Literature as a Lens

During adolescent years, students read books that may reflect personal issues. Whether it’s during junior year of high school and one envisions prom night to hold the glamour of Gatsby’s party, or whether one is in the midst of middle school awkwardness that Jerry Spinelli captured so clearly, it’s likely that you related to at least a few of assigned readings. The Creative Inquiry, Teenage Triumphs and Tragedies: Using Adolescent Literature as Lens to View Our Lives, studies the readings that best improve the link between books and adolescent emotions.

Creative Inquiry advisor Dr. Kathy Headley, interim director of the School of Education, and her students meet bi-weekly to in order to discuss adolescent novels. Books are selected from professionally recommended book listings of award-winning and highly ranked selections, as well as popular reads among adolescents. The Creative Inquiry team members select four books that the group will read and one book to read individually. Previous readings include October Mourning, Blue Plate Special, the Twilight saga and The Hunger Games trilogy—some of which focus on serious topics such as bullying, cancer, violence and mental health.

Donnie Wilson, a senior who is double-majoring in English and secondary English education, believes that the book characters’ problems highlight challenges in everyday life. “The books we are reading may have fictional problems and fictional characters, but the problems that they have can be related to someone’s life, or my own life,” she said.

Group discussions frequently focus on whether a current book is appropriate to teach in a classroom setting or if it would be better located in a library where students can read it on their own time. Justin Holliday, a graduate student pursuing his Masters in English, believes that this project will impact his future as a classroom teacher.

“I have learned more than I had originally thought possible,” Holliday said. “I learned what kind of young adult literature I would like to integrate into my curriculum because I learned that this type of literature is worthy of study, whether in a secondary or post-secondary classroom. I am fascinated by the motif that promotes hope even in the darkest novels.”

By using adolescent literature as a lens to view lives, the group discusses their future classrooms and ways to help adolescent students deal with personal issues through assigned readings.

This Creative Inquiry team refers to themselves as a “book club” because they all share a love of reading and appreciate the opportunity to read literature together. Headley believes that she and each book club member operate with an emphasis on student leadership and an overall goal to understand the impact of adolescent literature on students.

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