There’s no denying that as educators we want our students to read and we expect them to enjoy reading at least as much as we did in our youth, when our lives did not revolve around our gadgets. After all, how could they deepen their understanding of the world we live in with all its social, moral or political implications? How could we instill moral values like loyalty, respect and tolerance?
Therefore, what we do is present them with a list of books, mostly fiction, and suggest they read them all within a few months, but what we seem to overlook is that, more often than not, our students do not find any of their favourite reads on that list. What is more, on seeing that most of the works were written two or three centuries ago, they become disheartened and say ‘no’ without blinking an eyelid.
And this is when we have to step in and find alternatives to bring back the joy of reading. By browsing through online bookstores we stumble upon a wide range of works targeted at teenagers, catering for all tastes in terms of genre, often referred to as young adult (YA) books. Even though these books are often deemed as commercial and not serious, as they are not the classics, they have appealed to both the young and the less young for quite some years now. That is why I see no reason why we should not bring them into the classroom, explore them to the fullest to benefit learners and, thus, turn the whole learning experience into a pleasurable one.
To begin with, there is good story-telling in these books, with plots that engage readers from the first pages and always take them by surprise – real page-turners as they are often referred to by reviewers. It is true, at times you will hardly be able to hold back tears, you’ll even cry buckets, but there’s nothing wrong with that, I should think.
Then, they are accessible and easy to digest. This means that readers do not have to go to great lengths to understand the plot – no intricacies there – and judge for themselves. In addition, these novels address the needs of the teenager undergoing all those physical, physiological and emotional problems, which makes them all the more relevant. As most of the stories revolve around a teenage girl or boy facing a dilemma – he may be having a hard time at home, be bullied by peers or trying to heal after a terrible loss – readers feel they relate. They can easily step into the shoes of the character, which, by the way, drives the whole plot, and resonate. As a result, they become more empathetic, open-minded and tolerant. Cliché-ridden? Not quite. Soapy? Not necessarily! Some end on a happy note, some on a sad one and few leave us hanging…
What is more, since the writing is not over-complicated and the book employs the language the teenage reader speaks, it is not difficult for the latter to get the message right, even though he/she may have to read between the lines and react accordingly i.e. ask themselves questions and answer them themselves.
Plus, YA novels are readily available whether you want to purchase a copy from the nearest bookstore, read them online or get them on your device to enjoy them on the way to and back from school. If the reader is armed with an e-reader, he can keep track of the vocabulary items they have stumbled upon and check the builder until the word is mastered. Or they can highlight their favourite quotes and air them to impress friends on social media. Obviously, they can still acquire new vocabulary and observe sentence structure by taking notes.
Surprisingly, to advance plot, some authors embed digital exchanges such as text messages or chats and even cartoons or drawings in their novels and they do so to great effect. This goes to show that writers have moved with the times and are able to give readers what they want i.e. authenticity. This technique engages the reader to an even larger extent and it also reinforces the message, usually a powerful one. No wonder one reads a book like this in one sitting!
Overall, if our aim is to motivate learners to read, wouldn’t you rather they read something that is easily comprehensible, educational and entertaining? If you teach literature and you’re tired of the old excerpts in the textbook, I suggest you try one of the novels targeted at youth. In addition to being excellent teaching tools, which can be used in countless ways, they provide a break from the regular course book and grammar worksheets and might turn even the most reluctant of readers into an avid one.
I, for one, am one of those. Can you blame me?