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Why YA in the Classroom

Recently a report on high school students and reading levels came out with an alarming headline: “High Schoolers Reading at 5th Grade-Level.” Covered previously here at The Hub, the report gathered data suggesting that a majority of high school students are reading below grade level. It also asked an important question: what should kids be reading? One answer to this question is using more young adult literature in high school classes to increase interest and reading levels. YA is more popular than ever thanks to a certain dystopian series being turned into an insanely popular movie. But this strategy is not without its drawbacks.

Last month a teacher in South Carolina was suspended for reading aloud a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a YA science fiction book considered by many a classic and often taught in schools in units dealing with identity and morality. The Arizona State Legislature passed legislation last year effectively banning YA titles that had previously been used in successful multicultural studies curriculum. John Green recently defended his book Looking For Alaska (the 2006 Printz Award winner) on Twitter after it was removed from a school reading list on the basis it is “pornographic.”

YA books are far from being universally accepted in school classrooms. Their inclusion presents unique challenges (sometimes literally) but also amazing opportunities. A compelling reason to include YA literature in classrooms is content. Teens, like most readers, appreciate characters and situation that are familiar to them and their lives. Readers have a stronger connection to the text when they can see themselves and their struggles in the story. YA literature also offers readers diverse characters, compelling stories, and high quality writing. When incorporated into literature curricula, YA titles can offer a wide spectrum of views on popular themes like identity, conflict, society and survival. YA literature can be easily incorporated into classroom through literature circles, supplemental reading lists, multimedia projects, and of course being paired with canonical texts typically used in classrooms.

Here’s a list of YA titles that would fit into the classroom, organized by theme.

Identity or Sense of Self

World Literature

American Literature

British Literature

What other titles do you think would work in the classroom? Any great resources for teachers and educators on using YA in the classroom?

— Amanda Margis, currently reading Uglies: Shay’s Story by Scott Westerfeld and listening to The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Amanda Margis

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  1. Great list, Amanda! I’ll be sharing it with my teacher friends. It makes so much sense to use literature that is relevant and of interest to teens in the classroom, that I honestly don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. I like the classics as much as anybody else, but to pretend like good writing and literary themes don’t exist in contemporary fiction is just silly.

  2. […] Hub looks at YA in the classroom. I think titles like these would be the perfect balance to more traditional […]

  3. Great list, but I would include The Book Thief under world literature!

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