Tag Archives: literature

Literature and the African American Read-In

AARI_180To be recognized as an official African American Read-In Host, it’s easy as I,2,3:

  1. Select books, poems, speeches (anything) authored by African Americans;
  2. Hold your event during the month of February; and
  3. Report results by submitting an African American Read-In Report Card.

The first step is to choose a piece written by an African American author. NCTE has a Resolution on the Need for Diverse Children’s and Young Adult Books.

The African American Read-In Toolkit provides a variety of resources to help support both individual hosts and hosting organizations implement and promote African American Read-In programs. Included in the toolkit are a number of booklists including one that was crowdsourced at an NCTE Annual Convention.

The September 2016 #NCTEchat was on the topic of Black Girls’ LiteraciesDetra Price-Dennis compiled a list of Black Girls’ Literacies Resources that were shared during #NCTEchat.

Tune in to the Text Messages podcast episode #weneeddiversebooks to hear about recently-published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, Civil Rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

What titles would you add to these lists?

YA Lit

ya-misconWhile some of us packed up and went home after the NCTE Annual Convention, many people stayed for the 2016 ALAN Workshop. It was hosted at the Georgia World Congress Center and continued the tradition of celebrating the very best of young adult literature. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) promotes communication and cooperation among teachers, authors, librarians, publishers, teacher-educators and their students, and others who are particularly interested in the area of young adult literature. Members receive three issues annually of The ALAN Review, a journal emphasizing new books, research, and methods of teaching adolescent literature. Many attendees of the 2016 ALAN workshop have been posting on social media about their time there. Interested in Young Adult Literature? See what NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org have to offer!

Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers is a podcast providing families, educators, out-of-school practitioners, and tutors reading recommendations they can pass along to teen readers. Each episode will feature in-depth recommendations of titles that will engage and excite teen readers. Text Messages is hosted by current ALAN President, Jennifer Buehler.

With a supporting explication of NCTE’s Policy Research Brief Reading Instruction for All Students and lively vignettes of teachers and students reading with passion and purpose, Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives is designed to help teachers develop their own version of YA pedagogy and a vision for teaching YA lit in the middle and secondary classroom. Visit the Companion Site for more from the author.

Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction offers suggestions for incorporating YA lit into the high school curriculum. Each chapter opens with an introduction to and description of a different popular genre or award category of YA lit—science fiction, realistic teen fiction, graphic novels, Pura Belpré award winners, nonfiction texts, poetry, historical YA fiction—and then offers suggestions within that genre for whole-class instruction juxtaposed with a young adult novel more suited for independent reading or small-group activities. See more in a web seminar recorded by the authors.

Engaging American Novels: Lessons from the Classroom focuses on ten frequently taught American novels, both classic and contemporary, that can help promote engagement in reading. Texts highlighted include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, and Out of the Dust. Teachers are challenged to think about how students best engage with texts, especially novels. Many of the titles in this book have been challenged or censored. The NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

How do you incorporate YA Lit in your classroom?

To Select or To Deselect

Reid_Louann“I’m not going to say, ‘this book is about rape, child abuse, and so-and-so,’ because that doesn’t do justice to the literature,”

NCTE member Louann] Reid said in an article in the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

“That just identifies, kind of, reasons not to read the book, and it doesn’t put it in the context that [I’m]using it for.”

Reid is pointing to the very premise of the NCTE Position Statement Regarding Rating or “Red-Flagging” Books

“that literature is more than the sum of its parts” and that “letter ratings and “red-flagging… books for controversial content undermines the process of book selection based on educational criteria.”

Reid goes on to point out how she selects texts in her classes and why she sometimes deselects texts, using principles outlined in the NCTE Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines  which explains how professional guidelines, such as those Reid outlined

“help teachers make daily decisions about materials and methods of instruction, choosing from increasingly broad and varied alternatives in order to serve students who are themselves increasingly diverse, both linguistically and culturally.”

The Territory of Literature

books2016’s first issue of English Education offers the last article by the late George Hillocks Jr., “The Territory of Literature.” In it, Hillocks suggests improvements in how literature is taught.

Students, he says, are usually “taught that a plot is what happens in a story, that a setting is where a story takes place, and that there are certain points of view an author may take: first person, limited, omniscient, and so forth. . . . But all of these are normally treated by providing only simple definitions with no practice in interpreting any of them in any depth. Is it any wonder that kids cannot read thoughtfully?”

Too often, he says, English teachers move from one piece of literature to the next without leading students to compare and contrast the works. The result: reading one work contributes little to understanding or appreciating the next.

What solutions does Hillocks suggest?

One is to better teach how fiction can be categorized. “Such a typology should . . . provide insight into a wide variety of texts, and it should make it possible for students to recognize, in works new to them, what they have seen in works previously studied.”

Among the types he suggests teaching are the five outlined by Northrop Frye:

  • Mythic, in which the hero is “superior in kind both to other men and to the environment of other men” such as a story about Superman;
  • Romantic, in which the hero is more down to earth but still “superior in degree to other men and to his environment;”
  • High Mimetic, in which the hero is “superior to other men but not to his natural environment;”
  • Low Mimetic, in which the hero is “superior neither to other men nor to his environment, the hero is one of us;” and
  • Ironic, in which the hero is “inferior in power or intelligence to ourselves, so that we have the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration, or absurdity.”

Another way to improve literature lessons is to examine more closely the definition of plot. “The school idea of plot as the sequence of events in a story is totally inadequate in terms of gleaning any meaning from a work. We need to consider how events in conjunction with the characters involved give rise to emotional response from the reader.”

Because plot can be defined as the “synthesis of action, character, and thought,” any one of these three elements can be the focus of a plot, impacting the story’s structure.

“Plots of action result in material changes in the material circumstances of one or more main characters,” he writes. “Plots of character involve a series of events that result in changes in the values and moral character of the hero. [And] plots of thought focus on the thinking of the character and involve a thorough change in the character’s thinking through engagement with his or her surroundings.”

Another suggestion: lead students to examine the author’s moral outlook, emphasizing “the ability to infer the assumptions and values of the author and those of the narrator, which may not coincide. The narrators of Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ are quite different . . . Both are obsessive, perhaps, but about different things, one about revenge, the other about guilt and fear. Teachers can tell students the difference, but to become expert readers, students need practice in making such discriminations for themselves.”

He adds:

More important is the necessity to help students determine the extent to which a narrator is reliable or unreliable. In my experience, students have a strong tendency to accept whatever a narrator says without questioning the degree to which he or she represents the author’s thinking. But there are always clues to a narrator’s unreliability. Many characters make statements that are unreliable, with their unreliability evident in their misstatements, distortions of fact, and exaggerations. These cues . . . call upon the reader to reconstruct the text’s surface meaning.


Read all of George Hillocks Jr.’s suggestions in depth in “The Territory of Literature.”


Using Literature as a Catalyst

February brings the celebration of Black History Month as well as the African American Read-In. While this time of year often a reminder to read and discuss literature by African American writers, it is also a great time to use literature for a bigger purpose.

The themed issue of School Talk titled “Multicultural Literature and Social Change” provides many suggestions: the history and the challenges of using multicultural texts in education, using a variety of literature to develop critical readers, and how to choose the best multicultural books. The article “Multicultural Literature: Story and Social Action” poses the question, “In what ways, then, can African American children’s literature in the classroom be seen as a catalyst for social action and social change?” See more in the following resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org.

Author Sharon Draper was the 2015 winner of the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Adolescent Literature. Among her other titles, she is author of Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, and Darkness before Dawn. Listen to Draper after winning her award. In the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “Analyzing First-Person Narration in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind” students explore the different facets of complexity in the compelling first-person narrator in Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.

Walter Dean Myers has published well over 100 works. Much of Myers’s work revolves around young people struggling to figure out who they are and how they will survive against a backdrop of violence and turmoil as described in this article from the Council Chronicle. Myers also wants to help young adults learn the basic tools to cope with their lives. In the ReadWriteThink.org lesson “I Have a Dream: Exploring Nonviolence in Young Adult Texts” students will identify how Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of nonviolent conflict-resolution is reinterpreted in modern texts, including a text by Walter Dean Myers and rapper Common.

Nikki Giovanni in the Classroom: “The same ol’ danger but a brand new pleasure”, the first volume in the NCTE High School Literature Series, features primary source materials including many of Giovanni’s poems reprinted in full, easily adaptable lessons and activities, and a resource section for students and teachers wishing to study Giovanni further. “Childhood Remembrances: Life and Art Intersect in Nikki Giovanni’s ‘Nikki-Rosa’“, a lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org invites students to read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki-Rosa,” and then writing about childhood memories of their own.

Even if they are few in number, diverse books do exist. Tune in to the Text Messages podcast episode #weneeddiversebooks to hear about recently-published YA titles that celebrate diversity in a range of genres. There’s something for every reader here: comic book superheroes, Civil Rights history, love stories, humorous essays, poetry, artwork, and stories of suspense.

What titles do you suggest to use as a catalyst?