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If you were a high school English teacher what would be the first book you would make your students read?

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message 1: by Christos (new)

Christos | 60 comments I would make them read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I think it will keep their interest and make them think about new topics they never thought about before.


message 2: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Murrell | 85 comments I'd let the students pick. Forcing anything leads to resistance.


message 3: by Melanie (last edited Jan 31, 2019 03:53AM) (new)

Melanie | 39 comments I am a high school English teacher, and I agree with Phillip. I have students choose 2 books each marking period to read independently and work with the librarian to keep the school’s collection up to date and engaging.

In the beginning of the year, it’s best to start with shorter fictions (to wake students up from their summer slumbers). And of course it’s important to expose students to classics and cannon works. For instance in grade 9 we read the Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet.


message 4: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (Nevets) | 1020 comments That was about 25 years ago since I was there, so I’m sure things have changed, but I always thought that having some of both worked well. I enjoyed having the whole class discussions on some books, and also being able to choose occasionally as well.

To the actual question, if it wasn’t already in the Jr. High curriculum, I’d go with To Kill a Mockingbird. So good, and starts the conversation on so many important issues.

If we are only talking sci-fi or fantasy, I think I’d still stick with some of the mid century classics of 1984, or Animal Farm. Once again the group discussions on these are very important. And with the politicized news today, both seem very relevant to teaching kids how to approach media, and public figures in general.


message 5: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5018 comments Christos wrote: "I would make them read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I think it will keep their interest and make them think about new topics they never thought about before."

Sounds like a fast way to lose readers forever. You don’t teach kids how to swim by throwing them into the deep end of a lake, then demand they swim a quarter mile to shore.

You have to give them something simple, something short.

I’m with Melanie:
Melanie wrote: "In the beginning of the year, it’s best to start with shorter fictions (to wake students up from their summer slumbers"

If it were me, I’d start with something fun and funny, like “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal, then I would hit them with the original short story version of “Flowers for Algernon”.


message 6: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (JohnTaloni) | 2654 comments Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe. Hit 'em with the funny first. Plenty of references to riff off if you want to (Genghis Khan's descendant, anyone?)


message 7: by Anne (new)

Anne Schüßler (anneschuessler) | 754 comments I don't think there's a "one-fits-all"-answer to that question. I'd get a general idea what the students are interested in and work from there.

Snow Crash could backfire since it is very techno-centric and I'd assume that while it would actually get some interested in literature you would just as easily lose others.

I'd probably not turn to any SF/F for the first book. Genre fiction is great, but it's not for everyone and you'd risk turning people off right from the start. You'd also have to get a vibe from the class to see what might work and what would not.

We had a very small French class in high school with just eight girls and the teacher and we read a lot of books with female protagonists. I can't say for sure, but I always thought that this wasn't what would have been read in other classes.


message 8: by Christos (new)

Christos | 60 comments I honestly never thought about letting students choose. I was forced to read boring books in school and I hated it


message 9: by Iain (last edited Feb 01, 2019 04:14AM) (new)

Iain Bertram (Iain_Bertram) | 643 comments Christos wrote: "I honestly never thought about letting students choose. I was forced to read boring books in school and I hated it"

I still cannot read Dickens after being forced to read a few of his at High School. If you like an author do not force feed it to them.

If you want class discussion put together a collection over a range of genres. Mix of older and newer works.

remind me what age you are aiming at (high school is not universal), twelve or 14...

Tiffany Aching should make an appearance for introductory fantasy


message 10: by Melani (new)

Melani | 92 comments It's gonna depend on several different factors; including what grade the students are; what reading level the average student is on; and what kind of thing I think they're interested in reading. Honestly, I might start out with a collection of short stories, and if it's one I can curate myself so much the better, so that I can gauge where I think the students are and where they need help in expanding their reading ability and broadening their horizons.

To be fair, I don't really think I'd worry so much about how much they enjoy reading something. Not every student is going to like every book you pick, so picking a book for enjoyment purposes is counterproductive.

I'm always amused when people complain about books they were forced to read in high school. Of course you read books that were outside your comfort zone- that's the whole point of assigned reading: to introduce you to different styles, different ideas, and different writers. If you didn't enjoy it, maybe you should think about why.


message 11: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5018 comments Melani wrote: "I'm always amused when people complain about books they were forced to read in high school. Of course you read books that were outside your comfort zone- that's the whole point of assigned reading: to introduce you to different styles, different ideas, and different writers. If you didn't enjoy it, maybe you should think about why."

I get your overall point, but the usual go-to books forced on kids are problematic at best.

I don’t think that children should be allowed to choose their own books, but pushing novels that are steeped in white privilege (Gone with the Wind, A Separate Peace) or are simply tedious, like Dickens, as Iain mentioned, is counter to the aim of getting kids to engage with reading and critical thinking.

If they reject the books, you can lose them forever.


message 12: by Melani (new)

Melani | 92 comments And if that's the reason why, then that's fine. It's a legitimate reason. It doesn't actually change what I said. Part of developing a critical mind is figuring out why you didn't like something. So if a book was too steeped in white privilege, or you found it unrelatable (this one I'm less inclined to be forgiving on, far too many men I know refuse to read books with female protagonists because 'unrelatable'), or some other reason, then knowing that will help you develop the kind of brain that looks at things and understands where a problem lies. This is what humanities teachers are supposed to do, help students learn how to develop critical thinking.

And I'd like to note, that nowhere in my comment does it indicate I'm advocating for sticking to the old classics (though I do think many of them are good books to read at some point-including Dickins though he's not my favorite) merely that picking books for the enjoyment of the students shouldn't be on the forefront of a teachers mind when selecting reading material.


message 13: by Melani (last edited Feb 01, 2019 08:57AM) (new)

Melani | 92 comments I mean, no one looks at algebra and says welp, 50% of my students won't like this so I'm just gonna skip it. Yes, they try to find ways to make it less tedious or easier to learn, but enjoyable? Not really. It's school and it's a skill that we have deemed necessary for education. That a subset of the population (myself included, I might add) finds doing math problems relaxing and enjoyable is irrelevant to the skill that is taught. Reading, and reading for more then enjoyment, is a skill that needs to be taught like any other skill.

Some kids are gonna like all, or most, of the books you pick. Some kids are gonna hate every single one and there's not much you can do to change that. What you can do is make sure the kids who don't like the book 1-understand why this particular book is considered important 2-look at why they don't like the book and how that impacts against the first thing and 3-learn how to get through something they don't enjoy. You wouldn't think that last one is important, but if I refused to read things I don't enjoy I wouldn't be able to do my job.


message 14: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2217 comments I'd go for a range of shorter works (novellas, stories) that provoke discussion. I might even try to find works that have contrasting views on a subject so we can talk about how that happens.

I think the main point is to a) get kids to read and to realize that reading can be many things from fun to informative to challenging and b) to get them to engage their critical thinking skills.


message 15: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 2396 comments Mod
Iain wrote: "remind me what age you are aiming at (high school is not universal), twelve or 14."

I was 11½ when I started High School. 15½ when I finished.

We did mostly classics and f....... Shakespeare ;-)

I preferred it when we did more modern classics like Grapes of Wrath or The Catcher in the Rye


message 16: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 21 comments With the other questions surrounding the class, are we talking about American or British lit? Maybe things have changed when I was in high school, but the two were taught separately. While American lit ventured into the 20th century, I don't think we ever encountered a British Author/book newer than the 19th.

I agree with those that say you need to assign the books. Don't get me wrong, I hated most of the stuff I was forced to read, but the whole point of education is to be exposed to new and unfamiliar. No one learns if they don't leave their comfort zones or find themselves challenged. I do agree with giving students some choice, so maybe assign a list, then let them choose from that list.

And since this is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy group, I'm going to offer the heretical suggestion that I would not assign Fahrenheit 451...I didn't have to read it in school, but checked it out for the first time a few years ago, and never found myself so bored...PKD's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was far more engaging, and it had the same theme of a main character disenchanted with his job...for me the censorship argument isn't strong enough for F451...I was still bored.


message 17: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2217 comments So much of the answer really also depends on the nature of the class, what other reading other English classes impose etc.


message 18: by Steve (new)

Steve Haywood | 35 comments I think this depends on the purpose of education, and the specific purpose of English Literature education. I personally think you should try and get kids enjoying reading first, and do the critical analysis stuff later. I'd have a lesson a week where they just get to read whatever they want to read (that is a proper book, i.e. not comics etc). For those that struggle with reading and don't like it, I'd try and help them find books they can enjoy. For those that already enjoy reading, I'd get them trying something new, expanding their reading horizons. At my daughter's school (primary school, she's only 9), they have a book cafe every month, where they get a drink and cake/biscuit, each get to bring in a book they're enjoying at the moment, and tell others about it. I'd encourage that sort of thing.

I'd also have regular class reads, or maybe divide them up into groups based on interest, and have them read books them will expose them to different styles, provoke discussion etc. In terms of science fiction, I think a lot of books by Ursula K Le Guin, while not necessarily the easiest/lightest of reads, would be great for getting discussion going. I think some of the classic classics (such as Victorian literature) are very important books but there are better more modern books that will have just as much to teach but be easier and more enjoyable for kids today.

I think the most important thing is to discuss first why, they are reading a particular book. Discuss the approach first. This one is just great fun, an example of the storytelling art. This one we read to see a popular type of book in one of its earliest forms. This other one gives us an insight into human nature. This book examines various different ideas about how society should be governed. That book gives us a flavour of what life was like for working class families in the 19th century etc. I don't remember ever getting any of this stuff before. It was mostly 'It's a classic'. Well why? What is the point?


message 19: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2217 comments Steve - this is why I made the comment above. I agree with much of what you say but the context of a class matter. Is this freshman HS English? Senior year Honors? What have they read before in school? etc etc


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom Wood (tom_wood) | 26 comments Jurassic Park would have been fun to read. Maybe The Hobbit. For a quick read, All Systems Red from the Murderbot Diaries.


message 21: by Kevin (new)

Kevin (KHardman) | 3 comments The problem here - as with many things in life - is that you can't please all of the people all of the time. There's probably not a single book/genre that every student will like, so someone is going to go away feeling they had to read a long, boring book. Personally, when I was a student, I thought we had a lot more engagement when we were assigned short stories; even if you didn't like it, you were able to finish it in a reasonable amount of time and talk about it. If one were able to go that route - and assuming we're talking about SF/fantasy - I'd probably suggest "We Can Rmember It For You Wholesale," which is the story that the "Total Recall: movies were [allegedly] based on.

If it has to be novel-length, I'd suggest "To Kill a Mockingbird." Great story, engaging, and has themes that people can grasp without a lot of effort.


message 22: by John (new)

John Karr (Karr) | 17 comments Keeping with the sci fi slant ...

I'd do a 'force read' of 1984, Animal Farm, or Fahrenheit 451 for the watch-your-society kind of lesson, three picks from a list of ten short stories, and whatever choice they wanted to make on their own, even if it's a comic book.


message 23: by Iain (new)

Iain Bertram (Iain_Bertram) | 643 comments John wrote: "Keeping with the sci fi slant ...

I'd do a 'force read' of 1984, Animal Farm, or Fahrenheit 451 for the watch-your-society kind of lesson, three picks from a list of ten short stories, and whateve..."


The problem is you can kill the book for life...

Pick a book that can be read aloud in class and do the read together. Then let them read their own books alone. Works much better,


message 24: by Anne (new)

Anne Schüßler (anneschuessler) | 754 comments Thinking about it some more, I'd probably start by talking about why we read books and what we can gain from books. A lot of books we read in high school we didn't really like because back then we didn't understand the importance of the subject and how it was achieved. It seems like the idea is that you first read the book and then talk about it, which - especially when you're a teenager - is a slippery slope, because when you don't get what you read and you don't really care you dismiss a book easily. If you talk about certain aspects of the book beforehand I'd think that maybe chances are you'd be more open to the ideas and register them more quickly and be able to put them into context.

I've always liked reading, so in school it usually wasn't such a big deal for me and I liked most of what we read in class, but I can imagine that if you're not an avid reader and you get thrown into a book which has complex ideas or difficult topics it might throw you off reading rather than engage you.


message 25: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 21 comments I'm suddenly having a vague memory from my early grade years...I think if you're targeting younger children, the idea is simply to get them into reading while developing their language skills. Here especially you'd want to assign a basic selection of stories, and require them to read an additional number of books of their own choosing. In elementary school, the content of the book isn't all that important, and they're not reading anything time-consuming, so you can encounter new books with relative frequency.


message 26: by John (new)

John Karr (Karr) | 17 comments Unlike being forced to learn math or science, reading fiction books is an optional activity once high school is done. It is better to get kids opting for something they enjoy reading so they become readers. Then they may branch from their preferred genres to something else once the enjoyment of reading has already been achieved.


message 27: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 2396 comments Mod
John wrote: "Unlike being forced to learn math or science, "

Forced to learn Maths and Science?
:-?

They were my favourite subjects. I even did an optional Advanced Maths class for all 4 high school years :-)


message 28: by Aaron (new)

Aaron | 227 comments If you're working within curriculum constraints that don't allow "read anything", make a list of 12 (or pick a number) books that are relevant to the topic/time/place you are currently covering and let students pick the one that looks most interesting to them. The list would need a variety of styles and (sub)genres to not end up being treated as pick the least unpleasant of a set of very similar reads.

That gives a choice, but still covers instructional needs. Super-readers like me might still have a few unread on a list or can opt out and just remember a previous read to meet requirements.


message 29: by John (new)

John Karr (Karr) | 17 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "John wrote: "Unlike being forced to learn math or science, "

Forced to learn Maths and Science?
:-?

They were my favourite subjects. I even did an optional Advanced Maths class for all 4 high s..."


Can appreciate that, but reading fiction is more of an elective activity as education and life advances.

Toss in the plethora of other activities like gaming and television and movies, and reading fiction has a lot of competition. Why not allow kids to follow at least some of their own reading interests early on so they are more likely to enjoy the experience?


message 30: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (Nevets) | 1020 comments I think a bit of this difference of opinion between group reads, and individual choice reads may stem from what we perceive the goals of the class are. And, a teacher will be able to answer this better then me. But in my mind, the main reason to use fictional books in a high school class setting is to teach things like critical reasoning, empathy for others, and deriving meaning from reading between the lines. And yes, it is probably easier to learn those things if you are enjoying what you are reading, but enjoyment is not the goal in of itself. To this end, I remember getting more out of these books when there was a good class discussion, with multiple opinions about what was going on in the books, both literally, and below the surface. Then taking what was learned from analyzing these books in a group setting, and applying them to individual book reads, with various degrees of choice in picking.


message 31: by Qukatheg (new)

Qukatheg | 11 comments In my high school English class we got to choose between 3 books in different genres. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of us chose the shortest book without even looking at the descriptions.


message 32: by Anne (new)

Anne Schüßler (anneschuessler) | 754 comments In Germany it was usually one book for the whole class with discussions about the subject, historical context, style, etc. This was the same for foreign language classes as well.

The curriculum usually dictated specific time periods or styles so it was either the teacher just dictating or offering a limited choice of books fitting the curriculum for that specific grade. It was a little bit less restricted for foreign languages since learning the language was always the main focus there.


message 33: by DJay (new)

DJay (DJDJay) | 14 comments To kill a mocking bird.


message 34: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5018 comments Qukatheg wrote: "In my high school English class we got to choose between 3 books in different genres. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of us chose the shortest book without even looking at the descriptions."

Yeah, kids are lazy idiots. I say that as a former kid.

Also, children don’t know what’s good for them. My wife grew up in Europe and her neighbor went to a school where they let the kids do whatever they wanted, to “pursue their passions”, and she made applesauce for a year. Couldn’t read or write, but she could make applesauce.


John (Nevets) wrote: "I think a bit of this difference of opinion between group reads, and individual choice reads may stem from what we perceive the goals of the class are. And, a teacher will be able to answer this better then me. But in my mind, the main reason to use fictional books in a high school class setting is to teach things like critical reasoning, empathy for others, and deriving meaning from reading between the lines."

The best class I had where we were forced to read something I wouldn’t have otherwise pursued was Shakespeare. Our teacher was terrific in that she explained what was happening by essentially translating the language for us. That really unlocked his humor for me, which I was impervious to up till then.


message 35: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 39 comments If you are talking about choosing a book for a REAL class, the book has to have academic merit beyond it's a good story. I've taught Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury is a master at figurative language, so anything by him could be used to teach that skill. The Wee Free Men was mentioned. I generally would not pick that book because its nichey (I don't think that's a real word, but we'll pretend). But if I want to teach satire, it might be a great choice.

Picking a book because you love it and want all your students to love it, is setting yourself up for heartbreak. As many have said, you'll never please everyone, and some students are lazy and/or cruel. That being said, it is WAY easier to get behind a book you personally love and many of your students can be motivated to read it if they see you genuinely like it. Thus I would never teach Snow Crash because I would hate reading it.

Lastly, the age/ reading level of your students needs to be taken into account. I couldn't teach Something Wicked This Way Comes to 5th grade. It would just be over their heads.


message 36: by Aaron (new)

Aaron | 227 comments Here is one teacher's solution.

Teaching My High School Students to Love Reading – Medium
https://medium.com/s/story/dont-plan-...


message 37: by John (new)

John Karr (Karr) | 17 comments Interesting. Some choice in material appears to help. But those 15 students not into it might find reading enjoyable if allowed a chance to read and report on something they find interesting.


message 38: by Trike (new)

Trike | 5018 comments Aaron wrote: "Here is one teacher's solution.

Teaching My High School Students to Love Reading – Medium
https://medium.com/s/story/dont-plan-..."


Interesting. That book is in my TBR, too.

Sounds like some of it is down to the teacher. “It’s the singer not the song / That helps the music move along.”


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