Up Close and (un)Conventional – Classroom Reads

Posted 10 June, 2016 by Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms in Discussion Posts / 42 Comments

Up Close and (un)Conventional - (un)Conventional Bookviews

Up Close and (un)Conventional ย – Classroom Reads

Welcome to this week’s Up Close and (un)Conventional. This is where I discuss both things that have to do with reading and blogging, and things that just have to do with life in general. This week, I’m going to chat a bit about reading in class. I teach English as foreign language in senior high, so my students are between 15 and 19 years old. When they’re in their second year, they’re supposed to read two novels during the school-year, and it’s not always easy to pick something that’s both interesting and that has value for critical thinking for their essays as well. Last year, when we were about to choose our second book for the year, one of my female students wanted us to read 50 Shades of Grey… And I told her I didn’t think it was a book that was appropriate for class. Both because of the sex, and because of the views on gender, truly. Now, I haven’t read the book myself, but I have seen the movie, and I didn’t really enjoy myself during that experience, it felt very uncomfortable.

At the same time, I don’t want to only read classics, because while I love many classics, the writing is much more ‘heavy’ and the subject matters aren’t always that interesting for teens, you know? So the actual book we read last year was If I Stay by Gayle Forman – the students got to choose between four contemporary young adult novels, and chose the shortest – and we watched the movie afterwards. We got very up close with grief and difficult decisions while reading that, and some students thought it was hard to read about a girl whose whole family died in a car accident! Part of our analysis was to see what was different between the novel and the movie, and we had some very interesting discussions. I think what’s important in class is to find something that won’t be too upsetting for my students to read – and also, it shouldn’t be upsetting for me to make up discussion questions, either.

This year, my students read the simplified version of either Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula or Frankenstein, because in one of the units in their grammar book, there was an article about fictional monsters, so I used that as a starting point of their reading. It was very interesting to see what they thought about the various monsters, and what it really means to be different – especially in the case of Frankenstein. Their presentations were well done, and actually also made me see things from a different perspective thanks to their fresh view of the subjects.

I know that in other classes, novels including sex are used, and I think it’s important that the students are able to be objective and analytical when it comes to this as well – but I don’t want to bombard them with it, either. Did you ever have to read something you or your parents thought was inappropriate when you were in high school?

Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

About Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

Linda is an English as foreign language teacher and has a Master's degree in English Language and Literature. She's an avid reader, blogger, compulsive one-clicker and a genre omnivore. Ever since she learnt how to read she has been seen with a book or two in her hands everywhere she goes.

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42 responses to “Up Close and (un)Conventional – Classroom Reads

  1. Those are much better choices than I ever had…lol. The only book I can remember having to read was The Red Badge of Courage and I hated it. I don’t like military/war books and could have cared less about a young teen who went to war. Though by then I was reading more adult books and didn’t really read books with characters my own age, as I was into Stephen King and reading Harlequins by then…lol.

    • I remember reading some books that were very hard for me to finish in high school, Stormi, so I want to at least try to make things interesting for my students – and maybe actually make them want to read in English.
      I read a lot of Stephen King and Harlequins by the time I was in high school too, and so A Town Like Alice and 1984 did feel very dry ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. I think you were very fair, both in denying 50 Shades of Grey (entirely inappropriate – let’s not herald abusive relationships as a norm, please) and in using If I Stay. In my adolescent literature class we had several required reads, which I talk about in this post:

    The year before I took this course two of the readings were Twilight and Harry Potter. In my elementary teaching block we had to read The Hunger Games and plan a lesson (and then a series of lessons and then a unit) based on our subject area. Then, we had to band together with three other people in the three other core subjects to create cross-curricular units. Those might be some other options.

    I remember in high school, either freshman or sophomore year (I had the same teacher for both, so it’s hard to remember which year is which) one of the students in my class had parents who objected to a reading group book that was the basis of an project that ran an entire grading period. She still had to participate with her group, though. I think she got off pretty easy compared to the workload everyone else had to carry. My mother never objected to any readings because she wasn’t very involved. I was a kid who took care of my business and she never had to ask or think about it. But I objected to reading Beloved for our senior summer reading. We had a test the first week and I opted to fail it because I wouldn’t read the book. I just couldn’t get past the content.

    • Yes! Reading Twilight, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games for class sounds awesome!

      I was actually very impressed when I was one of the examinators for the 3rd year students’ oral exam this spring. They had read The Death of a Salesman, and I thought that their analysis was mostly well done, and made me think more about the play – from a different perspective – as well.

      I am a little unsure as to what I think about students deciding to not read a book that teachers choose for the curriculum. I understand that you couldn’t deal with the content of Beloved, and at the same time, I think that a fictional story of something that was historically correct is kind of important as well. However, we all have triggers, and that fact should definitely be taken into account.

      Last year, in the school where my daughter is, there was a student who actually walked out on her written exam, and she went straight to see the principal. They had read one main novel in French, and it was a very long and complex novel, where a lot was happening. For their exam, they had the choice between two passages that they had to analyse and make the appropriate connections with other important passages in the novel. Both of the passages the male teacher had chosen had to do with the main character’s rape. And the student ‘won’ – the teacher had to re-do the exam questions.

  3. Wow, you sound like a fantastic teacher and put a lot of consideration into the choices which I know must be tough with a variety of readers in your class. I read a lot for high school, but I don’t recall any of my school assigned books being uncomfortable or edgy. I actually read stuff that was parent approved that wouldn’t have made the high school list.

    • Even the stuff that might not be uncomfortable or edgy might still be a bit boring for some teens. I think reading classic literature is important, and it is a way to open our minds to history and culture for sure. But there is also a lot we can look closer at in contemporary young adult novels.

  4. I don’t blame you for not letting them read 50 Shades! I don’t even want to read them-never mind about the sex stuff, I’ve heard how poorly written they are! Like you I did see the movie. The only one of the monster ones I’ve read was the Dracula one. I am curious which one got the most students reading it? I did like that one, but it was a very long time ago. Very interesting post!

    • Ha! I agree about the writing, too, Lorna. What I have seen does not really fit the bill for school.

      A lot of my students actually chose Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I think Dracula won. Frankenstein was less popular, poor thing…

  5. I don’t recall ever reading anything in school that I felt was inappropriate. I mean, we really just read the classic type books. I didn’t care for most of them (and I was probably one of like 3 students who actually did read all the assigned books lol), so I love that you actually try to find more current books that your students are interested in.

    And I love that you gave your students a choice for the monster books (at I think you were saying you gave them a choice?). I had to read Frankenstein my last year of high school, and I didn’t like it. But if I had had the opportunity to read Dracula, I’d have chosen that one in a heartbeat since I read all of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in high school which means I obviously liked vampires lol. Actually, I plan to finally get around to reading Dracula this year. I just noticed the comment above asked which book had the most students reading it, and now I’m curious too lol.

    • See, I think that the classics are important, but they can also be a bit off-putting with the old-fashioned language and the way the characters interact. And I think that every chance teachers have at helping youth read a bit more should be taken. There is one classic and one current one that I try to include in what my students should read – and I prefer it when I can at least give them a sense of choice.

      Last year, I took over a class in the middle of the school year, and they had just started reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and I actually had trouble getting through it. It’s very interesting with a unique point of view, but it’s also the kind of novel I think you need to be ready for.

      Yes, they could choose between the three monsters, and then we made the groups based on their choices. It didn’t really change very much for me, as I had already read all three, and these were the simplified versions, with some extra questions teachers could use for each part. And thanks to the fact that I did give them a choice, they were much more motivated to read each week, too.

      Dracula was the winner, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde second ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I don’t remember my parents having a choice or else about the books I had to read. They didn’t look at them closer, they just bought them and my mother used to read some after me but that’s all. But I don’t remember reading something inappropriate. The only thing that surprised me was the time when in 3eme (14 years old, sorry… classes in France) we watched Le Nom de la Rose (and we had murder, sex and all) and we studied it so we watched again some parts but that’s the only one.

    • I don’t think my parents really looked at what we were reading for school, nor what I was reading for fun, I’d pick books up everywhere, and I had an aunt who sometimes came to our house with a box of books to lend me.
      Oh, yes Le Nom de la Rose is quite adult for 14 year olds, but you still remember it well, so I guess that can be both a good and a bad thing?

  7. Reading about sex or other controversial topics can be a good learning/growth experience but you were right to decline 50 shades. Sex is one thing but abusive behavior seen as ‘romance’ is another thing altogether! I could easily see (and would have loved) reading Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Giver, Sabriel and the like for having mature subject matter and being fun reads! I read Frankenstein in Uni and while it wasn’t inappropriate per se, it did mark it because it was quite haunting. To be honest, as a youth I read Sweet Valley high and considering the ridiculous behavior in there, maybe it wasn’t age appropriate either. My mom always said I was a mature reader so she let me pick whatever I wanted ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I had to say no to 50 shades, partly because I really didn’t want to read it, and partly because of the way a romantic relationship is depicted there. It could maybe still have been a good conversation starter, but still.
      Frankenstein was a very haunting story, and Mary Shelley wrote that story while she was in Geneva, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to propose it to my class, as there’s a celebration this year, with a Frankenstein exposition and all.
      I think letting kids pick whatever they want to read is good, but I also prefer to read the same books my kids read, so that we can talk about them.

  8. It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the reading material for your class, which i think is awesome. I never read books during school that i was uncomfortable with, some that made me think and other that were a bit strange or wouldn’t be what I normally read, but overall I didn’t mind any of the reading material. Mostly classical dutch books (and some translated from english as well I think) and one author my literature teacher was a big fan of. I eventually had to read one of those books and was actually kinda impressed, it had an unreliable narrator and while it wasn’t a book I really enjoyed or would’ve picked myself I did think it was well written. I can remember the book even now, so that says something.
    I have seen two movies during class that bothered me, one with a sex scene which I didn’t want to see at that age yet and one about the Vietnam war that made me uncomfortable. Even now I don’t like seeing war movies, so that’s probably just something personal.
    I do think it’s good to have kids read and talk about topics like you had them do in your class, but not make them too uncomfortable. Great post Lexie!

    • I think that when you first read a story with an unreliable narrator, and recognize this, it opens your eyes to reading in a different way, so it’s great that your teacher managed to include one that really worked for you, Lola.
      I really love it when someone has a very different view from me on something we read – it makes me try to see that different perspective as well. And it’s so much fun to have discussions about books that way ๐Ÿ™‚
      I bet the movie about the Vietnam war was tough! And while I understand why teachers choose some difficult subjects, it’s also something that they need to pay attention to – we never know if some of our students have been in those kinds of situations.
      Thanks for sharing your opinion, Lola!

  9. We did not get a choice of books when I was in high school and Catcher in the Rye was the first book I read with swearing in it. Opened up my world! I already swore like a sailor, but my Catholic School just legitimized it with that assignment. But there was a class I had to take in high school that was so upsetting I had a fit and was sent to the office. The class was called “Death and Dying” and we watched a movie about a nuclear fallout and one family who slowly died one person at a time including the kids. Really! In grade school we had to watch abortion videos and read pamphlets on abortions and that riled up my mom for a while. Man, if I got to read good stuff in high school. Your class sounds amazing Lexxie! How fun it must be to come up with these ideas!

    • See, that’s a great story, Robyn! And seeing that there was swearing in books must have been liberating for you ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially because you had to read that while you were in catholic school ๐Ÿ˜€
      Oh my goodness! Both the nuclear fallout and the abortion videos sound horrible!! Why would they even show you guys that??
      It is a lot of fun coming up with novels to read in class, based on themes, perspective, tense etc – I can’t wait until I get a class that will be ‘my’ class for a full school-year!

  10. I think you did the right thing by not reading 50 Shades of Grey. Like you and a commenter said, portrays bad relationships and bad writing. You know I love Tiffany Reisz, so I have nothing against sex in books or even BDSM, but let’s do it in a way that is healthy and written in well. I’ve not read 50 Shades, but I’ve watched clips of George Takei, Gilbert Gottfried and others read it. The bad writing horrified me and made determined to never read it.

    I can’t for the life of me remember what books I read in high school. I do remember reading Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. I’m sure I read other things, but they just didn’t stick with me. For fun, I was reading Stephen King and Anne Rice, both of which has sex or sexual aspects.

    I am a fan of kids reading the classics, but I also agree that they shouldn’t be forced to read just the classics because there are some great books that are coming out now that will be classics in 50+ years. I’ve seen people list Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Interview with the Vampire listed on classics list already. Plus, if we want kids to continue to read, we have to give them books they will love and make them look for the next book they will love.

    Sounds like you’re a great teacher. So many great books for you to choose from. You can call all your reading research for the next book to use in your classes. LOL

    • I agree, the writing was not well done – which is completely different when it comes to Reisz! Not sure I’d read The Original Sinners in class, though… I think I would feel kind of awkward discussing certain aspects of both the sex and the religion with teen-aged students. Like you, I’m determined to never read 50, either, there are more than enough other books to read in the world.

      Encouraging kids to read it really important, and while some classics are awesome, and I think a necessary part of our education, reading more current books is great, too. I have seen quite a few teachers being very snobbish when it comes to newer books, though.

      Thanks for stopping by, Melanie!

      • I agree that Tiffany Reisz is not a good one for class. I can’t imagine having to have those discussions. LOL. I don’t know why some people are so snobby about reading classics versus reading newer books. I was raised that reading is important, no matter what you read. My brother read sports magazines and newspapers and biographies about athletes (do you see his pattern here LOL). I read books that would gross out most adults when I was a child. My mom didn’t care as long as we were reading. Anything that would keep our interest was on the table.

        Here’s a weird story. I do remember having to read a biography or autobiography in high school. We were allowed to pick whoever we wanted and then had to do a standup report about that person later in the class. I picked David Koresh, the cult leader in Waco Texas (it was just happening when this was going on). I had just started a book about him. During class, the teacher started talking about heroes, like we were supposed to have picked our hero to read about. I raised my hand and asked if we had to read about our heroes. She said we didn’t but that is who most people picked. I think I was the only person who picked a creepy person. Oh well, I was known as the creepy person who liked cult leaders. I just found it interesting. He was NOT my hero.

        • LOL as if only heroes have their biographies written!
          My husband reads the same kinds of books as your brother does – anything sports related, and he’s happy. He’s also read some biographies for former US presidents – he was very interested in JFK, and he’s read several about Marilyn Monroe ๐Ÿ˜‰

          The snobbiness really gets to me as well, I really don’t think all the classics are necessarily ‘better’ than newer books. And reading current stories also is a way to get the pulse of today’s society. Those books we call classics today (the older ones, like Brontรซ etc) are important not only because of their literary value, but also what they tell us about society – even if it is solely fiction. The societal norms are still present, and the gender roles are very interesting to look at more closely as well.

  11. I think you made a good choice with 50 Shades – while I certainly don’t advocate banning books for certain ages or anything, that seems like it would be inappropriate for a classroom setting and as required reading! (Like you, I haven’t read it, but I think I know enough about it to make a generalized statement.) And I totally agree with you on the gender role issues too – though I guess they could make for interesting discussions if the high sex content wasn’t there. There are SO many good books out there you could use, why read such a mediocre offering? And while I think classics have value, I don’t necessarily think they have MORE value than other books!

    • I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be too hard to find other novels where gender roles can spark discussions, Nicole ๐Ÿ™‚ And it’s always fun to try to find something that the students would enjoy, not only feel ‘forced’ to read.
      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

  12. Good question! I was a fast and advanced reader but I really loved science fiction when I was in high school, and the scifi of the time was not very lurid (that’s an understatement). Lol. I remember one book I read in high school that did have sexual and LGBT content too actually and I remember being really both embarrassed and intrigued. I started to look for more books that were open like that in scifi, but they were hard to find. Now I read romance a few times per year and always love it.

    • Ha! Older sci-fi was definitely lurid, SJ! The first book I read that had a sexual and LGBT theme made me open my eyes in wonder! I didn’t think I knew any gay people – but of course I did – and reading about how difficult it was for the characters to be open about their sexuality made me feel so sad for them.
      I think that books like that are so good, because they make us see things from a different perspective, and that’s awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. I grew up in Texas, so everything was inappropriate. I remember that we had to get permission slips to read certain books (Like Brave New World due to child sex). I was very fortunate that I lived in a household that didn’t censor our reading material.

    • I’m glad you were able to read everything you wanted when you were younger, Lyn. I think that books really do open our minds, and it also makes us so much more empathetic when we read about characters that aren’t like us, but we are lead to understand them anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. In both high school and college, I always arranged to receive an alternative assignment if we were reading an “inappropriate” book. But I’m religious, so that makes a difference.

    As a woman though, I think it is most important to avoid having impressionable teens read books that glamorize abuse and unhealthy relationships. So, I agree with your decision there.

    • You wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so if you lived here, actually. It is either you read the assigned book, or you get an F… And I am kind of torn on the subject of letting people not read books that they deem ‘inappropriate’. On the one hand, I want to say, yes, of course we should be able to choose. And on the other hand, I think that while in a safe environment for education, it is best to also read outside of ones comfort zone, so as to be able to see things form a different perspective.

  15. I like the process that went into choosing what your students would read for class and I think the discussions for both If I Stay and Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde would be fascinating. And it’s interesting that you chose both a modern novel and classics. I think that kids these days, at least in the US and from what I’ve heard from my children, aren’t interested in reading the classics. They say they’re not relevant and difficult to read. Wah! And eye-roll. Classics are always relevant – that’s why they’re classics. Obviously, I read lots and lots of classics – both in high school and in college since I majored in English and focused on British Lit. I’m not sure if I read anything in high school that my mom wouldn’t have approved of…but I will say that there were classics that weren’t allowed in my school. (Mark Twain, for example) Anyway, I don’t think books should be kept from kids on the whole…but there are, of course, exceptions. 50 Shades is NOT something I’d want my kid reading in class or otherwise. And I have read it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Well, what about ‘Lord of the Flies’ for a classic that’s pretty dark and violent? I think a lot of the younger high school kids here would have trouble with that one, partly because of the language and the allegories that would be difficult to understand until their language skills are really good.
      The discussions for all these novels were a lot of fun, and some students really impressed me!
      I have heard the same thing about classics, Brandee – not relevant, difficult, heavy language… – but I disagree with that. However, I don’t have anything against switching things up every now and then ๐Ÿ˜€
      Why was Mark Twain not allowed? Huckleberry Finn?
      LOL 50 Shades is so not classroom reading – and it’s not the only book I wouldn’t want to discuss with teenagers, either ๐Ÿ˜€
      *BIG HUGS*

  16. When I studied English Language and Literature at college we read A Streetcar Named Desire, The Kite Runner, and The Lovely Bones. Whilst all very different books they all deal with rape and/or loss in some form. It was rather annoying that every single book had such a thing to read. My friend at the time was dealing with the loss of her mum and they wouldn’t excuse her or provide an alternative for The Lovely Bone and she had a very hard time with it. Once I learned of this I was very mad with how the college had decided to handle things ๐Ÿ™

    • Oh that’s heavy for one single course, Lauren! But didn’t you have a choice as to whether to take that course or not? Here, we know in advance what books will be used for each course, and so, there will be no changes made. I guess this is not the same in each college or uni, though. It must have been extremely hard for your friend to read these books as she was also grieving her mum ๐Ÿ™

      • Yeah we got to choose the course but we don’t know before the course starts what we will be reading, I could’ve dropped the course but with it being my only academic one I really needed it :p

  17. No, our curriculum didn’t include any books my parents thought were in appropriate. But then we didn’t leave have any contemporary stuff.

    Although, according to the list of banned books – I did read a lot of those in the classroom and couldn’t see anything wrong with them. I suppose I’m rather naive in that area.

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