Monday, August 31, 2009

Popular fiction in the classroom?

There's an article up on the New York Times website about a teacher in Atlanta who allows her students to read whatever they want to* in her middle-school literature class. The students explore their reading via journal entries and one-on-one discussions with the teacher. There seems to be debate over how this unique approach affected the students' standardized test scores, but I think it's an interesting idea--when I was a kid, I had a friend who read nothing but those written-by-committee Nancy Drew paperbacks, and while the stories weren't all that great, she seemed to get a lot from their clear, easy-to-read writing style, and became a solid writer herself.

I'm not saying there's no value to force-feeding kids The Jungle or The Great Gatsby, but this article did have me wondering if there might be some middle ground. What if teachers chose classic novels, and then asked students to choose a modern novel with a similar theme? Let the kids read Stephenie Meyer, but then point 'em at a Bronte novel, or guide them from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park.

Of course, another option might be just to choose more kid-friendly required reading. In my experience, it is very, very difficult to interest a reluctant reader in, say, Ethan Frome. Many children find the language off-putting, and the ones who can get past the language are creeped out by the subject matter. But why not choose something like Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, or Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Orient Express, or the Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel? All of these stories have their pluses and minuses, but if the idea is to expose a young reader to a classic novel, it might not be a bad idea to choose something highly readable. And if all else fails, I think teachers should stick to teaching the books that they love, because kids do respond to genuine enthusiasm... even if it's genuine enthusiasm over Bartleby the Scrivener.

*Except Gossip Girl books or novels based on video games, apparently.

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Blogger Marie said...

I love this idea for an add-on but I do think that teachers should expose kids to classics first. maybe the kids could pick from a list of suggestions or something. when i was a teen i was dying for good books to read and often asked my teachers for suggestions- and some of them came up with some great ideas.

6:27 PM

Blogger Yulianka said...

Yeah, I think giving kids a choice is always a good idea--particularly when you arrange the choice in a way that leaves their teacher happy with either outcome. That way *they* feel empowered (and therefore less bitter about being forced to read something they don't want to), and yet they still have a shot at being exposed to something outside of their literary comfort zone.

6:38 PM


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