Friday, May 21, 2010

English Class #1: Required Reading

A couple days ago I was eavesdropping on the weekly YALitChat on Twitter.  It's too bad I was too busy to pick up more than just the comments from people I already follow, since the topic was how teachers influence what teens read.  Some statements about required reading lists, curriculum, etc. caught my attention.

I thought back to my own experiences as a student.  Honestly, I don't remember most of what I was required to read back then.  I remember reading some Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice) and A Tale of Two Cities in ninth grade.  My teacher that year was smart enough to discuss the themes in a modern context so the books weren't just old and dusty to us.  (There was a particularly heated discussion when he insisted that arranged marriages were the only intelligent way to do things.)

The rest of high school, though?  I remember packets of short stories, but I don't remember titles, authors, or the stories themselves.  There were probably worksheets involved.

You know what else I don't remember?  The popular books for teens at the time.  I don't think I read them ... too stuck in sci-fi land back then.  Can anyone help me out?  What was hot in YA back in the mid- to late-90s?  Was there YA as such?  I never considered myself a "normal" teenager, so I have no idea what was considered "normal" to read.

Is it the same story now?  Nothing but classics, no current works?  From the transcript of the chat, it seems to vary widely.  I can only talk about what I know firsthand, at my current school.

We're lucky for a few reasons.  Our classes are tiny (I think eight students is the biggest), so if teachers want to order copies of a current book, it's not a financial hardship.  This year we started giving students two Language Arts classes - one for reading and one for writing.  This means a lot more time for covering more novels.  I know one of my colleagues tends to alternate - a book from the curriculum list, then one the students choose.

How do I influence my students' reading, especially as a math teacher?  We have twenty minutes of required silent reading time after lunch every day.  For that, I'm in the "I don't care what they read as long as they read something" camp, particularly because I have struggling readers that period.  I happily help one girl understand the articles in fashion magazines and explain new words to a boy who reads online graphic novels.

Other than that, I keep a shelf of loaner YA books (which no one seems to expect from the MATH teacher).  They see me reading them, and it's fun to discuss what they did and didn't like after they finish each book.  The kids like series, so I've got Uglies, Hunger Games, Darkest Powers, and Mortal Instruments sitting up there.

And of course, students keep telling me to get mine published and add it to the collection.

I'm working on it. :-)

Friday, May 14, 2010

What (Teen) Readers Want

Since my writing efforts are focused in the Young Adult area, I'm lucky to have ready access to my target audience.  In fact, I think I spend more hours conversing with teens than adults.  Some will read anything you put in front of them.  Others will tell you over and over how much they hate reading, but once in a while a book engrosses them to the "can't-put-it-down-even-for-my-favorite-class" level.

I've had a few conversations with my students lately about books we'd all read, and what they did or didn't like about them.  After that, I asked them to describe what makes a book "good."  Some interesting responses so far, and I'll add more as I collect them.

From a sophomore girl:
DETAILS!  [And after further prompting...] Of characters and settings.
I love that she wants details from authors, but is reluctant to give many herself.

From a junior girl:
I am tired of the dumb chick, the unexplained dude.  I think it should cover all types - romance, action, funny, and scary - in some way.  I also think it should always keep me guessing!
 I had an entire lunchtime conversation with that girl about the "dumb chick" issue - or Stupid-Girl Syndrome.  She could have gone on, and so could I, but I'll refrain for now.

From another sophomore girl, an aspiring writer (can you tell?):
I don't really know how to answer, but in my opinion, a good book must have a conflict, complex characters, and a well organized plot.  Characters can't not have a personality; readers have to be drawn in by their personalities, good or bad.  A well organized plot is necessary - you don't want to confuse people. If you don't have a conflict, it will be a never-ending story, droning on and on.  The idea has to be original, too - who wants to read a story that has already been told before?
I'll be sure to tell her Composition teacher she's been paying attention in class. *grin*

More to come, especially some guy perspectives.  Anyone else out there have info on what teens are looking for in a good read?

Quick Update

I've been meaning to post for a while, but real life + writing has gotten in the way.  (That's a good thing, right?)  Here's the latest:

  • Fingerprints didn't make the semifinal round of ABNA.  That's all right, though.  I'll have a post discussing my Publishers Weekly review soon.
  • The first five pages (with the option to read a little more) are available for rating on WEbook's PageToFame contest.  More for fun and curiosity than anything else.  Rating other people's work is fun, too.
  • "Assumptions" is being rated on WEbook's PageToFame Shorts contest.  Totally just for fun.
  • I "finished" the sequel to Fingerprints, tentatively titled Echoes.  It's been through a few rounds of editing and beta reads, and little sis is working on a cover design (in case I end up going the self-pub route with this whole thing).
  • The third book in the series (as yet untitled) is underway.
  • An agent still has the Fingerprints full.
  • Still working on short story submissions.
  • Several queries out in the ether.
  • Oh, yeah ... final exams and graduation are coming up.
Sounds busy enough to me.