Monday, February 28, 2011

Books For Reading vs. Books For Teaching

One of the great things about teen readers these days is how much speculative fiction they're reading. Any teacher that's conscious can name the titles kids have in their packs:
  • The Lightning Thief series
  • City of Ember series
  • The Hunger Games books
  • The Harry Potter books (of course)
  • The Twilight novels
  • The Uglies series
  • The Eragon series
There are more, of course, but you get the idea. The question is for a teacher, should we consider actually teaching these books? I would argue “No,” and for a couple of good reasons. As a teacher you have limited time to teach, only ± about  180 days, and half that if you're teaching high school. How many books can you teach within this time? This means that you need to be very selective about your books, and it makes sense in this context to choose books that kids are not reading.

Part of what we should be doing with science fiction and fantasy literature is giving kids an education in science fiction and fantasy literature. With that in mind, we should teach some of the more seminal works of the genre, the ones kids aren't regularly reading. Kids who are reading the Twilight series should be taught Dracula. You're into dystopian novels? What about The Time Machine or 1984? You like swords and sorcery? Then let's do The Hobbit.

It's up to the teacher ultimately to choose which books to teach, but what the kids are reading is a good way to determine that choice. If you don't have the luxury of choosing books in this matter, have a class library of the appropriate books ready to hand out to the enthusiastic reader.


  1. I agree with your point in general - students need scaffolding to get to more challenging books. However, I think the contemporary YA novel "Feed" by M.T. Anderson would be a terrific science fiction book to teach, because it depicts a world we are very close to entering (to our peril). I teach high school Global Studies, so it's not something I can include in my curriculum very easily, but I think it's an important book.

  2. “Feed” is an excellent book, except the adult language might be a barrier. I agree, Anita, that the issues it brings up are very appropriate for young people today. One wonders where the barrier is between being wired and too wired, and “Feed” deals with that in a very frightening way. I don't think, as a culture, we have a grip on this yet.