Teaching Ya Lit

The first day I read the syllabus to Prof. Mueller’s English 464 class, I was suprised to see the book Hunger Games as one of our required books. What could Dr. Mueller possibly want us to do with this book? I had an inkling that this book had something to do with the application of popular literature in an academic setting as a method to encourage a love of reading in students, and I was immediately intrigued. As a huge fan of Harry Potter in middle school, I have seen how certain popular novels can get a segment of the younger population reading that would normally never pick up a book. I even managed to get my younger brother reading the Harry Potter books–one of the few books I think he’s ever read cover-to-cover outside of school–and he even continued the whole series despite being teased by his friends for being a “nerd.” And, despite Harry Potter’s label as a “children’s book,” the series does deal with some suprisingly adult concepts: love, death, depression, discrimination, governmental suppression and even latent homosexuality (yes, Dumbledore IS gay).

So, naturally, I was interested to read this article by Mike Roberts from the TCTE website, which is about applying Young Adult novels to curriculum in school. Interestingly, this article wrote about applying popular literature to subjects outside of English, like science and math, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Teaching literature in a math class? It never occurred to me.

However, I can easily see how this makes sense. Reading is an important skill for children to learn and literature is always valuable in academia. So why not combine good literature with other subjects? I remember vividly taking a Biology class in high school and excelling in it simply because the textbook was well-written and intriguing, not because I was good at science or even interested in it. Powerful, interesting, well-written literature has the power to engage students in subjects that they would otherwise find uninteresting.

The author of the article cites several popular books that can be applied to science, history and math classes, which is helpful. Her guide to getting other teachers to apply literature to their classes is a bit strange and sneaky, however: I doubt that any teacher that would refuse to apply literature to their classroom would also read a Young Adult book on their free time simply because some other teacher suggested it, and then magically become convinced to use it as part of their curriculum. In fact, I think most teachers would resent that kind of condescension. If I wanted to work with another teacher to apply literature to a non-English subject, I would be upfront about my intentions. The author’s idea of “co-teaching” was one that I found especially exciting. I f I were an English teahcer, I would love to have a history or science teacher visit my class and explain some of the aspects of the plot of the novel in a deeper way. Likewise, I would love to help a science or math teacher use an interesting piece of literature to make his own subject more interesting or informative.

I still am not sure what Prof. Muller intends us to do with The Hunger Games. However, suffice it to say that I am even more interested to find out.

– Mary Beth



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5 responses to “Teaching Ya Lit

  1. I’m not sure what I would do with Twilight either! It seems that you mean Hunger Games, right? If that’s true, I find the subconscious connection fascinating.


    Haha! Whoops … Don’t know why I wrote that! I am not up to par on my YA lit, apparently. All I know is Twilight is vampires and Hunger Games is not about vampires. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

  3. I find your post really interesting, in that in a way it connects to my recent post. In particular you touch upon two items that interest me a great deal and are popping up in my education courses. The first one is engaging students as readers. In my “designing a curriculum” course one of my classmates, who is doing his ore-Practicum at Boston Latin School (BLS), tells about a class he is currently observing. He tells us that the class is currently reading Twelf Night, and that in order to engage the students the teacher has them connect their reading to real life. What she does is tells the students to take pictures with their cell phones, of themselves, that relate to what they have read. The pictures are then used to build comic strips and word bubbles are added. The students then add the words from the text that parallels the action in the photos. He explains that the students are very engaged and really are enjoying connecting the reading to their out of school lives. I know you we’re discussing engaging students by adding popular literature into the mix, but I think this is a great example of modernizing an older work to engage the students. The article explains that these sort of connections “will remain with [students] long after they leave our classrooms”. It is a great way for them to build their understanding of the text.

    The second thing you bring up that caught my attention was the discussion of interdisciplinary work. Again this has come up in several of my education courses. I am currently working alongside a future history teacher and a future English teacher to build a five day unit. In this unit we are to incorporate both of our disciplines equally, and at the same time take our students out of the classroom. Thanks for including the link, I found the article interesting!

  4. P.S. I loved the Twilight books, heehee! It’s a guilty pleasure…along with the Kardashians! :-O Can’t wait to read the Hunger Games!!

  5. I also enjoyed your post. I had a similar reaction when I found out that we needed Hunger Games for class. I know that I am an English major and people were often surprised when I said I was reading the series. I would get comments such as “You’re reading that?!” “Don’t you read great literature? Why would you read that?” It was quite annoying. Yes, I read “great” literature but that does not mean that I am isolated from popular books. Of course, I did not think that it was the most well written book I have ever read, but it still dealt with real issues and captivated me. As was written above, we all need a mindless guilty pleasure reading every once in awhile. What was also great about reading it was that I could talk to people about it. People young, old, coworkers, friends, parents, siblings, had read this book and wanted to talk about it. I just finished The Country Girls trilogy and trust me the people I see and interact with on a daily basis are not talking about that. I read a lot of “great” literature but the people in my life have no idea what I am talking about. Growing up I was always a bookworm which isolated me since it was outside the norm. While my classmates were running around the recess yard, I was in the corner reading my book. I remember that this changed when the Harry Potter series came out. All my classmates were reading it and talking about it and suddenly I fit in.

    I think that this is what is important. Yes we need to read the classics, most of which I have absolutely loved during my time as an English major, but we should also read/teach other books as well. In a high school setting where it is getting harder and harder to get kids to love to read we need to adapt. Kids hate reading, but it’s usually because they feel forced to read books they do not think that they will like. In doing so we are losing kids and not fostering a love for reading. Bringing popular novels into the classroom, as well as the classics, can help foster a love for reading. I know that part of the reason I wanted to be an English teacher was to pass on my love for reading. But I know that not everyone is going to want to read and be excited about the classics like I am, but why not compromise and read and be excited about what interests them?

    Jessica Dick

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