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. :-)

No comments: