Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 11, 2008

It finally happened

Hi All,

Those of you who took AED 541 with me will delight that I have finally experienced the horrible: I sat in a classroom and observed the students attempt to listen to Of Mice and Men on tape.

It couldn’t have been more perfect. It was my first day at Corcoran. The students came into class, and they immediately started going over the plot details from chapter two of the book. As the teacher tried to get them to concentrate, a fight seemed to be going on outside the door in the hallway. I looked over towards the door, but no one else in the room seemed to notice. After an enlightening plot summary of chapter two, the teacher cued up the good old tape player. SSHHHEEEESHSHHEEEEEESHEHEE “of mice and men ssssschapter three static.static.static” The least they could do is give these kids a decent recording. The teacher walked around the room, nudging kids to wake them up and reminding them to follow along. Clearly, none of them were paying attention.
After a few minutes of staring off into space, one girl raised her hand and said “It would help us to pay attention if we could take turns reading out loud.” The teacher gave her an incredibly sympathetic look and said “I know, HUN, but we need to get through this book quickly, we just dont have time hun.” I just wonder what the point is of getting though a book quickly, if none of the students are paying attention.

Also, talk about irrelevant. The only concern for this teacher was getting the students to learn the plot. Sparknotes could teach them that quickly, since she is in such a hurry to finish the book. Now, I am a huge fan of John Steinbeck, but this book is totally irrelevant for these students. If they HAVE to read it, why can’t they employ some critical literacy- Johnson and Freedman would tell this teacher that she should make it matter. If my district told me I had to teach this book, I’d be pulling out everything I could think of to make it interesting to these kids- Lennie and his instability and potential for violence despite his innocence; the culture of irresponsible sex at brothels; the brotherhood despite conflicts and hardships; and, of course, who’s missing from this text; etc. etc. Plot summary doesn’t cut it, and there’s no excuse.



  1. Finally (yet unfortunately), you experienced my semester of observing at Solvay Middle School from last semester! The duration I spent in the 7th grade English class involved ONLY reading via listening to audio tapes of novels (two to be exact… yes, TWO novels were listened to over a period of 3-4 months). I never asked the teacher why the class listened to books rather than reading them, nor did any of the students question the teacher’s form of instruction. I would expect to receive the same response as the young girl in your class elicited from her teacher. It’s pitiful and mind boggling that an English class does not have the time to read. Isn’t that a paradox! Thanks for your reflection and keep us updated, Allison.


    Comment by jexter1 — February 11, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  2. Allison, Jessica, thanks for sharing your experiences and so eloquently. As always, the pedagogy I see in ELA classrooms leaves me speechless. When there are so many stunning options for engaging adolescent readers, we continue to perpetuate the notion that books are like foul tasting castor oil, “get it down, will ya,’ just get it down!! Get it over with, just get it over with. You need to know it for the test.” There you have it…

    It’s incomprehensible to me how ENGLISH TEACHERS end up perpetuating this pedagogy in English Language Arts classrooms. But they do. And the even more amazing thing is that it doesn’t seem to make them sick!! Imagine the same class with Keith (or any of you) at the helm!

    Every title you read and/or discover in 619 this semester is a reason why kids will not be dozing your own classroom. Every title! KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 11, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  3. Hi Allison and Jessica,

    This is Amanda here (I took 619 last Spring–I believe I saw you all last Thursday evening). Allison, your account of this experience actually made me snort in laughter–sad laughter, of course. This is such a familiar story and I just don’t see why. I couldn’t imagine teaching like this for one day, let alone for months. It really is pedagogical castor oil–and for what purpose? Did any of us like literature within this kind of “suck it up and swallow it quickly” context? I would be Googling the Sparknotes ASAP. 🙂

    Sure, some of you will be in situations where you have to teach texts that students might struggle with (either in your first jobs or in student teaching), but I refuse to believe that this is the only way to go. Certainly, we have more effective, relevant pedagogy to bring to the table. Personally, I don’t see why we have to spend so much time with the quintessential “classics.” Student teaching is one thing, but when you have some more freedom to expand your classroom library and pedagogy (such as with lit circles, seminars, etc.), why wouldn’t you take advantage of it? Think of all of the great YA texts that could accompany (or even replace) some of these “must read” texts. I have several students I’m working with right now that are gobbling up some YA lit I’ve given them. It’s so exciting!

    Good luck to all of you and keep hope–you can break the cycle! 🙂


    Comment by amandayac — February 11, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

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