Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Assigned Reading!

This week's RTW is about something near and dear to my heart: assigned reading!

This week's topic:
In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?
This one is fun because, to some extent, I DO have the power to change the curriculum, at least in my own classes.  
1)  The most successful book I have ever, ever taught?  By a landslide?  No surprise here: The Hunger Games.  It got my students reading, which is absolutely my measure of success in the classroom.

2) The book I paired with The Hunger Games in my Dystopian Lit class was The Giver.  I have loved it for so long that it breaks my heart to think of kids growing up without reading it.  It has a much slower build than The Hunger Games but most of the kids agreed that the payoff was worth it.

My first year of teaching--or rather, my first year of standing in front of my classroom every day trying to teach something--I followed a pretty cool curriculum our school uses that included a unit on Tim Burton's films and a unit on To Kill a Mockingbird.  Both were more or less busts, even though I loved the material.  There were two units that worked a little better, though:

3) Romeo and Juliet.  I knew my classes a little better by then, so I decided that rather than struggle through cold readings of the script, we would watch the Baz Luhrmann movie--with captions on.  We actually had some really good close reading discussions with the movie paused, looking at the writing on the screen.

4)  Speak

5) Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

6) Monster
7) The Outsiders
These were all from our lit circle unit.  The circles themselves weren't great, but these books got some really positive responses.  Speak was the first book that some of my students actually read on their own.  The students in the Part-Time Indian group thought they were getting away with murder--they figured there was no way a teacher would assign a book with that many pictures and swear words if she had actually read it.  (I shocked them when I calmly told them that I had read it twice, knew full well what was in it, and thought it had sufficient literary merit to assign it anyway.)  

If I got to add any book, right now, into the classes I'm teaching now?  Hmm.  Honestly, I just read Before I Fall, and I think we could have some really great discussions about issues of bullying and relationships and personal responsibility.  Then again, in terms of hooking reluctant readers, nothing beats The Compound.  Or if I wanted my students to think about big ideas--government, privacy, environmental issues--maybe Water Wars or Delirium or The Forest of Hands and Teeth


  1. I was thinking of Before I Fall, too! So many YA books do a great job of teaching empathy.
    I remember watching the Zeferelli R&J film in high school and the Leo-Claire version, too. It was interesting to compare/contrast the play, old film, and new film. We also read West Side Story as a companion piece.

  2. Haha you sound like a wonderful English teacher....

    And just out of curiosity, would you mind my asking at what type of school you teach (public/private/charter) that you are allowed to control your own curriculum?

  3. Wow, great books to get your kids reading! My students loved Ender's Game, which I chose to do with them (one kid even went and read all the next books in the series--Success!). I wanted to do Romeo & Juliet with them but was told I couldn't because they'd be doing it the next year in high school. Boo. Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you :)

  4. You sound like an awesome teacher! I hope your students know how lucky they are :)

    I chose MONSTER, SPEAK, and THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY, too. Great books with modern protagonists and tons of literary merit.

  5. WOW - so many good choices! I love that you are using these in your classroom!

  6. That would be so sneaky to use Forest of Hands and Teeth! I'd be all, "Zombies, yay!" and then those truly lyrical, incredibly written passages seep into your awareness . . .

  7. I teach in a public school--with a fantastic principal who really respects the teaching faculty. She's been really open to the suggestions of the English dept. and basically supports anything that's good for our kids. It's a great situation!


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