Yes, one of those things that everyone has to endure in high school is the novel reading. I have been teaching literature for twenty five years and the real question is whether the novels I teach should be the classics or should I teach contemporary novels that the kids pick out themselves?
I started a classroom blog a few years ago where my seniors could answer anonymous questions that I pose. The big question that I wanted to hear the answer to was, Should we read the classics or should you be able to choose your own novel to read? My expectations were that students all wanted to choose their own books: I was wrong. It was about 50-50. Students do like some of the classics but they would also like to choose some of the novels themselves. You always have those wonderful students who love to read and those kids will pick up anything you ask them to read. But, the majority of a traditional class of students does not want to read literature that was written before their grandparents were alive. At least a quarter to half the class admitted that they pick up Cliff Notes or Spark Notes or any equivalent that they can get to off of the internet. So what five things should you remember as a teacher of literature?
1. Kids do not know that great literature transcends time and space and once they read these classics, and are discussing their themes, they will find it is worth their time. The universal truths in classics are a huge part of our society and our culture. Amazon.com has a forum on one hundred classics that all students should read.
2. When four hundred high school students were polled, To Kill a Mockingbird is considered their favorite novel. Unfortunately, about half of those students never read a novel outside of school.
3. Teach the classics and teach contemporary literature, too. Many of us thought Catcher in the Rye was the best book we have ever read. I still consider it one of my favorites but kids these days do not see the same things in it necessarily that we did in the sixties and seventies. Yes, it is still exciting to teach but also teach some of the books that have come out in the past five years. To find all of the award winning books for the year, go to http://www.thereadingtub.com and the YALSA yearly award winners. Some contemporary books that high school students love areUnwind and Paper Towns.
4. Teach different genres. Our readers are not difficult to convince to read but it is the non-readers who we must convince that when they find the right book, they will enjoy reading. I had athletes look for sports literature like Friday Night Lights or Brian’s Song. There’s nothing wrong with teaching mysteries or science fiction. James Patterson’s mysteries are easy reads with very short chapters. For sci fi, 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 are wonderful. (yes, they are classics) You can start sci fi with short stories like “Harrison Bergeron.“
5. Don’t forget about mythology. Students these days love video games and many of them originate from classic mythology. I teach two mythology classes and the juniors and seniors are really enjoying the stories and they are ALL READING. Don’t just stick with Greek or Roman. Go with world mythology.
Expand your horizons and introduce your students to new and classic important writings….The important thing is to READ!!