Category Archives: In the classroom

Round 2 of modern fiction for the modern classroom

By Claire W. Staley

Earlier posts have discussed why incorporating modern fiction into the modern classroom is essential for promoting reading among today’s teens and the beginning of a list of novels that every teacher should consider (starting with John Green, The Hunger Games, and Divergent).  Today’s post focuses on three more books that teachers should consider adding to their required reading lists and classroom discussions.

  1. Crank by Ellen Hopkins. A good girl gone drug addict? This is totally relevant to teenagers today. Going beyond the physical and mental effects of addiction, this book could open discussions of rape, sexual assault, and their effects on a person. Discussions of how parental influence affects children, how and why a person chooses to love the people he or she does, and how to look forward again, can be used in classrooms. This book reminds me to take a look at where I want to be in the future and really think about how each of my choices are going to get me there.
  2. Uglies by Scott Westerfield. In a universe where a medical procedure makes everyone beautiful when they turn sixteen, two teenagers will figure out their place in the world. Corrupt governments, outlaws, and insiders collide to provide a cast of characters that are inspiring and different in a world of perfection. This is a roller coast dystopian YA novel that tests the characters strengths, fortitude, and courage constantly.
  3. Maximum Ride by James Patterson. This book attacks the whole “scientists were so preoccupied with if they could they didn’t think about if they should” problem. A group of kids go on daring quests to discover their pasts, their futures, and their purposes. Since beginning to read this series, I’ve convinced myself that the main character, Max, is a wonderful role model and her qualities of compassion, courage, and never giving up are a large part of deciding who I will be in the future.

I like to pick the first book in a series because if a student loves the first book they immediately know where to go for another one like it. If we would like children and teenagers to read more, perhaps starting them off with a first book in a series will help. If they liked the first, they have more to read, and from those books they can look for more. The domino effect is powerful, and in this case it might lead to a revolution in reading. For someone to read a complicated piece of literature, they must first enjoy the act of reading itself.

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Modern fiction for the modern classroom: Round 1

By Claire W. Staley

In an earlier post, I discussed why today’s students have a distaste for reading and why incorporating more modern fiction into the classroom would be a tremendous step forward in promoting reading among teens. Today’s post includes a few of my suggestions for modern books that can be used in the classroom. Perhaps, if more teachers took into account these next books, kids and teenagers would have a new outlook on books.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Even teenagers who hate reading are reading this book. The Fault in Our Stars is a story about overcoming the vastness of the universe, finding your place in an unpredictable and unfair world, and finding happiness for those around you despite the horrible things that happen in the world. It’s modern, edgy, clever, and filled to the brim with enough symbolism and discussion points to keep teachers happy for weeks, if not entire semester. Plus, it’s well written, thoughtful, and has a good story with likable characters.

Positive role models: Hazel Grace, Gus, Hazel’s parents, Gus’s parents, Isaac, and etc…

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A brilliant work of literature that delves into the worst parts of humanity with hope, inspiration, and intelligence. Unlike The Road, which is also post-apocalyptic and shows the worst of humanity, this story has hope in it. Collins, despite the horrific lives these people lead, infuses her words with a chance at a better future. She writes to illuminate and change, while creating compelling characters we can root for.

Positive role models: Peeta, Finnick, Rue, Prim, and Katniss (though I’m not convinced her literary job is to be a role model)

  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Tris, the main character, taught me to be strong, courageous, to make a change, to believe in oneself, and to never give up. She battles rivals close to her and far above her, the entire time with kindness, compassion, and a clever head that is capable of making tough choices as well as loving her family and friends. I aspire to have some of her strength and her ability to adapt quickly and positively.

Positive role models: Tris, Four, most of the Dauntless initiates minus Peter, Uriah, and etc…

 

Next post? Round 2 in my suggestions for incorporating modern fiction into the classroom!

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The case for modern teen & YA fiction in school classrooms

by Claire W. Staley

Some people tell me that they wish they read as much as I do, but they either don’t have the time, or they don’t enjoy it. The way teenagers or college students see reading confounds me, especially when their faces are like most children’s when they are told to eat vegetables. Most students look at reading as a requirement for class, and most don’t even read those books. And yet, they want to read.

My friends believe they should read, and even have a desire to do so, but they haven’t had an experience with reading that makes them act upon this.

To enjoy reading, teenagers think they must enjoy all types of books, or, even worse, that they must enjoy the classic literature they are force fed from eighth grade onward. If students are not getting good books at home, the only experience with literature comes from school. I’m sorry to say that A Christmas Carol—or any other book by Charles Dickens for that matter—has done nothing to inspire me to pick up books and read them. And it has not inspired anyone else I know, either. If teachers honestly expect students to be avid readers after reading Shakespeare I think they are quite mistaken. I am not saying to this cut Shakespeare (or Dickens) out of the curriculum (I, for one, adore Shakespeare), but perhaps infusing it with modern YA books would create a new generation of readers.

Harry Potter got me started on books in fourth grade. The books taught me about the values of kindness, courage, intelligence, wit, reflection, loss, love, fortitude, standing up for my beliefs, and the power of a single individual. This is only a fraction of what I could say about Harry Potter, but there are a multitude of books that students love and are usable in the classroom. Divergent, Eragon, Artemis Foul, anything by Tamora Pierce, The Hunger Games, and countless others have created powerful role models that changed my life. When I have a problem I look to them. I look to Hermione, I look to Tris, I look to Peeta, I look to Percy Jackson, and I look to Hazel Grace. They always provide me with answers and support. They have never let me down, and I wonder why these characters aren’t a part of my education experience at school.

To pretend that John Green (The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) is just teen fiction and has no basis in a classroom because his books are not “old” or about certain subjects is to deny every student and what they love. It reinforces the idea that there are good books to read and bad books to read, and that only one kind has value. Once teenagers find books with relevance to their lives and are well written, then they will read.

My next blog post will explore this concept even more as I discuss different books that I recommend for classrooms.

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Mapping ninjas into the classroom

Imagine a series of middle-grade novels that allow parents and teachers to explore the following questions in their classrooms:
  • How does violence effect human behavior and psychology?
  • How do stories reflect how people behave through fear, shame, power, strength?
  • What is the nature of courage and leadership, and how does this bystander culture limit it
  • How does bullying, intimidation and oppression, by individuals and in groups, effect human
  • How doe adults relate to children, and how is this different from peer relationships, whether child to child, or adult to adult?
  • How do young teens deal with the challenges, threats and violence they face on a daily or regular basis?
Well imagination is no longer necessary! These themes and more are developed through the stories and characters of A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade.  Honestly, I didn’t realize how thorough these themes were, and how well they mapped over to newly established Common Core literary standards, until I went through the exercise myself.
While I had written the books thinking about classroom use, I was quite gratified to see how well they fit the needs of classroom teachers.The results are available for free download at my website, www.srstaley.com, or by clicking here.
These maps are for 7th grade common core literary standards. I am working on 5th, 6th and 8th grade maps as well.
Stay tuned!
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