I’ve always wanted to try Literature Circles in my English classes, and this year I finally got to test them out. I used this resource I found online as my guide, although I think I will tweak for next year.
I strongly believe that the best way to encourage kids to enjoy reading is by giving them more control over what they read. I attended a really great professional development session last fall where a few of our middle school teachers discussed YA literature and the greatest difficulty for secondary English teachers – appealing to the boys. So much of YA literature is geared towards girls, since they read at higher rates. I wanted to find enough choices for literature circles to encourage my more reluctant readers to get excited. I am hampered in my quest, however, by the availability of books in our English department book room. Since I was also sharing books with the other junior English teacher, we had to find enough books to offer a variety to our nearly 200 students, as well as make sure we chose books that we were already familiar with (students are unimpressed when I assign them something I haven’t also read). I gave each class the options and let them list their preferences, then assigned them novels and groups based on that. Most students got their first choice. The following is the list of books I selected and my rationale for choosing them, as well as the reception of the students.
AP English Selections
Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
This dystopian text is a fascinating read, as it involves the scientific-minded British Huxley’s vision for a world some 500 years in the future…it contrasts nicely with Orwell’s 1984 or even Lois Lowry’s The Giver (most of my students have read at least one of these). Where Big Brother in1984 ran a government based on keeping the populace afraid, the government of Brave New World keeps conflict at bay by keeping people happy. A drug keeps away bad emotions, sexual promiscuity is encouraged to avoid the pain of long-term monogamy, and humans are grown and cloned in labs and raised to a predestined role with Pavlovian classical conditioning. This is by far the most popular choice; I usually have them at “everyone has sex with everyone else” and “drugs.” It is not explicit, however, and the social issues it raises lead to fascinating high-level discussion among my AP and grade-level students alike.
As an added benefit, my few students who think of themselves as “gangster” get insight into what it really means to live the life of a black urban drug dealer…and discover it’s not so fun after all.
The Glass Castle (2005) by Jeannette Walls
This one tends to be more popular with my girls. A non-fiction piece, Walls retells her early life with her loving but incredibly neglectful parents, with plenty of horrifying vignettes and emotion included. She tells a powerful story and generates plenty of discussion about the plight of children in poverty, and the responsibility of schools and government to act on it. There are many moral choices in the book worth discussing, as well as psychological issues regarding Walls’ parents, siblings, and her self.
English 3 Selections
One of my SPED students started this book when he was in ISS. I eavesdropped on a conversation between him and another SPED student today who had been complaining that she couldn’t get into it. My first young man said, “I like it.” When she asked incredulously if he had even read it, he proudly replied, “Yeah, I’m on chapter two!” I can’t get this student to engage in ANYTHING, so this was an incredible dialogue to witness.