The Use of Young Adult Literature to Enhance Textbook Reading and Course Curriculum
Where have all the fun books gone? Gone to graveyards every last one? I have had the opportunity of being a substitute teacher in the Norwegian public school system over the last eight years while working on my Master's and PPU studies. I have taught from the third grade, all levels of primary thereon, as well as lower secondary, to culminate with my current position as an English teacher at an upper secondary school. One thing I know to be true, through my observations and experiences, is that the excitement for reading leaves a child by the time they're through with the lower secondary school. There are many reasons for this, however, it cannot be disputed that the availability of fun books and the time set aside for reading during the school day diminishes, if not ceases to exist altogether. The school has literally become a graveyard.
I remember taking third and fourth graders to the school library once a week to borrow books. It was like letting them loose in a candy store. The librarian had displayed books on the shelves with posters showing pictures from the books and giving small reviews about them. There were couches and comfortable chairs to sit in. The new books that had just arrived had these really neat and picturesque covers with inviting titles. It was invigorating to observe students ooooh and awhhh over them. The classrooms even had a corner for reading with pillows on the floor and hand-me-down couches from someone's home. There was always time set aside for reading. Young students also made the connection between the books they had read and topics we discussed in the various subjects. They would raise their hands and say how the topic of discussion reminded them about something or someone they had read about in a book from the library. How can we as teachers bring reading back into the classroom. What can we do to not only make reading enjoyable, but to connect it to what students are learning at school, connect it to what they experience in their social lives and utilize reading to help students prepare for what lies ahead?
This article will provide some tips and guidelines as to how teachers can get started in implementing young adult literature into the content areas to enchance the curriculum and bring the fun back into learning. Some background information and research will be touched upon. Then I will explain how teachers can assess reading attitudes and interests. I will then define in better detail young adult literature, multicultural literature and trade books and how to use trade books. I will then take the reader of this article into the classroom to give them a glimpse of what I have done and other examples of what can be done. I will conclude by providing some strategies and sources for trade books and other relevant information.
I had the pleasure of working with Professor Thomas W. Bean while I was doing my Master's in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He is a professor of Reading/Literacy and Coordinator of Doctoral Studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UNLV. His teaching and research center on multicultural young adult literature in content classrooms. Dr. Bean, along with John E. Readence, Professor in the College of Education at UNLV and R. Scott Baldwin, Dean of the School of Education at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, have authored several editions of a book titled, Content Area Literacy, An Integrated Approach. While I was a student at UNLV they had just released the seventh edition of this book and currently one will find their most recent, ninth edition, at www.kendallhunt.com. The ninth edition concentrates on content area literacy in middle schools (6th - 8th grades) and secondary classrooms (lower and upper). They provide information on technology and instructional practices for using the Internet, wikis, blogs, cybraries and reading and learning across the disciplines.
In a survey (McKenna, Kear and Ellsworth, 1995) carried out in grades 1 through 6 (18,185 students), attitudes towards academic and recreational reading were studied. Results showed that reading attitudes declined and by the time students were in the 6th grade, they cared little for academic or recreational reading. Guthrie and Wigfield (2000) found that decline in academic and recreational reading paralleled declines in national assessment performance. They also pointed out from their research that students learn more content from interesting texts and that using interesting texts in a content classroom help students connect with pre-existing interests and new content. The latest PISA survey published in December of 2007, measured students' abilities to read and comprehend. Some countries experienced positive results since the last survey, but on the whole, students in general have shown no signs of improvement. Norwegian students fell under the average of the OECD's criteria in both mathematics and reading. In addition Norwegian students show a remarkable fall in the science field compared to the average OECD criteria 1 Hellekjær (2007) adds from the PISA survey that
test scores indicated that many pupils were not able to match their way of reading to the reading purpose. Many also lacked the ability to efficiently extract and process information from written texts.
I can give a first hand example of what he is saying here. I remember in December of last year I had second year Media students preparing for the written semester test in English They asked me how they were going to manage to write anything when they hadn't read any texts. Some of the tasks asked that they relate personal experiences to literary texts. They claimed that they had not read any literary texts and asked if they could instead refer to a film they had seen. This is not an isolated incident. This is in fact the reality of students' relationship to the written word. It is not that students have not read texts earlier in their education, but they have difficulty connecting these pre-existing texts with new tasks. Students have been exposed to texts from the Bible in their religion classes, they have read extracts of literary texts in their textbooks, not to forget to mention the enormous volumes of text they are exposed to from the internet!
The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training states that results from the PISA survey of 2006 show that students fell under the OECD's standard requirements for reading, math and science and that Norway experienced a decline in results during the period from 2000 to 2006 2. I would like to mention the Directorate's Strategy for Stimulating a Love of Reading and Reading Skills, 2003-2007. This strategy is known as «Make Space for Reading!» which was started in 2003. I will comment more on this program later on in my article. It states:
The strategic plan has a strong focus on local activity. Since 2003, schools and municipalities have initiated several hundred large and small projects concerning teaching reading at all levels, reading routines, provision of literature, stimulation of reading and use of school libraries. It is important for schools to develop lasting measures. They are therefore encouraged to make a plan for reading that includes pupils in all classes. Local, regional and state education authorities, as well as libraries, colleges and universities, are involved in the various activities 3.
I will not dwell on research, but I do wish to point out one more study done by Jo Worthy, University of Texas at Austin. As a part of a larger study, three schools were chosen that represented a range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups. There were 419 students involved in the study (Middle School). The open-ended question posed to them was, «What could your language arts teacher do to make students more motivated to read?» Students were asked to write up to 3 suggestions. A total of 506 suggestions were given. The largest percentage of students were concerned with classroom modifications.
They were also focused on how to change instruction to increase enjoyment of self-selected reading time through choice, more time to read, and a more comfortable and fun atmosphere for reading. Students also pointed out that they would like their teachers to read aloud more often to them and introduce books and authors that they might enjoy reading. Here are some of their comments:
Let us always choose what we want to read! Let us read every day so we get a habit of it. Could we get some couches and beanbag chairs so we can be more relaxed when we read? The teacher can find an exciting book, read a little bit of it, and then we may want to read it. Let us talk to our friends about the books we're reading so we can hear how good the books are. Get some new books. These are from the 1960's!
Let me just point out that the public and school libraries I have visited carry a very limited selection of young adult literature in English. I am not just referring to the English language here when I speak of young adult literature. However, libraries do not give priority to keeping up-to-date with modern contemporary literature for our young people in languages other than Norwegian. I have even been to some of the major book stores in Oslo and the surrounding area, and the choice of young adult literature in the various foreign languages taught in our schools, is not to boast about.
Literature in the Content Areas
First of all, what is literature in the content areas? How can we as teachers get started with this concept and how can we apply it to our classroom situation?
Bringing young adult literature into the classroom and across the disciplines is not a new phenomenon. There are hundreds of sites on the internet offering books, teacher resources and research on this topic. Teachers are open to these ideas and many of them think they are good ones, but teachers do not see how concepts like these can be realized in a practical sense in their classrooms and at the schools where they teach. Teachers need guidance and they need to know that there is time in their busy schedule to do this. Teachers need to go outside of the box and realize that this is not something they do in addition to what they are already doing, but rather challenge themselves to think differently as to how they present their content. With the new curriculum, Kunnskapsløftet (K06), methods are no longer an issue, only competence goals. This is where the great challenge lies. Remember, it is your responsibility as a teacher to bring reading back into the classroom and help students make the connection of pre-existing knowledge and interests to new content. Many content area teachers assume that librarians and language teachers are the ones responsible for introducing students to books beyond the required texts in social studies, science, mathematics and elective areas. This is not the case. Young adult literature is a treasure of books that can illuminate concepts about every aspect of the comprehensive curriculum and that can be put to use by all teachers in all disciplines in a school. Another aspect teachers need to become familiar with is the increasingly rich choice and availability of multicultural literature. For many years teachers have been resistant to accepting the works of minority authors. However, the collection of multicultural young adult literature is growing and much of it can be used in content area teaching.
The biggest challenge in implementing a program like this in the schools is the support required from the school's administration. I will expand on this later in the article.
Assessment of Reading Attitudes and Interests
Before teachers can begin to use young adult literature in the classroom with their students, they need to find out more about their students' attitudes toward reading as well as their students' reading interests. Before collecting and purchasing books for young people, teachers need to carry out a few, simple surveys.
According to Baldwin, Bean and Readence (2001) attitudes can be defined as the feelings that make a reader want to approach or avoid a reading situation. Family and school experiences are the most important factors in shaping a reader's attitudes about reading. Since attitudes are a critical factor in using trade books (more said about trade books later in this article) in content
classrooms, teachers need to know how to assess students' attitudes toward reading. One common method is the self-report questionnaire. This survey was developed for use with middle and secondary school students. An example of the BJP survey is attached. This survey may be reproduced by individual teachers for noncommercial purposes. When administering the questionnaire, remember to avoid response bias. Response bias occurs when students write down what they think the teacher wants instead of how they really feel. When surveys are kept anonymous and groups are assessed, rather than individuals, response bias can be avoided. The main purpose of attitude surveys is to promote reading related to content areas.
I would like to point out that I have given the Reading Attitude Survey on numerous occasions to my students both at the lower and upper secondary levels, and there is one factor which always stands out regardless of whether it is male or female; that is, that all students strongly disagree that reading is a waste of time, but strongly agree that they don't have enough time to read books (pleasure reading).
Galda, Ash, & Cullinan (2000) define reading interests as the material students actually select. They distinguish reading interests from reading preferences by saying that reading preferences indicate what they might like to read. Reading interests, on the other hand, are more complicated as they are determined by individual differences, sociocultural norms and expectations. Knowing more about students' interests will help teachers select reading material. There are different types of interest inventories and two examples of these are enclosed. The most useful type of interest inventory is a general interest inventory which helps teachers find out what kinds of things students are interested in reading. Interest inventories can also be made more specific. For instance, an interest inventory can be carried out on sports and each sport could be subdivided into fiction stories or nonfiction books. Yet another type of interest inventory can be created for a specific content area. This type of inventory can provide information about group interests as well as guide individual students with outside reading. This information can also assist a teacher in choosing books before an upcoming project or theme. Enclosed at the end of this article are examples of these types of inventories. There is no limit to the numbers of and manner in which interest inventories can be created.
Young Adult Literature
What is young adult literature? Nilsen and Donelson (2000, p. 6) define it as «anything that readers between the approximate ages of twelve and twenty choose to read.» Young adult literature includes a wide variety of genres such as mystery, science fiction, romance, adventure, fantasy, sports and historical fiction to name a few. Unlike textbook readings which present facts and problem solving, young adult literature motivates students into higher levels of interpretative thinking. More on this topic can be found in the research of Langer (1989). Young adult literature revolves around family relationships, alienation, friends and society, death, disabilities, drugs and alcohol and sexual relationships, to give a few examples. Teachers can locate those books which focus on concepts and issues in their courses. Annotated lists can be created. More about this will be mentioned under sources of trade books later in this article. An example of an annotated list tailor-made to a social studies classroom is enclosed for your reference. Remember, however, you as a teacher need to develop your own unique collection of novels, magazines and enjoyable reading material that expands on textbook readings and concepts in your classroom.
What is a trade book?
Trade books are found on the open market. They are books you will find at popular bookstores, both online or in your area. They are generally found in paperback form and readers exchange, trade or swap them with others after they are finished reading them. However, more and more books can be found electronically. Teachers can create podcasts for the classroom, both for books that the class is reading together and books for individual reading. For example, www.podiobooks.com provides an endless number of books for all audiences. Search for young adult to find books for your classroom. Another great place to find out what teens are reading and what they think about the books they read is, www.teenspoint.org. Click on Reading Matters in the left hand margin. Among other items, are top teen picks and teen reviews.
Baldwin, Bean and Readence, (2001) state that multicultural literature provides a portrait of people's experiences from a bicultural perspective. This literature deals with minority groups within a culture who fall outside the mainstream culture in a society. When multicultural literature is presented in a culturally and authentic manner, students can identify themselves with these books they read and relate to the characters' experiences. Nieto (2000) is of the opinion that in order to effectively use multicultural literature in the classroom, teachers must become multicultural themselves. Social issues are a good starting point for selecting multicultural literature. Good multicultural literature gives an honest and accurate description of the human condition experienced by people from these various cultures. Read more about multicultural literature in my article featured on this site. I have written and included on this site a more thorough article about getting your classroom in the multicultural mode and finding and using tradebooks for teaching in the multicultural classroom.
A Glimpse Into the Classroom
First of all I would like to share with you a few approaches I have used in my classroom concerning reading and promoting reading through the use of young adult literature. Some years back I had a class of ninth grade students at a small lower secondary school in Oslo. The class consisted of students from both Norwegian and minority speaking backgrounds. I had been reading aloud to them from two sources. One of them is the Highlights for Children magazine which comes out monthly. It is a magazine containing many differents kinds of articles, stories (both fiction and nonfiction), poems and activities in all of the content areas and differentiating in levels of difficulty to meet both weak and accelerated students. Another source is The Mini Page put out by the Universal Press Syndicate weekly in newspapers across the U.S. (You can find information about both of these sources under the reference section of this article.) After I read aloud from these magazines and mini pages, I would let the students come up and help themselves to a few copies to take back to their desks for further reading. The students liked the magazines because no matter where they were with their reading skills, they could find reading material in just one magazine. In this way, students could not tell what type of article or story their neighbor was reading since the magazines had the same basic design on their covers. One of my students had read a story about Haley's Comet in the magazine and he was so fascinated by it that he told me he loved science fiction and wished that he could find some really good books in English with science fiction stories. I happened to have the whole collection of Garth Nix's books, The Seventh Tower, which I let him borrow and read. In a matter of 4 weeks, he had read all six books. He used the material from these books as the departure point for his semester essay. The quality and content of his writing in his essay was impressive for a student his age. He showed not only literal qualities, but interpretative and reflective ones as well. Another male student I had became so interested in detective stories from the magazines. I let him borrow my collection of Anthony Horowitz's books, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Point Blank and Eagle Strike. He told me that before reading these books, he had never fully completed reading an English book. He read all of these books ranging from 250-300 pages each. He read a book a week. He said that they were the most exciting books he had ever read. Another male student was very interested in President Richard Nixon. He had read about him in the magazine and said that before that article, he had never heard of him. I let him borrow my book, All the President's Men written by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. He sent me emails to let me know how his reading was coming along, and he told me about how closely he had followed the Obama/McCain elections in the U.S. He is now a student at an upper secondary school.
Recently a group of my students at the upper secondary level in the College Preparational Studies Program, read as a class The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I used the book in order to teach them how to write a book analysis. During the process, the students kept response journals to their reading which proved to be useful when writing the book analysis. The response journals also gave me the opportunity to get to know them better as individuals. (You can read more about literature response journals under the Strategies section of this article.) However, students expressed how difficult it was to understand the text in the novel. This was not necessarily due to the fact that the readability level was too difficult, rather that the content was unknown to them. They did not know enough about Asperger's Syndrome which the character in the book suffered from. Therefore, they could not understand his way of thinking or acting. They were also challenged mathematically as the character relies heavily on mathematical concepts and prime numbers. We watched the film, Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. We dramatized various chapters in the book for better understanding (much research has been done in this area resulting in better understanding of difficult texts) and we read about Asperger's Syndrome and autism. The students responded positively to this manner of teaching the novel.
Baldwin, Bean and Readence, (2001) give a good example of how a theme can be integrated into a list of selected young adult literature books in a social studies classroom. A high school history teacher wants the students to read beyond the class textbook. The teacher creates a list of topics from American history and one of them is, Freedom and Justice. The teacher has created an interest inventory which reflects the original topics. This interest inventory is enclosed at the end of the article for further reference. The teacher administers the inventory to students and then recommends specific titles to individual students based on their expressed interests. The teacher has already consulted with the librarian to find books the library has and has viewed the budget for purchasing additional books. Here is a list of seven selected titles to reflect the freedom and justice topic for U.S. history:
Fleischman, P. (1990). Saturnalia. New York: Harper Collins.
Houston, J.W., & Houston, J.D. (1973). Farewell to Manzanar. New York: Bantam.
Myers, W.D. (1988). Fallen angels. New York: Scholastic.
Tan, A. (1991). The kitchen god's wife. New York: Ballantine.
Taylor, M.D. (1976). Roll of thunder, hear my cry. New york: Trumpet Club.
Voight, C. (1991). The Vandemark mummy. New York: Fawcett.
Warner, L.S. (1976). From slave to abolitionist: The life of William Wells Brown. New York: Dial.
Come on teachers!
We teachers talk amongst ourselves about the reading situation and what we can do about it. I let one of my closest colleagues read my article for comments and he replied that he thought the article contained a lot of good ideas and statements about reading and reading motivation, however, he could not understand how this could be applied in a practical sense. He was a little pessimistic.
Teachers need to sit down together. Language teachers need to talk to other language teachers. Language teachers need to hook up with, for example, science teachers, social studies and history teachers, and teachers of religion. Competence goals in K06 need to be studied and themes need to be chosen. Teachers can set up annotated book lists related to these themes across the curriculum, cooperate with librarians to both secure books already available and to buy books.
Syllabi need to be written, locally with lists of suggested reading and obligatory readings. Teachers need to study the tasks presented on the written and oral exams in the various languages. They need to relate the books and their content with practical approaches for teaching students to prepare for the exams and to enchance the themes they have chosen for better understanding across the content areas.
In my opinion, it is not enough to carry out strategies i.e. «Make Space for Reading!» if this effort is not connected to some goal. It's great to have reading siestas once a week on a Friday where students bring with them their book that has been hidden away in their school bag waiting for the next Friday to roll around the corner. The bigger challenge which still lies ahead and has not been dealt with, is to find out how to relate the books young people read to the tasks they are being asked and will be asked to do that will have long term effects on them in terms of the grades they receive and the feeling of their own self worth and achievement. It is only then, we they understand the connection between reading and the outcomes, that we as teachers will experience students with the motivation to read. The school's administration must play an important and active role in helping teachers with this enormous task.
Many American schools are organized such that, reading is a part of the curriculum. It is actually a subject in a classroom with a certified reading teacher. The books and reading materials are chosen in cooperation and in connection to the other content areas.
I would like to leave with you with some strategies to help in getting started with this concept. These strategies will help students improve their concept understanding and critical reading in a subject. Growing evidence and research are supporting the use of trade books in improving content learning. Trade books help students explore deeper text-based topics and guide them in developing ideas from numerous and diverse sources. This is an area where students need help. They do not know how to utilize many and various sources on a topic. As many of them move into college work, these skills will be essential for success.
Many contemporary young adult novels are great sources for reading aloud. You can start by reading a trade book aloud in class. Reserve the last 10 minutes of a class period to read from the novel and build on concepts introduced in the text and other class activities. Based on the work of Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian Ibo villager and one of the most influential African intellectuals of the twentieth century, Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) has been established into a systematic program, (Nagy, Campenni, & Shaw, 2000). This is a regular reading time set aside for students with the objective to provide students with an opportunity to practice their reading skills using pleasurable content related materials. There is a great deal of research carried out in this area to support its use in the classroom and in schools. Teachers may choose the books to match a content unit or students may select books themselves. Everyone must read, the reading is uninterrupted, and there are time limits. More information about SSR can be obtained by going online and searching under Sustained Silent Reading.
The classroom is no longer limited by physical boundaries. Cyberspace has given us access to cybraries, wikis, blogs, forums etc. Students no longer interact in the traditional classroom setting.
Literature response journals (Fuhler, 1994)
that offer students an opportunity to reflect on their reading and share these reflections with teachers, peers or parents can now be shared with others on the internet. Places like MySpace, Facebook and various Chatrooms exist. Schools can organize a network internally to be shared with others within a limited framework or allow their students to hook up with others outside. Debates organizing a panel discussion can ask students to take a position the main character in a novel might advocate or oppose (Beach & Marshall, 1997). Book clubs in content classrooms can be organized. A recommended reading is The Book Club Connection by McMahon, S.I., & Raphael, T.E. (1997). New York: Teachers College Press. This edited book of readings offers detailed descriptions of classroom book clubs in action. This is recommended reading to explore all the possibilities that book clubs offer.
Another strategy involves novel journals (Benedicty, 1995) which engages students in writing about their reactions to a novel within a 7- or 10-week framework. This is in response to a novel students are reading as a group. Novel journals are a great way to help students prepare for the written exam. Students write in their journals on a regular basis. Schedules for the unit are included at the front of the journal, followed by a menu of essay questions for the final written in-class essay exam. Students have a preview of the final performance task. Questions center on themes such as loneliness, identity or belonging. Students must compare how various characters cope with events in their lives. Novel journals can also include vocabulary development activities, figure of speech activities and their interpretation, lyrics, drawings etc.
Readers' theater involves a presentation of material that is read aloud in a dramatic fashion by two or more readers.
Literature circles are yet another possibility. Literature circles can be organized in a number of ways. There are teacher directed, peer-led, in class and electronic literature circles. They can take place on the internet in forums and chatrooms. They can be teacher directed focusing on a topic in a content classroom or be peer-led and live their own life through the initiation and motivation of student generated activities. For more information, I recommend you visit the online site, www.literaturecircles.com.
The library is yet another place, which unfortunately many students never really discover. You as a content teacher can introduce students to the wealth of the school library. Meet the librarian and the library and get a guided tour of the library. Remember, the library does not only exist physically. Cyberspace has seen to that!
Sources of Trade Books
Probably the best way to begin using trade book novels in your content area is to read one or two young adult novels a year. Start small and build your collection slowly. In this way, you will have true ownership of the books you read aloud and recommend your students to read. Where can you locate trade books to use in your content area?
The best way to start is to view annotated bibliographies and book reviews already established. Go to conventions and look through catalogues. Refer to journals and other educational magazines.Visit your local bookstore and culminate by creating your own bibliography. Once you have established the attitudes and interests of your readers and have gained a working knowledge of young adult literature for your content area, you will be transforming your classroom into a learning environment. The fun will come back into learning and text book readings will be enhanced by motivated students who yearn for a richer learning experience! Good luck!
Below are suggested sites and sources for finding trade books. I have also included sites where young people can connect with others their age. Some library and resource sites that I find to be very beneficial are also included. Enclosed is also an example of an annotated list of trade books for content areas so one can get an idea of how to organize such a list.
Internet Public Library
Librarian's Index to the Internet
American Library Association
New York Public Library Online
ERIC – the world's largest digital library of educational literature.
Check the link, I Love to Read. Under the sites with many authors and illustrators, you will find the Newbery Award Winners.
Amazon's A9 Search
Use A9 Web Search and search under books for teens.
A great site for all language teachers.
A great place for teens to connect.
A great site for a general overview of magazines for young people.
Search young adult literature.
An annotated book list for secondary school (lower and upper).
The ALAN Review, Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, National Council of Teachers of English. Published three times a year.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Click on Archives and find the November issues. Each year, the November issue of this journal publishes an annotated list of recommended books that a team of young adults selected.
The English Journal, National Council Teachers of English, also features young adult literature reviews. It is published eight times a year.
Multicultural children's literature.
Multicultural literature. Kaleidoscope Book Club. Click on Book Club.
World's largest general trade book publisher.
Click on English Language Arts
This internet address is a very resourceful site for finding Reading, Writing and Thinking Strategies. Multi-genre Thematic Literature Lists that can be used in various content areas. Extensive annotated book lists are done for you. They are created by grade level. Although the information is in English, the content of this site is very beneficial in helping guide you in your teaching. Also you will find complete lists of Approved Literature, you can view Reading Outcomes and Writing Outcomes. The site also provides guidelines for Curriculum Mapping in helping teachers plan their school year. The site also offers various rubrics (criteria for evaluating a product or performance). THIS SITE IS GREAT!