Unique novel selection is one of the greatest gifts we can give our students. Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years. She has resources in her TPT Store for many of the novels mentioned in today’s blog post.
To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, Of Mice and Men, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Romeo and Juliet…all are classic books that tell timeless stories and are immensely insightful and hold valuable places in our curriculums. These are all are books that any English teacher can rattle off a thousand reasons why they should be taught. But, are we really providing students with diverse literary experiences if we continue to always teach the literary canon?
But what about The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, a Newbery Honor book or its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, a Newbery Award winner? Both are excellent books that have strong heroines and important messages about finding one’s self even when that self is different from what we are expected to be.
Not all teachers have input into the novels they teach, but if you do let me give you a few reasons why you should think about adding a handful of unique texts to your repertoire.
Teaching unique books will expose your students to authors they might never encounter otherwise.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is wonderful, but chances are any student who completes high school and especially those who go on to earn Bachelor of Arts degrees will read more than one play by William Shakespeare. Love him or hate him, students will be exposed to this literary lion as well as to many other commonly taught authors. By teaching unique books, though, your students will have the opportunity to discover authors that they might never have picked up without you. This exposure allows students to not only broaden their horizons but also opens the door to discovering new literature they might learn to love.
Two of my all-time favourite books are Love in the Time of Cholera and Slaughterhouse Five; each has had a profound impact on my worldview. Neither Gabriel Garcia Marquez nor Kurt Vonnegut are authors that I would have picked up without them being required reading in college, though. By teaching unique authors, you give those students in your class that are not inclined to read the best possible chance of discovering what they might not have seen otherwise.
Students are not likely to repeat unique selections from class to class.
By the time I was twenty, I had been required to read Heart of Darkness for three separate classes. By the third time, I actively participated in class discussion, wrote a paper, and aced a test on this novella (which, incidentally, I really dislike) all without cracking open the book. Instead of assigning a book that was popular enough that multiple teachers at multiple levels chose to use it, by using a unique text one or more of those teachers could have taught me something that not only would I have read, but something that I may have loved (or at least liked) and that now I may never pick up.
Teaching the unique selection helps keep you, the teacher, on your toes and your head in the game.
Teaching novels that you have read a thousand times and have taught for years is a recipe for uninspired teaching. By choosing to teach unique selections, you will often switch out those novels that you use every few years and you will be more prone to finding novels that you truly love and that speak to you and your students. Additionally, novels that are not used as frequently in classrooms are less likely to have abundant teaching materials for purchase which means less plagiarized assignments from your students.
Don’t Throw Out The Literary Canon
Don’t get me wrong. Every novel you teach doesn’t have to be something that no one else teaches, and classics do have a place in our classrooms. Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourite units, and I could teach Romeo and Juliet every year until I die and not get sick of it. Both of these are books that never fail to speak to my students. Classics are classics for a reason, but along with these long-time classroom staples, consider adding new titles to your reading lists to expose your students to different authors and writing styles.
It is also important to learn new ways to teach novels – check out this list of important professional development books for teachers.