Romeo and Juliet versus Edward and Bella: Where is adolescent literature heading?

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Maritza A. Ramos

In the past few years, I have noticed a steady decline in a past time that I enjoyed greatly as a young adult – reading. Additionally, I have observed the growing trend of a particular type of reading material that has made its way to bookstores and libraries across the nation (and the world). These new books are fairly similar, containing a powerful female character that is singularly different and being sought after by a brooding captivating male presence. The pair is usually surrounded by mutual acquaintances or family in hopes of either uniting or separating the star-crossed lovers.

As an educator, I am pleased that young readers are choosing to read a chapter book over a magazine or picture book provided that the literature selection provides some room for discussion. Is there a preceding storyline that breathed life to this tale? Are the characters in this story line comparable to characters of classical literature past? Ultimately, some form of a connection is made from text to reader and vice versa be it negative or positive, but most recent modern story lines have been influenced by cinematic interpretation.

twilight-booksThe term ‘star-crossed’ has been applied to describe couples in recent literature which always seems to provoke the sudden urge to smirk or laugh outright in certain company.   Most recently there has been the uproar sensation Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, which tells the tale of the outsider Bella Swan who captures the attention of the mysterious Edward Cullen. By modern standards and as a female, I can see how this story plays out as enticing and romantic, but I prefer to remember classical romances, written in times when wording was important and not rants narrated by an emotional teenager. What is the underlying draw to this book series? To be quite honest, I had not heard about the book series or the author until I was made aware of a movie to be starring a popular young man and woman. The cinematic counterparts increased the interest in this series now that Edward and Bella had faces that were appealing by Hollywood conventional standards.

2936William Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet is what I associate with the term star-crossed lovers. While the masses prefer Twilight, I have to admit I prefer the effort that is made to read this work and see a different face put to the characters. Romeo and Juliet was a tragic love story and told the tale of two young lovers who were forbidden to mingle due to a deep family feud resulting in a secret marriage and tragic deaths. The youth of today might prefer happy endings to tragic ones, but Shakespeare’s words have withstood the test of time and continue to be studied, dissected, and analyzed. Where will the Twilight series be in a few centuries?

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Relatable Books for Adolescents

This semester in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By K. Salinas

I have been teaching for eight years now and have noticed a major problem with the literature selection available in schools; it is not relatable. The “classics” have long been a tradition in most high school classrooms, yet today’s youth has a difficult time relating to some of them. That is not to say they should be eliminated altogether, but perhaps be supplemented by books that modern adolescents find more appealing.

As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure of being introduced to texts written by local authors. It was such an amazing experience. I always enjoyed reading a variety of genres, from mystery to historical fiction, however; reading books that referenced local places in the Rio Grande Valley was a whole new experience for me. I could not put the books down. I looked forward to class and the weekly discussions we had pertaining to the books. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to introduce these books to my students when I begin teaching!”

The Jumping Tree by Rene Saldana, Jr.
The Jumping Tree by Rene Saldana, Jr.
Crazy Loco by David Rice
Crazy Loco by David Rice

Fast forward to after graduation and the beginning of my first teaching job, and, well, I had lost sight of this. I got caught up in the numerous duties that go into being a teacher. I quickly began to rely on the district mandated curriculum, which of course included all of the classic works of literature that I read as a high school student myself.

As the years passed, I found myself thinking back to the books I was introduced to as an undergraduate. I checked out the one copy of Crazy Loco from the campus library and began by occasionally reading the short stories to my classes when we had a few moments to spare. Honestly, my students lived for those stories. They requested to hear one from the moment they walked in the door. Even some of my reluctant readers wanted to come to the front of the class, sit on my stool, and read the stories to the others. It was amazing. However, once again I let the pressures of testing and other matters take precedent, and the book sat on my desk, untouched, nearly the entire second semester.

It was not until I began taking graduate reading courses that I realized what a disservice I had done to my students. I had a flashback of the adolescent literature course I had taken before I began teaching, and I realized I did not follow through with what I knew was best for my students. True, the curriculum does not include the types of books that I have experienced over the course of my undergraduate and graduate work; however, it does allow for teacher selected materials, which includes readings at my discretion. As I have finally begun incorporating books that I know my students can relate to and enjoy, I have seen a whole different side to them. They are excited to read about teens facing issues, such as; peer pressure, gangs, and bullying. After all, these are the same issues they are living on a day to day basis.

It is an amazing feeling to know my students are finally gaining a love for reading that they never had before. Finding relevant books is not always an easy task, especially the older I get. However, it can be done. I spend more time talking with my students about their interests, and finding out what issues they are facing as teenagers. I also make an effort to incorporate multicultural texts that my students can relate to. It is amazing what a difference can be seen when relatable books are incorporated into the classroom. Below are just a few of the numerous books that I have found. By simply conducting a Google search, you will find the possibilities to be endless.

Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Hard Time by Janet Bode and Stan Mack
Hard Time by Janet Bode and Stan Mack
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

A NEW LOVE FOR EBOOKS

This semester in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Gladys Quintanilla

bookshelfIf you asked me three years ago about whether or not I enjoyed reading eBooks on an electronic device I would respond with a strong “NO.” Three years ago I decided to give into the hype and I purchased my first electronic reading device from Barnes and Noble, the Nook.  I really thought that my life as a reader was going to change and that I would have more options, but I was not satisfied. After about a week, my device was quickly ignored and placed on my bookshelf with no electric charge.  Around that time, I was given the opportunity to teach 6th grade reading (I was teaching science three years ago). It took me awhile to become adjusted to my new curriculum and I am still developing as an effective reading teacher.

Why am I sharing this information, you might ask?  I now prefer reading all my favorite novels, magazines, newspapers, etc., on my tablet.  Not only have I become accustomed to reading on my device, but I have been incorporating eBooks in my classroom.  I would like to share the reasons and the advantages of why I think you should love eBooks as much as I do…

1. In the Classroom

Recently, in my classroom I have been incorporating eBooks with a few of my students.  Of course, we must always consider the costs of the devices and the availability of them in our classroom. However, I have recently been looking for grants for extra help to provide electronic resources in class.   One example of how I have incorporated EBooks is with one specific student who refused to pick up a chapter book.  He is an awesome student; however because of his history of failure in reading standardized tests, he is not confident.  I decided to introduce him to a book using my tablet.  He felt very special since I took the time to do that.  He became so excited with the book that he lost the fear of reading chapter books.  Also, the librarian has a few Kindle devices that are available for checkout.  I incorporated these with my Book Club members recently and some of them are saving money to purchase one for the summer.  As educators, we need to foster the love of reading and what better way than to introduce them with technology!

2. Delivered Instantly

EBooks, as soon as you purchase them, are delivered instantly to your electronic device.  Not only do I have my eBooks on my tablet, but I also have them on my iPhone, and when possible I catch up on my reading at the doctor’s office, restaurant, or at the beach, which is my favorite.  So, if you see me on my iphone, I am not always texting!

3. Evolving

EBooks are also constantly evolving with new features. For example, I am currently reading the Divergent Series by Veronica Roth, which I highly recommend, and one of the EBooks has exclusive interviews with the author, videos, and interactive features installed with the purchase of the book.  Not only with fictional novels, but let’s say for example you like to cook, a cookbook might include videos with a chef demonstrating the recipe.

4. Environment Friendly

Obviously, if you purchase eBooks you are contributing to the environment in a positive way.  The publishing companies do not have to spend so much on paper, and book binding.  So, the next time that you visit the bookstore to enjoy a cup of coffee, make sure that you have your device charged and ready for entertainment.

 

Not-Just-The-Same-Ol’ Book Report

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

Many of us grew up having to write and present book reports. Even for those of us who loved to read, these reports were often boring and tedious. Unfortunately, this type of traditional book report still rears its ugly head in some classrooms. As educators who seek to promote a love of reading in our students, we know that simply asking our students to write pages about what they read and experienced in a book is not the best approach. But what else can be done? Rather than simply saying “Create something”, I like to give my students a few suggestions on how they can respond.  Here are some reader’s response projects that my students have enjoyed creating and sharing with the class.

Character Soundtrack

Ask students to select a character (usually their favorite) from the novel and choose five major moments of the book that reveal something about that character.  They will then find five songs that they believe accurately represent the character at this moment and make a five-song soundtrack for this character. Lastly, I require that students write a description of the instance and the connection that each song has to the character and the moment in the book (including page numbers).  For high school students, I ask for textual evidence in the form of direct quotes. In order to make this easier, you may want to introduce the projects before students read the book and suggest that they mark or highlight their favorite lines and pages about the characters.

The obvious downfall to this project is that it’s very difficult to work on in class since downloading music isn’t allowed on most school campus. Students can, however, look for lyrics and then download their songs on their own at home.

The Front Page (Newspaper articles)

For this assignment, students choose three major “news worthy” events from the novel. They then create the front page of a newspaper, including three articles (about three different events), pictures, headlines, and titles. I encourage them to use a real newspaper as a model.

Character’s Journal

Students can select and follow one character from their novel and create their journal.  I have found that this is usually most interesting if students select a minor character, or a character who doesn’t speak much in the novel. Students write 5 one-page long journal entries about different points in the novel from the character’s perspective. Students can even enjoy binding them together in a “journal” and creating a cover. I showed students my journal from high school (which was covered with magazine clippings, pictures, and other objects) as an inspiration for their covers.

Dramaturge

A dramaturge is someone who focuses on the social particulars of a certain time period. As the dramaturge for their book, students choose either to examine the food, the clothing, or the music of setting. This is especially fun when students know very little of the historical and cultural background of the novel. How students present their research is up to the teacher; it could be in traditional report format, presentation board, multi-media presentation, or even through a pamphlet. I have asked also students to present their findings to the class in the form of the food, song, or visuals.

Theme Billboard

Students create a “billboard” that displays a theme from the novel for “by passers” that catches their attention. Students are highly encouraged to pay careful attention to colors, symbols, motifs, important quotations, and figurative language used in the novel to help them develop their ideas.  I have required an added writing assignment in which students provide an explanation of how the author presents that theme in the novel, including textual evidence and page numbers, but that can be at the discretion of the teacher.

Each of these projects allows students to respond to the novel in a meaningful way, while still focusing on important literary objectives. I highly recommend providing students with strong examples of your expectations before they begin. Then, sit back and watch their reading come alive!

All-Encompassing

This semester, students in READ 6310  Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Justin Keplinger

As an English Language Arts teacher, I find it important to simultaneously encompass other topics covered in other subject areas. One way I do this in my classroom is through my students’ independent reading books.

The Hunger Games trilogy has been an extremely popular text with my students in recent years. The masterful combination of the simplistic form of the novels make it an easy read; the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale and the science fiction war theme have been able to capture my students’ attention in a way that few books have been able to in the past.

The+Hunger+Games+Trilogy

Though I am not a huge fan of the overused love themes in most adolescent literature, I found the reluctant love affair between Peeta and Katniss to be something unique in young adult literature. I think teens who are just beginning to understand romance would benefit from the understanding that love is not always instant but can be a gradual process like the love Katniss has for Peeta.

What I find great about this trilogy is that it parallels with the theme of war and social injustices prevalent in our current mainstream society. The rebellion against the Capitol is a problem being faced not only in this United States but all over the globe (i.e. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda). It is able to portray to students the inner workings of government bias and manipulation in a way that is engaging for the reader. Many students find their history classes cold and dry. However, reading books like this (i.e. 1984 by George Orwell and The Running Man by Stephen King) will help them parallel what they are learning in both subject areas.

Another innovative facet of the novel is the idea of the female heroine – not common in most books of this genre. It lends a hand for more girls on the secondary level to take a chance with science fiction and shows them what they can learn from reading more books like these.

catching-fire-star-wars-troopers

Especially since Hollywood has taken the story and adapted it, I believe this story should be implemented in not just Language Arts classes, but in other subject areas as well. Each district seems to have it’s own biome, something that could be easily implemented in science classes. And as I previously stated, social studies can respond to the type of government exhibited and the social issues present.

This series has the potential to be an all-encompassing tool within each discipline if in the right hands of an imaginative educator.

Reading and Writing: Students Decide

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Ann

We are currently reading A Teacher’s Guide to Standardized Reading Test, and although it is mainly talking about standardized reading tests, I can’t help but make a connection to the standardized writing tests that students are required to take as well. As we have learned throughout the reading program, reading and writing work together, yet for two years, the state tested these two subjects separately. Just like a majority of the school in Texas last year, my school’s scores were dismal. Therefore, a part of my job is to incorporate more reading and writing into the different subject areas. One of the strategies that I introduced to all the freshman, sophomores, and juniors was RAFT. I used an article I found on the internet, and after reading the article to them, we filled out the graphic organizer that is used as a pre-write activity. What essentially transpired in each class was creative writing. It has been a very long time since I saw students get excited about writing. Many classes didn’t want the class to end because they were having so much fun creating a piece of fiction.

I couldn’t help but think of this experience as I was reading the first three chapters of Calkins’ book. There were so many things that I agreed with in these chapters, but I think the thing that stood out the most was when she says that standardized tests don’t do a good job of showing what kids can.  Again, I know that Calkins is talking about reading tests, but I believe that this true for most of these types of tests.  As I went into each classroom introducing RAFT, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if students were able to decide what kind of writing they did on the test. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses as both readers and writers, what would happen if the students were able to find out what these strengths and weaknesses were, and use them to their advantage? Instead of being told what they have to write, the students could decide that for themselves based on what they are interested in, and what they are good at.

This past week I was required to attend a writing workshop, and found it to be very helpful in regards to how to spread literacy throughout all content areas. As the workshop was drawing to a close, the presenters but a quote on the screen for Lucy Calkins: “ Children’s curiosity and their passion to explore the world are the greatest resources we could ever hope to draw upon in teaching nonfiction writing.” I think this proves that children need to be given more freedom in what they read and what they write. Once this happens, then we can really evaluate how these children are doing, and my assumption is that they are doing much better than any standardize test could show.

The Literary Catwalk: How Teachers Model

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

 

“Read, read, read. Read everything… and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…”

                                                                       – Mark Twain

 As writing is an artistic form of communication, and communication is a critical skill in our society, an individual who writes well has the opportunity to be successful in many different areas in life. As teachers, we hope to produce students who have a deep understanding of this form of art. Yet, because it is one of the highest forms of output, many of our students struggle. Over the past few years, I have sought to improve myself as a writing teacher and I believe I may have found the golden ticket; let it be understood that this golden ticket in itself is not enough for admittance into the Wonderful World of Writing, but it is hugely important in helping students develop as writers.

This past school year, I was in tears over how poorly some of my students were writing. We had been working for MONTHS on simply writing paragraph-length responses to literature and providing textual evidence as support. I had tried every formula that I knew of (ACE- Answer/Cite Evidence/Explain, APE, ABC… the list goes on) to help students understand what these paragraphs should include. I had given them examples that they had taped into their interactive journals. We had looked at and rated all of the samples that had been provided by the state, but all I had to show for it was a bunch of choppy sentences, some of which were quotes that students had slapped down in an attempt to fulfill the requirements of the formula. Why is this so difficult? I mused. What am I doing wrong? Then, as if from the heavens (or from the long-disregarded advice of a co-worker), the answer came. I have to show them! In my desperate attempt to right my wrongs, I sat down at my document camera the next day and wrote. From that point forward, writing was real for my students.

Modeling writing for students with my own writing has proven to have a number of benefits. As with many forms of text, a teacher’s writing can provide the input that students need to in order to produce written output. Students can begin to mimic my writing examples and use them as a springboard for their own ideas. Direct and delayed spill over occurs, meaning that the conventions, spelling, syntax, structure and vocabulary that I use often shows up in my students writing both immediately and in future writings. Once students become comfortable doing this on their own, they can begin to play with my style and bend it to make it their own.

Additionally, I make sure to model the entire writing process for my students in order to emphasize that even experienced writers do not jump straight into a final draft. When they see my extensive planning and multiple drafts, they begin to take more time in these areas. They also lose the fear of putting ideas on paper, because they understand that it’s ok to write something that isn’t perfect. This also provides an excellent teacher-student bonding opportunity when students are able to see that even their teacher makes mistakes.

Most importantly, students become increasingly motivated and engaged when they realize that people they know, including their teacher, actually write and use their writing as a mode of expression. When I made the choice to share my writing with students, I gained a little more respect from them. All of this together lowers students’ affective filters and causes them to “drop their guard” so that real learning can occur. That in itself makes it worth it for teachers to take the time to “walk the literary catwalk” and model good writing as a master writer.