Last summer I was combing through Amazon, Chapters, and the local book stores in search of new novels for a grade eleven college English class. The plan was to scrap the ancient classic that had been on the course for longer than a dog’s age and replace it with a new novel. One of the most had conversation with parents since I have been teaching starts with a comment something like this: “I read that novel when I was in high school. Why are you still reading it?!” Let’s be honest, the answer, “Because it’s a timeless classic that cannot be matched by any novel that’s been written since,” was never sufficient. We’re kicking the classics to the curb!
I started the search for a modern novel with which my students would make a connection. Many novels with potential were found, and it was an impossibility to choose just one! There is such a great variety of new books available that it was difficult to choose one novel for a classroom full of students with different interests and reading abilities. That is when I realized that I did not need to choose just one book—I could choose several books.
Choosing several books has an appeal for a couple of reasons. First, the students can choose a novel that is of greatest interest to them. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a female focused choice that focuses on the issue of rape. The freshman female protagonist is dealing with a rape that she has not been able to talk about with anyone. A popular male choice is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie which not only contain male humour with a realism in presenting how boys think; it is also semi-autobiographical, telling Alexie’s story of being the first Aboriginal to leave his Reserve to attend the white school in town. These are just two of the captivating novels being used in this senior college English class.
Second, novels of varying reading level can be chosen. Invariably, and to a greater extent than in a university bound class, there will be a gap in reading abilities in the college classroom. There will be students who have chosen the college level even though they have university ability and others who are struggling to achieve the college level of literacy—and those in between! I chose an action novel as the easier read. Acceleration by Graham McNamee is a thriller set in Toronto, Ontario. The low income teen who works in the lost and found of the subway discovers the journal of a psychotic killer and decides to try and protect the next victim described in the journal. The reluctant readers in the room quite readily chose this novel for its high interest and fast pace.
There are other reasons, I’m sure, but these are certainly enough. I highly recommend delving into the multi-novel study. It has been a very enjoyable teaching experience.
Are you ready to kick the classics to the curb in exchange for a more meaningful modern reading experience?