I’ve always loved teaching eleventh grade students. They are fun and funny, curious about the world, and on the verge of adulthood. This is often the year of first cars, first girlfriends and boyfriends, and first after-school jobs. When I used to teach in the States, it was the year when they could finally go off-campus for lunch, the year for college visitations, and the year when they started to really get serious about their futures, saying goodbye to childhood and hello to the grown-up world.
I also see it as a key developmental year, when many students really start to read grown-up literature, as they are starting to have the life experience and background knowledge that is needed for so many books.
Eleventh grade used to be all about American literature. The focus was more on content than skills, and as we continue to teach with the common core state standards, it’s easier to get away from the traditional canon as we embrace student choice.
My students are reading all sorts of titles and authors and genres, which means that the priority has been shifted. Students may be doing more reading than fake-reading (and because of this they may actually be actually reading more American literature than they did in my previous years of teaching). However, we aren’t organizing our units according to topics like romanticism and transcendentalists. We organize by skill, by the type of reading or writing they will be doing in the unit.
However, it’s been a little strange to teach eleventh grade English without the heavy focus on American literature, so one of the ways we are trying to reincorporate content is through book clubs.
A few months ago my students participated in nonfiction book clubs, and last week they asked me if we could do it again, but with fiction. With classics! Who am I to say no to such a request?
So my eleventh grade teaching partner and I gathered titles from our department’s book room and classroom libraries, and came up with some book club options. We had two self-imposed guidelines (not requirements…we are always flexible): books should be written by American authors and have at least a significant portion of the plot taking place in the US, and that there should be a film to go with the book.
We book talked the titles and gave our students a few days to research and digest the different options, and then had them mark their top five choices. This allowed us as teachers a lot freedom and flexibility when making the groups, while also allowing us to honor student choice. I ended up with students in my class reading the following titles:
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Great Gatsby
- The Circle
- The Color Purple
- The Maltese Falcon
- The Kite Runner
- In Cold Blood
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
I kept my book clubs in groups of two or three students, so that everyone has to participate, and no one can sit back and let others do the thinking for them.
To the students who didn’t get their first choice pick, I reminded them that simply because they aren’t reading it for this book club doesn’t mean they can’t read it later in the year.
Next is the twist! Students had to be willing to watch the film that goes with the book. We teachers know that students will watch the film. It’s just the nature of teaching high school. While that used to be a problem for me in previous years, I’ve started to relish the idea of students watching the film, and sometimes I surprise myself by telling them to watch it first!