Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 24, 2008

conversing with middle & high school students

Filed under: Uncategorized — jexter1 @ 8:19 pm

Hello All,

Being a non-Christian, I did not go home for Easter weekend. Instead, I went to my friend’s house for a somewhat educational – and disappointing – Easter dinner. Overall, it was your typical family dinner; however, two particular conversations stand out in my mind from the rest…

My friend has two younger cousins. Both are girls, one is 13 (8th grade), the other 16 years-old (10th grade). The girls go to school north of Syracuse (the name has slipped my mind) and are in virtually all honors/AP classes. I was pleased to discover that they are assigned summer reading. The older cousin told me that last summer she was assigned to one book and the second one was her pick (she chose A SEPARATE PEACE). Perhaps two books is unimpressive, but it’s better than not being assigned any, right? To my dismay, the same girl who was assigned summer reading was given by her AP English teacher a list of books at the beginning of the year with the expectation of all students reading 12 books by June. How many books have they read so far? 2. Okay, I’ll be nice and say 3, since they’ve begun a third. This brings me to ask: Are teachers setting the bar too high for themselves? Was his/her goal genuine, but not properly planned in order to execute such an agenda? My friend’s cousin also told me that the way this teacher assess that the reading(s) has/have been done is through a series of questions, on the occasion. Anyone can lie about the work they have done if that’s how it’s being assessed. The only perk to this class is that the students get to choose what they are reading. Besides that, I don’t see how these students are “advancing” any further than non-advanced placement students are.

Secondly, the 13 year-old told me of a book about a young girl during the Holocaust that her class had just completed. After describing the book to me, she said, with all sincerity and honesty, “I know this is the Holocaust, but all they do is complain!” This young lady had no idea of the gravity of the subject. This brings me to ask if there were preliminary exercises, activities or lessons for the students’ understanding of WWII. Did the teacher prompt his/her students at all for this serious topic? I discussed this with a fellow classmate of mine today, and she suggested that the teacher should have shown a connection between then and now by giving examples of present cases of genocide (e.g. Darfur). Between my in-classroom observations and conversations with middle and high school students, kids/teens need prompting, examples, visual aides and relevance to grasp the meaning of a topic.



  1. Jess, thanks for sharing. Re: that first example–and assessment–without establishing a reading community where talk about books is as available as air, it’s hard to know what students are or are not reading. My first reaction to your observation of this situation is to ask what goes on in class? Last TH night I observed students talking for 2 1/2 hours about a range of reading–I may have regressed to “naive” in midlife (although I don’t think so) but it was very clear to me who was reading, who had been reading w/out my asking a single question. That was true across lit circles, book club and seminars. We are modeling how a literate community looks/sounds whether the members are in their 20’s and 30’s or whether they are in their teens. For sure! KES

    Comment by sunyprof — March 24, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  2. I should add–EVERYone is reading in 619. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — March 24, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

  3. Karen,

    Book Club and Lit Circles would answer my questions in a heartbeat. As I have learned in 541 and currently in 619, essays and quizzes are not needed to determine whether or not reading is being done. If anything, discussions amongst the students are more fruitful than traditional essay writing and test-taking. I do know that the TWILIGHT series is a popular one for the girls and their friends. That made me happy, considering the TWILIGHT series is mentioned in one of the articles I read for my seminar piece. I just wish these students were encouraged to discuss their readings and read more often. 🙂


    Comment by jexter1 — March 24, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

  4. Jess: I just made a connection here when you mentioned the Holocaust. At Grant last week, one of the ELA classes had a really interesting discussion about the Holocaust, rather than fill out worksheets or do other mundane activities. After the discussion, I told the teacher how refreshing it was to see students so passionately engaged in discussion because it was really inspiring. Students essentially debated the merits of the statement found in Anne Frank’s diary about how “all people are good at heart.” It was clear that these students had done a lot of work, and thoroughly understood the issues at hand. Random, but I still wanted to share.


    Comment by mandygrl101 — March 26, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  5. What a great way to bring relevance and interest to the topic!

    Comment by jexter1 — March 26, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

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