Why Haven’t We Embraced Change?


I don’t teach because of “summers off” and “time for a family.” I teach because I want to inspire and educate. I want to create passionate readers and writers.

Yet, here I am in my eleventh year of teaching and while I still have a passion for my subject matter and my profession and my students, I’m worried and sometimes feel defeated.

I’m worried that so few young adults are choosing a career in education. Our profession is regularly beaten down and teachers aren’t always provided a way to elevate their voices. We are forever confined to an endless stream of standards to hit and standardized test prep. It very often feels like our autonomy as teachers is falling away.

And that worry is combined with a feeling of defeat when I think about the secondary English curriculum. Why has it not dramatically changed in decades? Why do these classics continue to be the most taught novels in the secondary ELA classroom?

At NCTE this year, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle pointed out both concerns during their Friday morning presentation. They also made a point that has stuck with me: If we continue to teach what we were taught in high school, then how can we expect our current students to think differently about the way English classes should be/can be taught? If for the next twenty years, I continue to teach every freshman who enters my classroom To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it to be expected that those students–if they even choose to become English teachers–will expect to teach the same material? I know it’s been this way for at least 30 or more years.

There’s so much to try and unpack in one blog post, but essentially my mind keeps focusing on the idea that our curriculum as a whole and across the board really hasn’t changed. I’ll admit, I’m growing tired of teaching the same classics over and over again, especially during a time when novels like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely are available and more timely than ever. Do future English teachers know about these titles? Are they aware of more titles available to teach the concepts found in To Kill a Mockingbird than Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry? Why are we afraid of change? Why is it so easy to stay complacent and not embrace changing how and what we teach? Why do teachers worry about what other department members might think if we go against the grain and teach more contemporary novels?

As I try to unpack what is essentially a philosophical issue, I need to address questions and concerns that ultimately come up.

  1. If we don’t teach students the classics, when will they read them?
    You know what? I don’t know. But will my students survive their adult lives if they don’t read one of the classics? Yes. I also know that if I provide my students with the opportunity to read a novel like Dear Martin during a unit when I would normally teach To Kill a Mockingbird, I can most definitely expose my students to Harper Lee’s classic. Nic Stone’s debut also opens up discussion about Martin Luther King Jr. which could lead to readings and discussions of the award winning memoir graphic novel March by John Lewis.
  2. Can’t I do all of the above while still teaching TKAM (for example) to all of my students?
    Yes, but why are we so set on this one novel or any one classic? (I’m not trying to pick on TKAM.) Why do we need to continue teaching only one novel at a time to an entire class? The one size fits all novel doesn’t work for all of our students all the time. What if we allow our students choice? Why not present them with the option of reading in book clubs and focusing more on essential questions and concepts than focusing so much on simply the content? We’re teaching STUDENTS, after all, not books.
  3. Are we literature teachers or literacy teachers?
    This has been a tough question for me to grapple with in the last five years, but I’ve made peace with it. I’m not teaching classes of 36 (yes, 36) future English teachers, so I’ve been okay with letting favorites go in favor of the greater good. If I let go of a cherished favorite novel, I can make more time for writing assignments and other texts that increase their reading enjoyment and literacy levels. When I allow my students choice in what they read I’m also allowing them to read novels at their reading and interest level. As their lead learner, I need to think about which novels and texts I provide and how they might work for the individuals in my room. Even the students in my honors courses are lacking the stamina and ability to grapple with some classics. It doesn’t help when these texts are spread out over weeks of time.
  4. So should we abandon the classics?
    In short, no. There is a time and a place for the classics. In a PBS interview with Jason Reynolds, Jason says in regards to teens and reading “…when it comes to young people who don’t like reading, who feel intimidated by literature, do we answer that cry with an onslaught of the very thing they fear? Why do we show up with a pack of pit bulls in the form of pages, and expect them to stop running away?” Jason here is speaking about the importance of exposing teens to poetry, but this also fits with throwing classic after classic at our students. Why do we continue to do this? Haven’t we all read more literature outside of the canon? SHOULDN’T we be reading more than the canon? There’s a time and a place for contemporary novels, including young adult novels. It should also be noted that text complexity–many times cited as a reason for using classics–should not be the only reason for what we include in curriculum. A young adult novel is not “easier” reading, but it is often more engaging. Once we engage our students and turn them on to reading, they are much more likely to willingly read novels like The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men. How do we expect our students to leave our classrooms as readers–true readers, not pseudo readers faking their way through assigned classics–if we never expose them to well written and high-interest reading? The young adult category (it’s not a genre) is full of well written novels like The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner just to name a few.

As I stated, there’s a lot to unpack here. As I think more on these topics I hope to write more, especially as I think more about what Kylene Beers wrote here and how I can apply this more to my teaching. As educators we need to be open to these discussions and not retreat to our classrooms with the doors closed. If I’m feeling defeated, then I know others are as well. Our profession can’t afford to lose teachers, especially at a time when fewer and fewer people are entering the profession.

Is YA Fantasy Really YA?

Within the past couple years I’ve made it a point to read more YA fantasy since I have so many avid fantasy readers in my classroom. For the past week or so I’ve been listening to the audio of Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood & Starlight (the sequel to Daughter of Smoke & Bone) since the third book in the series, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, released this week. As I’ve been listening to this book I’ve found myself questioning whether it’s truly YA.

I adore Laini Taylor’s series and her writing. My students adore it as well. What exactly about this series qualifies it as YA though? Karou’s a teenager, but is she going through any sort of specific teenage struggle? Karou’s major conflict, especially as the series progresses, is about past lives and how she fits those past lives currently. (I don’t want to spoil the series for anyone.) So is it the questioning of identity that qualifies Karou’s story as YA? The Daughter of Smoke & Bone series could easily appeal to an adult audience, especially when I consider Taylor’s lush writing style and how layered the story is. Some adults unfortunately dismiss YA because of the angst and many other reasons, but I wonder if a non-YA reading adult would realize that this series has been published as YA after having read it.

I’ve started thinking about this about many of the YA fantasies I’ve read. Besides the age of the character, what makes those books YA novels exactly? Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers and The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson are two other books that have made me question this. I don’t have a problem with these books; I think they’re fantastic. I love that my students love them. But some of the elements to these stories, like characters marrying adult men and taking on adult roles like protecting and ruling a kingdom, causes me to pause and think about this. Could these stories be marketed and published in the adult market and be as successful? Would teens still find them and love them? Would more violence and sex, like in The Game of Thrones series, push these novels into the adult market? I understand that many fantasies are set in feudalistic worlds where teen girls are getting married and teens are ruling realms/lands, but it still seems like some other young adult aspect is missing.

This series of questions crossed my mind briefly while reading Cinda Williams Chima’s The Seven Realms series, but I didn’t find myself reading  Han’s or Raisa’s characters as if they’re adults. Their voices still rang true as teenagers to me while I read their stories. While those characters are also worrying about kingdoms and arranged marriages and so on, many of their thoughts, discussions, and actions still fit those of a teenager’s.

I’d really love to get some opinions on this. Has anyone else found themselves thinking like this? I think this discussion could cross over into the dystopian genre as well. I hope we can get a discussion going through the comments!

Sure, I could be a librarian, but…

I’m often asked by some of the staff in my building, and even some of my family and friends, why I didn’t “just become a librarian since I love to read so much.”  Honestly, it never entered my mind when I started college, plus I wasn’t such a strong Nerdy Book Club member when I first started college.  I didn’t discover YA (and rediscover my love of reading) until one of my last courses before student teaching.  Recently I’ve tossed around the idea of getting a second Masters to become a teacher librarian, but honestly, I love teaching way too much to leave my classroom.  The reason this question bothers me isn’t because I don’t love and appreciate librarians (schools need librarians), but because it’s asked under the pretense that teachers, English teachers in particular, shouldn’t be so excited about reading and shouldn’t be reading so much.  Maybe I’m wrong in that assumption, but the tone when the question is asked, especially at school, leaves me feeling like they think my passion for reading is misplaced.  That it’s better suited for a library than in my classroom.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t the people asking that question wonder to themselves why they aren’t as excited about reading?

I’m thinking about this today after reading Teri Lesesne’s post about the insanity that is AR and Lexile levels.  As a Reading Specialist I understand the purpose of Lexile levels, but they also drive me crazy because so many educators and parents look to them as the only measure when searching for a book.  I could rant about this for some time, but what’s really bothering me is the problem behind focusing on AR and Lexile levels.  Parents are usually asking about leveled books because it’s what they’re told to do or what they’ve been exposed to through their child’s school (generally speaking).  It’s a serious problem when teachers are pushing this on their students and not bending.

A friend of mine dealt with this last year because her daughter is a struggling reader, but despite her struggles and AR, she still loves to read.  My friend was at a loss though because her daughter wasn’t getting full AR points because the books she was reading were below grade level.  My friend came to me because she didn’t know what to do and the teacher wasn’t going to make an exception for her daughter.  Her daughter was distraught because she didn’t want to get a bad grade as a result of reading low level books.  I did my best to help my friend and her daughter, even going to the Centurians page on Facebook to get some title recommendations to pass on to her.  This whole scenario makes me livid because I know my friend’s daughter’s story isn’t unusual.  This young girl loves to read and still wants to read, but she also cares deeply about her grades and doing well in school.  She shouldn’t be “punished” for reading at her level, especially when she’s trying so hard.  I hope she continues to love reading as she continues through school.

This leads me to my big issue.  Emphasis on Lexile levels and relying on AR keeps teachers from needing to read the books their students are reading.  I understand that many teachers are using Lexile levels to really help students and are forced to use AR and are doing their best with it, but in my experience these teachers are the exception and not the rule.  And really, I don’t blame the teachers because we’re all doing what we can with what we have.  Teachers aren’t purchasing the AR program, district admins are buying this program. CCSS is putting too much emphasis on Lexile levels.  But really, shouldn’t teachers be reading on a regular basis?  If we preach to our students how valuable it is, shouldn’t we be following suit?

My wish is that more teachers, especially at the high school level, would be as excited about reading as I am.  If more of us were passionate about reading and building classroom libraries, we wouldn’t need to focus on Lexile levels and AR tests.  We would be reading and sharing books with our students on a regular basis.  We’d be having real discussions with our students about the books they’re reading so there wouldn’t be a need to test them over meaningless details.  We would know which books have a vocabulary level that’s too high for some students and which books to offer students who are ready for a higher vocabulary.  We’d know which books to recommend to our students who need an escape and which books to recommend to our students who need to know they aren’t alone.  We’d find a way to connect our students with authors.  We’d read aloud to them every day to experience the pure enjoyment of a story.

I could do all of this as a librarian and I’d do it proudly, but I love being in my classroom with my students every day.  I love sharing books with my students.  Because I’m in my classroom every day and see my students every day, I get to talk with them every day about the books they’re reading.  I get to help them find a new book when they finish one or when they discover the book they’re reading isn’t right for them.  If I relied solely on AR tests and lists and searched Lexile level lists, I’d be missing out on these opportunities to build a strong rapport with my students.  It’s time consuming to read as much as I do, but it’s a priority in my life.  I wish more teachers would make it a priority in life too.  I wish administrators both at the building level and district level would see beyond reading programs and put that money towards building classroom libraries for their teachers.  I wish they’d use that money to send their teachers to conferences like IRA and NCTE (or the state level versions).  I wish there was more communication between teachers and upper admin so we could sit down and discuss reading and the unnecessary reliance on these programs.

For now, I’m happy working in my classroom with my kids and letting them know on a regular basis how excited I am about reading.  I’m excited to add a display outside my classroom that shows my reading life (idea courtesy of the wonderful Jillian & Pinterest).  In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to reach more teachers because if I can get my students to love reading, then I know I can get more teachers to love reading too.

Still Feeling Passionate As A Teacher

As a high school student I decided to become an English teacher because of Mrs. Spear, Ms. Gray, and Ms. Marino (now Mrs. Maras).  I looked up to them when I was in their classes and knew I wanted to reach students the way they reached me.  Ms. Gray was my sophomore English teacher and helped me realize that I really “got” Shakespeare and that I could teach it one day.  Ms. Marino knew how to connect with her students and form bonds with us.  Just today a student came to me about something that I used to go to Ms. Marino about when I had her as a teacher.  Mrs. Spear impressed me with her knowledge, understanding, and high expectations.  Really, all three teachers had high expectations and expected the best from their students.  I thought about all three teachers when I was in college to become a teacher.

I’ve posted before about the magnificent Dr. Susan Steffel.  At some point in my future I will teach preservice teachers with the same passion and enthusiasm.  I know I will.

Even though I’m not in the position to teach preservice teachers now, I wish I could find a way to communicate to them not to lose their passion.  With all of the standards and regulations and everything else being pushed on us, it’s easy to fall into teaching to the test.  It’s easy to take the “easy route.”  I’m not sure how or why (well, maybe I really do know why…), but I’ve managed to avoid falling into that hole.  I’m even more passionate now, six years later, than I was when I entered the classroom for the very first time.  I thank my Twitter PLN and conventions like NCTE and ALAN for that.  I thank my students for that.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.  How can more us who aren’t working with preservice teachers reach them and help them retain their passion?  How can we assure them that giving students time to read in class is time well spent and not time wasted?  How can we reassure them that teaching students and not “teaching standards” is what we’re here for?  I have a cadet teacher right now (a senior observing me and working in my classroom since she wants to be a teacher), and I want her to feel confident as she enters college as an education major.  I worry that our students might be turned off from education majors because of what teachers are facing right now.  What can we do to assure our students that teaching is still, and always will be, an admirable profession?

Has anyone else been thinking like this lately?  Am I off base?  Rambling too much?  I want this passion I have for teaching to reach beyond myself.

**Just added**

If you’re an English teacher, you should join NCTE.

Are you an ALAN member yet?

I know many of you are English teachers/librarians.  Have you joined IRA?  I’m pretty sure each state has a reading association as well. I know Michigan does.

If you don’t want to join NCTE, and you’re an English teacher, you should think about joining your state equivalent.

Are there other membership links I should add?

What About the Teen Readers?

It’s been a fiery couple of weeks since ALA ended and posts and conversations about the conference and ARCs started popping up all over the web and Twitter.  I’m not here to blog about that because I think that topic has been beaten to death, and I really don’t have anything to add.  My primary concern from everything that has been brought up is this: What are bloggers (teachers, librarians, book sellers, enthusiastic readers, etc) doing to target TEENS?  I put TEENS in caps because isn’t that the intended YA audience?  I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but it’s safe to assume that YA authors are writing their books for TEENS.

This thought woke me up this morning, so I know I need to write about it.  As a teacher, I’m reading YA because it helps me connect with my students and build a community of readers in my classroom and in my school.  I know other teachers do this as well, as do librarians.  As a teacher and blogger I’m writing about the books I read so my students can keep up with and learn more about the books I’m reading, but also to help other teachers and librarians find books to read and then offer to their students or patrons.  I blog for myself and my students first, but when I did a readership poll I discovered that much more of my readers are teachers and librarians than I originally thought.  Even though my blog is appealing to a specific group of people, my blog isn’t that different when it comes to who it appeals to than, say, a blog written by an adult avid YA reader.  Many of us know and realize that adults are reading our blogs.  Isn’t it kind of funny that we might have more adults reading about the YA books we’re reading than TEENS?

If anything’s been learned these past two weeks, it’s that bloggers are a passionate group of people.  We love books.  We love discussing and promoting books.  We love connecting with authors.  All good things, right?  But again, this is a large group of adults.  I know of some teen YA bloggers, and I certainly want to know about more (share if you follow some great TEEN bloggers!), but I know of more adult bloggers than anything else.  I see more adults at author events than TEENS.  So what can a bunch of passionate YA bloggers do to connect all of these awesome books with TEENS?

The fact that I don’t know about more TEEN bloggers makes me wonder if it’s because many of them simply aren’t thinking about book blogging.  Or using their time on the Internet for that.  I polled my students last year about what they like to read and how they find out about new books, and not one mentioned looking up reviews online or reading blogs.  This surprised me, especially since all of them know what blogging is and that there are other people out there who blog about books besides me.  When I saw this last year, it really gave me pause because I don’t think I have some abnormal group of students who would answer that way on a survey.  I really don’t think that many TEENS are reading blogs and finding books that way.  Sure, they might Google something and find our blogs, and that’s great, but what can we do to bring more TEENS to our blogs?  Or better yet, how can we connect with more TEENS?

For a teacher or librarian this is easy because we work with them every day.  We have trusting relationships with our TEENS and know what recommendations to make.  How can all of us in this passionate group go beyond our adult readership and target the TEENS that YA is aimed at?  I know of many readers and bloggers who donate their books to libraries and schools.  Yay! you, I say!  But because I’m a teacher, I then think, what will happen to those books in a school library without a librarian?  If you know anything about the state of education right now, then you should know that librarians have been cut first.  A book in a library without a librarian to promote it isn’t reaching its full potential.  A book in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t staying current and reading YA isn’t reaching its full potential.  Should those books still be there for students who will find it regardless?  Yes!  But I wonder if more bloggers could find a way to volunteer at their local school libraries or public libraries to help promote the books they read and donate, especially in school libraries lacking a librarian.  Could they find a way to set up some kind of program?

What about bloggers who are booksellers or who have solid working relationships with publishers and/or authors?  Could those bloggers find ways to help bring authors to their town/school/library for TEENS to meet?  What can booksellers do to get the word out to TEENS when YA authors are coming to their store?  Since many of the indies around me are an hour or more away, I’d love advanced notice when a YA author is coming to one of their stores so I can use that extra time to arrange for some of my students to find a way there.  I work in a district where money is tight, and traveling an hour or more isn’t always an option for my students.

I know of many fantastic YA TEEN conventions, but all of them seem to be on the west coast, in New York, or in Texas.  About that.  How can we bring these TEEN events to more areas?  Is that something bloggers can work on together?

Maybe this is a lofty post, but as a literacy advocate and teacher, I can’t help but think about TEENS first.  All of us are reading because we love it, so doesn’t it make sense that we help spread that love specifically to the target audience?

Thoughts on Summer Reading Lists

Paul Hankins posted a link on Facebook to an article called “How to Choose Summer Reading for Students” published in today’s New York Times with the headline SOME BOOKS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.  Paul’s ideas and the article itself made me think about the summer reading assignment I handed out for this summer.

I’m teaching Honors Sophomore Seminar for the first time this fall and before me four other teachers have taught the class and made it their own.  From what I’ve gathered, past summer reading assignments have included Of Mice and Men and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, The Count of Monte Cristo and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a reading packet and/or a test upon return.  I’m pretty sure essays were written at the beginning of the year too.  I’m not bashing or judging those assignments because I know they were assigned with good intentions, even if that’s not my style.  I understand the importance of the classics, but I decided to go about my summer homework assignment a little differently.  I have a blog page devoted to my summer assignment just in case my students lose their homework folder, but the short version of the assignment is that I asked them to read three books this summer.  They’ve been asked to read three novels from the Michael L. Printz list: one award winner and two honor books or two award winners and one honor book.

Right now I have 52 kids signed up (two sections of the class).  I’ve had about half of those students already this past school year, so many of them are acquainted with my teaching style and my love of reading.  I can hope that all 52 of my students will be reading to their heart’s content this summer, but I know many of them won’t be.  And if I were to hand them something like The Red Badge of Courage?  Yeah, some would read and love that book.  Many would look it up on Sparknotes to pretend they read it.  I don’t think any of the Printz books are on Sparknotes, but that’s not why I chose those novels.  I chose that list because it’s a good starting point when requiring YA for homework (in my opinion).  It’s a list of books qualified as “literary excellence” and having read many of them, I tend to agree.  I also chose that list of reading because the novels suit a variety of reading interests and levels; they’re also current.  I considered giving them a list of great books to read including non-fiction, graphic novels, fiction, etc, but even that list is objective.  I wanted to have a specific focus to their assignment while reading, hopefully, books they’ll enjoy since they’re choosing them from that list.  I didn’t design this summer homework assignment to instill a sense of fear in my students about how tough this class is going to be or to give them something to be held accountable for.  The purpose for their reading is to think critically about what they’re expected to read as college bound students.  The majority of our high school English curriculum involves reading classics.  With this in mind, I presented them with the challenge to read these Printz novels and think about the novels included on the college bound reading list.  Did I ask them to write an essay this summer? Yes.  And I know that some will agree with me for having them write an essay and others will disagree.  I’m having them write an essay to support the books they read being added to the college bound reading list or to oppose the books they read being added to the college bound reading list.  My reasons behind having them write the essay (which is due the second day of school) this summer is that we’ll be able to begin the year focusing on revision and learning to view writing as a process that, really, never ends.

Will their summer reading be relevant throughout the school year?  Yes.  I plan on creating an independent unit where the students will be required to read a book from the college bound reading list and reflecting back on their summer essays.  Plus, I know we’ll be reading independently throughout the entire year.  SSR isn’t just for freshmen (most of the 10th-12th grade classrooms don’t offer SSR).  My sophomores next year will be reading novels of their choice during SSR all year.

So writing this whole long post began because of that article I referenced.  Do I agree with it?  In short, no.  I don’t want to assign classics over the summer because like I already said, they’ll most likely go to Sparknotes and because I’d rather read the classics with my students.  I want the chance to discuss the classics openly with my students.  I understand the author’s idea that students can read those texts without worrying about questions and pressure from the teacher, but I also understand my role as the teacher and helping my students become better learners and readers.  I don’t agree with her claim that our higher readers will only increase their vocabulary by reading the classics.  I’ve read the classics all through high school and college and I’m still increasing my vocabulary when I’m reading YA.  If she’s worried about her students needing to build a better understanding of the world, I’d recommend she read Sold and Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick.  There’s also Ruta Sepetys’ beautiful debut novel Between Shades of Grey giving readers insight to a piece of world history barely covered in history classes or known about at all.  I could go on and on, but considering the length of this post I won’t.

Summer reading is apparently more of a touchy subject than I first thought.  Next June I’ll reflect on the year and maybe I’ll change my summer reading assignment.  Right now, however, I’m still happy with what I assigned because I know my administrators and what they expect and more importantly, I know my students.  I know many of my 52 students will need a starting place in the world of YA because I know many of them aren’t as acquainted with it as I’d like them to be.  I guess we’ll see how it went over in a couple months.

Blogging and Why Community Matters

When I started blogging it was all about using technology in my classroom and getting my students involved outside of my classroom.  Then I got the idea that it might be cool to write about the books I’m reading so my kids can get more book recommendations.  That turned into a summer hobby which has turned Y.A. Love into a full-fledged blog.

As I’ve been navigating through the world of Y.A. blogging, I’ve asked myself tons of questions and even questioned if I’m “doing it right.”  Often these musings are on Twitter and I usually get this response: “It’s your blog, so do whatever you think is right or whatever you want.”  Not always in those words, but the general idea is there.  And I have to admit that it’s true; this is my blog so I shouldn’t worry about anyone else.  But don’t we still think about our readers and our community?  Yes, I’m writing what I want to write, but I always have my readers and students in mind.  When it gets right down to it, my community often drives my blogging.  Maybe that’s wrong, maybe it’s okay, but it’s the truth.

Before Kelly and Liz approached a group of us about this “unconventional blog tour,” I’d been thinking about this a great deal.  A couple months ago I was emailed by a college professor working on his dissertation and asked if I’d like to be interviewed and used as a source about teachers using web tools like Twitter, blogs, etc.  During our conversations after agreeing to this, how I started blogging and why I blog came up.  As I’ve grown more active on Twitter, I’ve discovered that many teachers and librarians are using my blog in a variety of ways.  I know of one teacher who shows the book trailers I feature to her classes every week.  Any time I consider skipping a Book Trailer Thursday, I think about that teacher and those students and I’m motivated to write that post.  I don’t want to let them down!  And now because I have those students in the back of my mind, I’m not only thinking about my students.  I have a wider audience influencing my blogging.  I used this exact example during that interview.

Community drives what I blog at times, but community is also important because of the  support it provides.  I don’t know if I’d still be an active blogger if it weren’t for my community and PLN on Twitter.  I can’t express how many times bloggers like Kelly @ Stacked, Jillian @ Mrs. Heise Reads and Recommends, and Crys @ Book ‘Em! The Reading Adventures of a Wannabe Librarian have helped me out.  They’ve helped me with blogging confusion, reading ruts, and just about everything else connected to blogging and reading.  It’s important to remember that the blogging community and the community of readers following your blog are often in your corner and cheering you on when you need it most.  My community provides me with amazing book recommendations and blogging topics.  Just yesterday I was talking with another blogger about sci-fi and fantasy recommendations for my Y.A. Lit II class.  I wouldn’t know her if I wasn’t blogging and interacting online.  Our community is what we make it, and I never want to take it for granted.

To prepare for this post, I put together a readership survey on my blog.  I’m honestly surprised at the number of teachers and librarians who read my blog.  I’ve always had a feeling or good idea that quite a few do, but I didn’t realize so many did!  It sure is reassuring considering how often I talk about my students when I’m posting about anything really or when I’m reviewing books.  I do that because it’s who I am as a reader and it’s why I read, but I’ve always worried that I might be alienating readers who aren’t teachers or librarians.  Anyway, I’m sharing the results of my survey 🙂  Thank you to the 57 people who responded!

1. What’s your title?

Teacher 47%
Librarian 21%
Teen 12%
Author 4%
Publisher/Publicist 2%
Blogger 42%
Other 16%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.

2. How did you come across Y.A. Love today?

Search engine website 7%
Twitter 37%
RSS feed or blog feed 12%
Email subscription 9%
Referred from another website 26%
Other  9%

*Yay! Twitter!
**I should have asked what other website referred them.

3. Which type of blog post(s) do you find the most useful?

Reviews 84%
Book Trailers 33%
Author Interviews 25%
Giveaways 18%
Top Ten Lists (Memes) 53%
Education Related 47%
Other 2%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.
**I wish I would have asked what other types of memes they find useful.

4. What type of blog post(s) would you like to see more of?

Reviews 46%
Book Trailers 17%
Author Interviews 25%
Giveaways 21%
Top Ten Lists (Memes)  44%
Education Related  35%
Other 12%

*More than one response was allowed which is why the totals don’t add up to 100.
**A couple of the responses with “Other” were:

  • “Keep up the variety.”
  • “I like to hear how you use books in the classroom and which books your students respond to.”
  • “I really enjoy the ‘What my students think’ posts.

My 5th question asked bloggers to leave their website if they preferred.

I kept this survey simple, but the results gave me a lot of insight.  Like I said, I didn’t realize how many teachers read my blog.  Plus, now I know that many of them are bloggers as well!  It’s also nice to know that my Twitter followers are reading my blog links (thanks!).  I’m not surprised that so many find reviews useful and want to see more, but I am surprised by how many people like and want more top ten lists or memes.  Personally, I’m a list maker and love making lists, so I’m all about writing more posts like that!  Something that strikes me as odd is that 25% want more author interviews and 17% want more book trailers.  Since posting this survey I’ve posted two author interviews and had one Book Trailer Thursday post with two trailers, but none of those posts received many views or many comments (compared to other posts, that is).  Quite a few people want more giveaways, but if my last giveaway tells me anything, it’s that I’m either not offering the “right” books, or people don’t really want a free book all that much.  I think in my last giveaway I had 8 entries.  Seriously.  Something to ponder I suppose.

I’m happy I posted this survey because I know what my community is looking for.  I love knowing that more teaching related posts are in demand because I love talking about what I’m doing in my classroom.  Even more, I love getting feedback and suggestions from other teachers!  I’m always thinking about posting more reviews, but this last half of the school year has really worn me out and it’s affected my review writing.  I know more reviews will be written this summer 🙂

I guess if anything’s taken from this post, understand that my community is incredibly important to me.  It’s not only improved my blogging, but it’s making me a better teacher.  I know the blogging community can get overwhelming sometimes, especially if you’re new to blogging, but if you manage to find a few people to connect with you’ll be happy you did.  I really hope that as I continue to blog, I continue to make new connections and provide my readers with valuable content.

My Literary Achilles’ Heel

During our lunch break at the ALAN conference this past November, my friends and I were discussing which breakout session to attend.  There was quite a bit of debate, because much of our decision was based on which authors we wanted to listen to.  I was originally planning on attending the session about Chicago as a setting in YA, but I didn’t for two reasons.  One reason was that our lunch took FOREVER (that poor restaurant was packed and understaffed), but the other reason was because of something Donalyn Miller said.  She of course wanted to listen to Chris Crutcher and Matt de la Peña (and who wouldn’t?!), but her primary reason for attending was because sports fiction is her Achilles’ heel.  This  really made me think because I know which genres are my least favorite, but I never thought about putting a name to it (Thank you, Donalyn!).

I’m bringing this post up because it’s been on my mind, but now even more so after winning my Teacher of the Year award.  I received a $500 check to use in my classroom, and I’m thinking about spending it on books–real predictable, right? 😉  On Thursday I told my students about it and asked them for their input on how I should spend the money.  We all agreed that a spinning book rack would be great because we could display books according to genre.  That’s easy enough, and something I’ve wanted to purchase for a while, but then I started thinking about my literary Achilles’ heel again.  I love contemporary fiction and plenty of the paranormal fiction that’s been released, although I’ll admit I’m getting worn out trying to keep up with so many series, but that’s another post altogether.  I know I could be better about reading more sports fiction, but I think I’m doing alright, especially now that one of my YA Lit students keeps reading them before me and recommending them.  Plus I love Chris Crutcher’s novels and couldn’t get enough of Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, just as a couple examples.  I’ve been beefing up my knowledge of graphic novels, and in the process I’ve found that I really enjoy them.  I love novels in verse, so that part of my library is ever expanding, even though I know that’s not a genre of YA.  My greatest Achilles’ heel is high fantasy and science fiction.

I grew up loving fantasy.  I remember reading every unicorn book I could find when I was in elementary and middle school.  The Bunnicula books, even though those aren’t exactly fantasy, were some of my favorites.  I tried reading The Hobbit in 6th grade, and even though I didn’t finish it, I remember really enjoying it.  I could picture the setting and the characters easily.  In high school my dad handed me a copy of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart.  I couldn’t get enough of that book!  I was over the moon in 10th grade when we started our King Arthur unit.  I wrote my essay on the Lady of the Lake and actually enjoyed doing the research (I didn’t enjoy the research involved for my Oliver Wendell Holmes essay in 11th grade–I had no choice in my author assignment).  So why do I struggle now to enjoy high fantasy novels?  I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adored it.  I tried reading the companion, Fire, but even though I’ve tried reading it twice now, I can’t stick with it.  I am looking forward to the release of Bitterblue.  I tried the first in The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima, but that was really a struggle.  I have no desire to finish the series, but I do have all the books in my class library.  I’ve heard great things about the Seven Realms series, so I’m thinking about trying that.  My students requested that I buy the rest of the Eragon series, which I did yesterday, but even those I don’t really care for.  I might not like Eragon because I saw the movie first, but I still don’t know if I want to read them.

 Science fiction has never been a genre that I enjoy reading.  I read Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (releases in July 2012–review coming closer to the release date) and loved it.  It’s about gaming and virtual reality, so I’d qualify it as science fiction.  I read Tempest by Julie Cross, and even though there are some plot points that I didn’t like, I enjoyed reading the novel overall.  The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness could be seen as dystopian, but I also look at it as science fiction because it takes place on a different planet, much like Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and A Million Suns.  I’m not sure what I’m missing in this genre.  I’ve obviously enjoyed a few novels that fit within in, so why don’t I find myself reading more novels in this genre?

I’m writing about all of this because I feel like I’m letting my students down, in particular the students who do enjoy reading these genres.  I have a few titles that I can discuss with them and recommend, but I don’t have enough to feel like I’m doing a good enough job.  Does anyone else feel like this?  What’s your literary Achilles’ heel?  And if you love these genres, please leave me some recommendations!  I have that money to spend, so I want to buy some worthy YA titles in each genre to provide for my students.  And since I don’t have that much going on this weekend (FINALLY!), I think I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and try reading one or two.  So please, if you have any recommendations, or if you feel the same way I do about these genres or others, leave me a comment 🙂

Music and Books

Do you ever hear a song and think of a book you’re reading or have read?  Monday through Thursday I have to drive to Oakland University and back for my Masters class, so I’ve been listening to the radio quite a bit.  I’ve heard a couple songs that make me think of one book inparticular, but I’ve also heard some songs that sound like they belong with a book (even if I can’t think of which one). 

For example, every time I hear “Savior” by Rise Against I think of Beautiful Creatures.  That song is just about perfect for Ethan and Lena.  Then today I heard “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5, and that song too made me think of Beautiful Creatures.  Why do I keep thinking of that novel?!  Maybe I need to make a book trailer for it… Hmmm… 

I heard Paramore’s song “The Only Exception” last night, and I don’t know which book that song fits with, but it definitely belongs with one.  I have XM radio in my car, and I was bored with the other stations, so I put on station 9 which is all 90s music.  “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls (love them!!) came on; this song too belongs with a novel.  Maybe I’m just feeling incredibly sappy since Keith’s gone for a week 🙁 

Do any of you have songs that you connect with books?  Have any of you made any, or thought about trying to make, book trailers this summer?

Boosts in Teen Reading

In the past few years that I’ve been teaching at Clio, I have noticed more and more students reading.  Not only are they reading, but they’re carrying these non-required books from class to class.  Now granted, there are always teens reading; I was one of them.  But I didn’t go to the book store looking for my next book.  I don’t even think I read any young adult books when I was in high school.  Whatever I read was usually recommended by my parents. 

So what’s changed over the past few years?  Is it the quality of the writing?  Is it all the aftermath of the Harry Potter phenomenon?  I found an article that was written a few years ago addressing these questions.  I’d love it if you read it and followed up with your opinions/thoughts.  I’m especially interested to know if any of you purposely seek out more complex, deep novels.


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