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The Student News Site of James Buchanan High School

The Rocket Flame

The Student News Site of James Buchanan High School

The Rocket Flame

The Student News Site of James Buchanan High School

The Rocket Flame

Young Adult Literature (YAL): Controversy in the Classroom


Teachers across the United States are beginning to explore teaching young adult literature (YAL) texts.  These stories have a protagonist that is a young adult age or teenager who faces obstacles that many teens are going through today. Controversial texts can allow students to process and learn about hardships their peers or themselves may be facing. Suicide, teen relationships, divorce, debilitating illnesses, drugs, alcohol, and even rape are topics that are covered in these texts.


The Common Core State Standards are requiring texts that are a higher complexity and display more mature themes, or controversial scenes stated Jessica Keigan in her article “Teaching Controversial Texts.” These higher complexity texts are encouraging teachers to teach more controversial topics.


In the library Emma Bafile (12) is reading “The Selection, by Keira Cass.”

“When I teach Johnny, I ask the students to consider the perspective of the author—a man who lived through two world wars and questioned what is worth fighting for,” Keigan said. “I want my students to think about those things because someday they may be called upon to answer similar questions themselves. Growing up is a challenging thing to do—it is our job as educators to provide opportunities for students to learn ways to navigate this process.”


The James Buchanan English Department has been working to successfully teach controversial topics in books.  Ms. Kelley Reeder (Faculty) is one of the first teachers to begin exploring and teaching controversial texts in her classroom. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson was the first book she chose to teach.  By reading Speak the students could connect with the main character’s witty personality while also realizing the important topics discussed in the book.


“There’s some tough things that happen to Melinda, and she’s a ninth grade student and I teach ninth grade,” Reeder states. “But the actual book is about coming of age and and coming to high school; only a portion is about that controversy.”


After success with Speak, she began to teach other books in literature circles. She allows students to choose the book they would like to read and discuss it within their small groups. It is important to discuss some of these topics in books because they display what teens are facing today.


“I chose Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson. In the Lit circles we did activities where we pulled passages that were well-written,” Patrick Hicks (10)  stated.  “We also discussed the challenges the main character faced in his life and maybe how we faced some hardship that was similar to his.”


The English Department believes it is important to use the texts to broach topics that teens are not comfortable talking to adults about. The literature circle can allow students to discuss with other students, not just teachers, due to the age gap adults may not fully understand what today’s teens are facing.


“I think it is really important to have that open discussion with kids, about topics that are weighing on their hearts that they don’t have a safe place to talk about,” Reeder said.  “It is important for us as teachers to make them realize they can talk to their peers, they can talk to their teachers, they can talk to their parents.”

Now, not only will they open up to their peers about struggles they may be facing, but also adults. Which will allow these difficult issues be confronted respectfully.


“Ms. Reeder was there to make sure we could keep a more respectful tone towards it, where there would be some students who might joke about it or take it less seriously,” Hicks said.


Ms. Nicole Myers (Faculty) is another teacher that has begun teaching controversial texts in her classroom.


“Our world is filled with controversy, and I think our high schools and middle schools are filled with controversy,” Myers said. “Just because you want to try and avoid it in a book, doesn’t mean you will have success with avoiding it in the real world. Some of these difficult topics are better discussed in a productive environment.”


Myers has been teaching The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, to her classes. She believes it is important for students to read this book because it can give students an outlook on what is happening in the world.


“The main character faces a lot of challenges,” Myers stated. “Sometimes it is important for younger students to see difficulties that are happening in the real world.”


Since some of these subjects are very delicate, it can be worrisome to parents. Myers and Reeder send home parent letters before assigning books to their students.


“We understand that some of these topics are sensitive, and we want parents to team up with us, to be talking with their kids as we are reading the books,” Reeder said. “We want them to research the books we are thinking of using and let us know if they have concerns so we can choose the book that fits for EACH student and personalize our classes more, while working with the parents to provide open lines of communication.”


Reading “Looking for Alaska”, by John Green, Max McCullough (9) enjoys reading in the library.

By doing this it allows the parents to be involved and understand what their children are reading. The English Department also allows parents to explore other books that may be taught in the future that the department is considering.


When choosing what books to have their students read, Reeder and Myers consider a lot of factors. They try to choose texts where the student reading the book can relate to and learn from. Websites like Common Sense Media, and Goodreads allow teachers, parents, and students to research these books and find what the main themes of the book are and the rating to choose what will be best for the students to read. Books found on this website are rated on the topics within, for instance some may be PG while others will be more PG 13 or even R.


“In the book, Speak, Melinda is the epitome of a ninth grade student with her sarcasm, the way she feels about school,” Reeder said. “She gives a voice to the teenager. As soon as I read it I was like, these are my kids.”


Not only is the English Department choosing books students can relate to and learn from, but also what they will enjoy. When researching the novels they try to find common interests for the students.


“These stories are the stories that they like. My job as a teacher is to make them want to read for the rest of their lives.

— Kelley Reeder


Controversial texts are a new way of running classes not just teaching about the texts, but tough life issues students may be facing. The high school English Department will continue their efforts in teaching young adult literature in their classrooms, and finding new strategies to teach them.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Mellott
Hannah Mellott is a part of the JB Student Media staff this year, and it is her first year as a part of the staff. She also plays the flute in the concert and marching band here. As well as being a part of Band, she is also am a member of Drama Club. She is the head of hair and makeup during the plays and musicals, as well as being a member of stage crew. In addition, she has been a waitress at Milky Way for two years. She is very excited to share her articles with everyone, and hopes you enjoy!
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