NCTE is over. My brain is full. I have a few major takeaways:
My students are not given nearly enough opportunities for independent reading. As in none, really. I am not going to go so far as to flagellate myself for malpractice, but I definitely need to bring in opportunities for students to select what they read. There is a good balance I can strike with required reading and self-selected reading.
My classroom library needs an overhaul. I have two bookshelves (inherited) in my classroom. One is broken. The other is leaning precariously against classroom heating system. Both of them need to go. I want my students to be able to peruse the shelves. Seeing a picture of Penny Kittle’s classroom library gave me serious shelf envy. My husband and I talked about it, and he would be thrilled if I would get some of our books out of the house and into my classroom. I really just need to get some shelves and fill them.
I missed YA fiction. I haven’t read any in a while, and one aspect of NCTE that I have always enjoyed is the access to titles and conversations about YA literature. I had Eleanor & Park on my Kindle, and I hadn’t read it yet. I started reading it last night, and I didn’t stop until I was done. I found John Green’s quote particularly compelling: “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.” You know what book I keep thinking about now that I’ve finished Eleanor & Park? Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. I fell in love with that book hard. I wore out my copy. I still remember the cover.
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:
Question for the Ages: What Books When? (as an aside, the book the author refers to in the opener is Julius Lester’s From Slave Ship to Freedom Road, which is a picture book; however, when I read it to my sophomore American lit class two years ago, they were aghast that its intended audience was children, for even they had difficulty with some parts)