I will talk about Young Adult books, I will talk about bridging YA texts with classics and classic authors. I will talk about YA books that will appeal to certain types of readers and YA books to avoid. I will talk about YA authors, YA trends and even YA movies. Most importantly, I will talk about YOUNG ADULTS. This blog is about and for young adults, teachers of young adults, parents of young adults and anyone and everyone who enjoys reading and discussing good writing.
As teachers and parents, these young readers should be our focus – not a prescribed curriculum. In observing my own students and as an avid reader myself, I am aware that there are people out there who espouse to not like to read. When I began teaching in 2000, I thought that this would be the exception rather than the rule with my junior high students. I was sorely disappointed. I discovered that the love that we all seem to have for reading when we are small children, elementary-age children, seemed to have somehow been bled out of these children. And I do mean BLED. As I conversed with my students over the first three years of teaching, I heard horror stories of torturous in-class, mandatory reading aloud of Dickens and Steinbeck and even (but only for those “gifted” children) Faust. Pages and pages of comprehension questions assigned after these readings/bludgeonings. Essay upon essay assigned about character motivation and setting motifs. And along with the ink, these students’ love of the story was left on the page. I was horrified. These students were then 8th and 9th graders and had been subjected to these high school and college level texts plus literary analysis techniques that were completely inappropriate for their age and cognitive development levels. I’m not saying that Dickens doesn’t have its place in middle level education but assuming that students will appreciate these texts merely because they are considered classics or because they are written by well-known authors is a fallacy of logic. If we are to effectively teach them, we must make young adults the center of our focus. They are not smaller, less wrinkled adults. So we cannot give them smaller, less dense portions of texts intended for adults. Young adults are still developing and so we must continue to develop how and with what we choose to teach them.
Children and adolescents are defined as children and adolescents precisely BECAUSE they don’t think, react or reason in the same way as adults. Therefore, we have to think differently when considering what, how and why they read. In the same way we give building blocks and guidance when teaching a child HOW to read, we have to give different but just as essential building blocks and guidance when teaching them how to select and analyze what they read. This does not mean that we ignore texts that are seminal to each student’s literary education, but it does mean that we make sure the students are ready to tackle these texts before we throw the texts at the students or before we throw the students at the texts.
It took almost five years for me to become comfortable with the process of coaching a student and I’m still learning and perfecting how I work with students. As with all legitimate learning, I did not do it on my own – I had help from wonderful librarians, other teachers who also recognized the need to resuscitate our middle and high school level students’ reading culture, as well as teacher-educators, college professors, authors, bookstores and – most importantly – the students themselves. I have seen with my own eyes what can happen when you respect their maturity level and cognitive differences and let students make their own decisions about what they will read. It is powerful to watch a student be intuitive and discerning (much like an adult) when choosing a book or story.
So we begin this process of coaching a student through falling in love with reading again or falling deeper in love with it while learning to effectively pick their own reading material. It does not usually take long– even with students who are staunch, self-labeled non-readers. As I always tell my students, it’s not that they don’t like to read – it’s that they’re reading the wrong thing. I have found over the years that students really want to be readers and there is usually a book that can make them believe (as they once did when they were first learning to read) that reading is something they can and want to do. You as a teacher, parent, or friend just have to be willing to listen and you MUST be knowledgeable about what is out there for middle level and high school readers.
Yes, that means Young Adult literature and yes, that means you will have to read it. I know that all our time is precious and even sacrificing sleep is sometimes not enough to create that lesson that you know your students need. I’ve created this blog to share with others what I’ve learned over the last 11 years and what I continue to learn about YA literature and TEACHING with YAL.