve ever read (I love dystopian novels, too), and the only part of teaching middle school that I really enjoyed was teaching The Giver.  I don’t mean to discourage YA lit.  I think the agenda of our education schools and NCTE is clear — let’s present our students with age-appropriate literature that will grab them.  I agree that students should be encouraged to read YA lit, but I’m not sure that I agree we need to let it take over the high school curriculum, and I don’t agree with Teri Lesesne (in the article “Question for the Ages” below), who says that The Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter, and Beowulf are more appropriate in college.  I have successfully taught all three books in high school, and I would even argue that Catcher is best suited for high school — the symbolism is easy, making it a great introduction to symbolism, and students around Holden’s age relate to him.

Some more reading on the subject:

If you have more research or articles on the use of YA lit in the high school classroom and/or selecting age-appropriate books for students, feel free to share in the comments.

Image credit: Nick Today.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing Books for Students

  1. My department is big on the Bluford series of novels (high interest, low reading level). While I want my students to read new things they may be interested in, I also feel like if I don't introduce them to classic literature, then I'm not really doing my job. I struggled to get my 11th graders through Huck Finn, but we managed okay. Also taught my CP seniors A Tale of Two Cities even though it's only supposed to be taught in the AP class. I try to balance the classics with YA lit as best I can.

  2. My wife has a new YA Lit. assignment she uses with her 20th Century Literature students, but other than that we don't really use YA Lit. at all. I have had great successes with the classics, and the kids like them, so I've never considered leaving them out. I just get more selective about which classics I use.

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