THE RESEARCH CONNECTION
Pamela S. Carroll, Editor
Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
Research in Young Adult Literature: Four Recent Projects
John Noell Moore, Janet Rahamut, Robert L. Lockhart, and Melinda Franklin
Introduction -- Editor's Note
For the Fall, 1996, Research Connection, I asked four recent recipients of the ALAN Foundation Award for Research in Young Adult Literature to describe the research in which they have engaged, and to discuss the process they went through in choosing a particular research focus. Their projects and their reflections on doing research that focuses on young adult literature are presented below, in the researchers' own words (editorial comments are in italics throughout). The researchers' interests are varied: Moore's study considers young adult literature in light of contemporary literary theories; Rahamut's research pairs a contemporary description of healthy families with a focus on the portrayal of family relationships in novels by Voigt and Bridgers; Lockhart's classroom-based work brings together young adult literature, ideas about the nature of teaching and learning, and questions about the teacher's role in today's classrooms; Franklin's classroom project introduces possibilities for the use of audio-recorded books, both classics and young adult selections, in secondary classrooms.
Four Studies of Young Adult Literature
In order to explain why he has become an impassioned advocate of young adult literature, John N. Moore, a 1994 recipient of the ALAN Foundation Award for Research, discusses his evolution as a teacher of English, one who entered the profession after a childhood as an avid reader -- one who recognized that there were two types of books -- those that were assigned and those that were fun to read. Moore challenges teachers to treat young adult literature to the same kind of critical scrutiny to which they subject canonical works. He encourages teachers of English to take their backgrounds of literature study into classrooms, where they can explore different critical stances when approaching young adult literature with student readers. Moore provides evidence that young adult literature is both strong enough to withstand critical scrutiny and flexible enough to be read from a variety of contemporary critical perspectives. His claim that "a plurality of theoretical frameworks for interpretation enriches the study and teaching of all literature at all educational levels" raises questions about whether or not it is appropriate and helpful, especially for inexperienced readers, to teach students a variety of ways to approach texts. Some teachers may argue that too much direct teaching of young adult books may interfere with students' attraction to the genre; Moore argues, however, that students' reading experiences can be enhanced when the books are treated seriously as literary works of art.
John Noell Moore: "Literary Theory and the Young Adult Landscape"
The Mission and the Method
When I graduated from college, I set out, like many other young English teachers, to save the world through language and literature. I had been well trained in what I later came to understand were the systematic reading techniques of New Criticism: a piece of literature, say a novel, was a work of art that I could know if I possessed the skills to give a detailed close reading. Those skills involved a complex literary vocabulary that allowed me to investigate and understand metaphor, symbolism, allusion, irony, paradox -- and the list goes on. This work of art was autonomous, and a close reading investigated its intricacies without considering the author or the conditions of the work's production. With my interpretive skills, I could arrive at the one "correct" reading of the work, could discover how all its literary elements were interwoven to create this harmonious, unified whole.
In addition to these interpretive skills, I came to the secondary classroom, as a consequence of my traditional and classical training, equipped with a terrific repertoire of Great Works to teach my students. My high school textbook for senior English confirmed the familiar landscape of Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Macbeth, the great metaphysical, romantic, Victorian and modern poets. Paperback editions of Great Expectations and Heart of Darkness rounded out my reading list for my first senior class. In those early years I conceived of my job as teaching my students to know literature as I knew it, and so my teaching naturally reflected the best books I had been taught, and I taught as my best teachers had taught me. I continued the traditions, canonical and pedagogical.
Where was young adult literature in those early years? I began my career shortly after the term "young adult literature" was coined in the late 1960s. Ninth grade teachers in my first school were using what they called "junior" or "juvenile" novels" such as Johnny Tremain (1944), The Light in the Forest (1953), and Swift Water (1950) as well as some "problem novels." I only taught such books on a few occasions when I had a class of "reluctant," or in the now popular terminology "resistant," readers. For these students I followed my colleagues' advice and chose books such as The Outsiders (1967) and When the Legends Die (1963), novels that immediately engaged my "resistant" readers. I was so entrenched in the traditional canon that it never occurred to me to teach these young adult books to my "general" or college bound classes, where we continued with our careful study of the classics.
When I reflect on my own adolescence, I am not surprised that I did not teach or investigate young adult literature before I did. As a teenager I was a voracious reader of the young adult literature of the time. I got hooked on Walter Farley's The Black Stallion (1977) and devoured all its sequels, including Son of the Black Stallion (1977) and The Island Stallion (1980). These books, and others, which were full of adventure and new geographies so different from the world I lived in at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, were never taught to me in English classes and did not appear on the reading lists my teachers gave me. I came to understand that they were for "personal" reading, for my pleasure, not for serious study. My college education continued to verify this perception, and my subsequent teaching perpetuated it.
Confluence and a New Mission
How then, given this background, did I end up doing my doctoral research on young adult literature? The answer is that through my reading and research I began to see a relationship between the present state of English education in America, the status of literary theory in college and secondary classrooms, and the complexity, diversity, and rich interpretive possibilities of the best young adult literature. How did I come to this realization? Here's the story.
Part 1: In a modern fiction course in the early 1990s, I studied Ross Murfin's 1989 casebook on Heart of Darkness, a novel that I had written extensively about, had frequently taught, and about which I felt very confident in my interpretation. Murfin's book, however, turned my perception of Conrad's novel and my own interpretive abilities upside down. Its essays presented convincing readings of the novel from perspectives of literary theories that I knew little about -- deconstruction, reader-response, feminism, and new historicism. This book was the beginning of my new life in literary theory, and when Patricia P. Kelly, my major professor at Virginia Tech, realized the intensity of my interest, she set me the task of reading more about literary theory and writing about its consequences for the secondary classroom. One sentence in Murfin's Preface set my imagination afire with the spirit of inquiry that came to fruition in my dissertation under Dr. Kelly's direction: "If asked to describe the way in which the study of literature is changing, most of us willing to venture an answer would say that it is becoming more theoretical" (Murfin, p. v). I had a new mission: to discover practical ways in which English teachers could use the more recent developments in literary theory as frameworks for their teaching of literature.
Part 2: As the first step Dr. Kelly directed me to four books with which to further pursue my inquiry into literary theory and classroom teaching. They were Louise Rosenblatt's Literature as Exploration (1983) and The Reader, the Text, the Poem (1978); Edmund Farrell and James Squires' Transactions with Literature (1990), a collection of essays about Rosenblatt's theories; and Robert Probst's Response and Analysis: Teaching Literature in Junior and Senior High School (1988). Reader response was quite different from my confident New Critical practices, and I used reader response as a springboard to investigate other literary theories that had emerged since mid-century. I felt overwhelmed by the vast field of literary theory and realized that the task of finding a practical approach was going to be much more difficult than I had imagined.
Part 3: Next, in an independent study in English education with Dr. Kelly, I read Arthur Applebee's Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English: A History (1974). This book provoked me to think seriously about how some of what Applebee called "problems remaining" in 1974 were still remaining twenty years later. Among these problems, he noted that English teachers "need to make the distinction between knowledge which informs their teaching, and that which should be imparted to students," a distinction between the frame of reference from which a teacher teaches (theory) and the literary knowledge that students work with in the classroom (p. 246). In other words, Applebee, spoke directly to my abiding interests in how we learn and teach. He led me to raise this question: How do we bridge the gap between the kinds of critical theory that we learn in college and the ways we teach English in the secondary school? I began to imagine then how my studies in literary theory might help me construct that bridge. As I read on in Applebee's work, I learned that in his 1990 research on secondary school curricula, he had concluded that the teachers in his study were mostly unfamiliar with the recent developments in literary theories such as structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, and reader-response, and that most of them were teaching literature as it had been taught for the last four decades -- in the New Critical tradition of my own education and experience. This was not news to me; I had witnessed this kind of teaching in every secondary school I had taught in, and the notable exceptions had been teachers with feminist perspectives who were earning reputations as subversives and who were often marginalized in the department.
Part 4: As I made connections between Applebee's research and my secondary teaching experience, I also began to think about the ways in which my growing knowledge of literary theory was changing considerably my perception of language and literature, and especially about how theory, particularly cultural studies, was creating new and provocative frameworks for my work with freshmen at Virginia Tech. At this time of great change in my thinking and in my teaching, I began to read young adult literature very seriously and to discuss my readings with Dr. Kelly. My growing interest in this relatively new field of literature had begun after I attended several ALAN Workshops at NCTE, where the enthusiasm of hundreds of teachers from elementary schools to universities had motivated me to explore the field in greater depth. As I read widely, I discovered that a literature which I had formerly thought to be marginalized and limited in its audience and uses was charging my imagination and opening up exciting interpretive roads on which I could travel.
Young adult literature became my new intellectual landscape, and I set about traveling in it with a passion. I began to read novels from Ted Hipple's list of the best young adult literature which included Sue Ellen Bridgers' Home Before Dark (1976), Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (1974), Gary Paulsen's Dogsong (1985), Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (1980), and Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels (1988) (in Hipple, 1993). Then I discovered the Honor Samplings in Alleen Nilsen and Kenneth Donelson's Literature for Today's Young Adults (1993), and the fireworks began. As I read their extensive introduction to the field with its inclusion and treatment of hundreds of young adult novels, my literary horizons exploded with displays of color and brilliance. When I discovered Virginia Monseau and Gary Salvner's Reading Their World: The Young Adult Novel in the Classroom (1992), my interests in learning, teaching literature, literary theory, English education, and young adult literature, especially fiction, came together to convince me that I could contribute something new to the profession I love and to the colleagues who teach with me.
My subsequent research showed me that changes in literary theory had had little impact on secondary English teaching and even less impact on the field of young adult literature. My experiences reading and teaching the classics provided a background against which I discovered that the best young adult novels could support the same intense critical readings I had given the Great Works. Such readings, I believed, could elevate the status of young adult literature. The freshness of this "new" literature to traditionalists could perhaps provide a fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of theoretical inquiry, and this inquiry might, in turn, encourage teachers to rethink how we teach reading and the interpretation of literature.
Two major questions governed my initial work: (1) Which young adult novels to select from the many excellent possibilities? (2) Which literary theories to work with in interpreting these novels? I decided to choose young adult books that had not only strongly affected me as a reader but that also represented excellence in the field over the last two decades. I wanted to include a book that linked young adult literature to children's literature and another that linked it to adult literature; the lines between these classifications sometimes blur. For the children's book I selected Virginia Hamilton's M. C. Higgins, the Great (1974), and I decided to read it from the perspective of the familiar formalism because I admire the intricate interweaving of its narrative textures. For the adult book I chose a novel that will, I believe, find its place among the Honor Lists of young adult novels, Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying (1993), and because its rich intertexts contextualize it in the African American literary tradition, I chose to read it from the perspective of contemporary black literary theory, referred to as black aesthetics. I might just as easily have read the Hamilton book from the black aesthetic perspective or analyzed the masterful architecture and intricately interwoven narrative structures of the Gaines book from the formalist perspective. These possibilities reflect one of the conclusions of my research: a plurality of theoretical frameworks for interpretation enriches the study and teaching of all literatures at all educational levels. The other novels and theories from which I read them are Bruce Brooks' The Moves Make the Man (1984) (structuralism/semiotics); Lois Lowry's The Giver (1993) (deconstruction); Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels (1988) (reader response); Budge Wilson's short story collection The Leaving (1990)(feminism); M. E. Kerr's Night Kites (1986) (cultural studies); and Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (1980) (multiple readings).
This essay constitutes a narrative of my teaching and the educational and intellectual processes that led to my research in young adult literature. The phase of research I have described is completed now, but my research in the field goes on. Recent developments in literary theory are crucial for our futures in the English classroom and for our work with young adult literature. Throughout my research I kept in mind a sentence that might serve as a catalyst to others to explore how literary theory can enrich their teaching: "Clearly, the classroom is one of those places, arguably the most important one, where the future of theory is being played out" (Atkins, p. 13). I might add that the classroom is also one of the most important places where the future of young adult literature is being played out. I invite others to join me in research that investigates the play between young adult literature and literary theory by studying their own classrooms and the work they do with students.
In the research discussed below, Janet Rahamut, a 1995 ALAN Foundation Award for Research recipient, suggests a direction that teachers and media specialists can follow in their own classes. She addresses an issue that is of contemporary importance, the condition of the modern family in society, and examines in terms of how family is presented in selected young adult books. Other young adult literature enthusiasts might use her study as a model, selecting texts by women writers from different regions or ethnic groups then comparing results with Rahamut's. Another interesting extension might be a focus on the families portrayed by one or more male authors of young adult novels. This focus might be further enhanced if the researcher considered, in addition to young adult literary texts, the current body of work that examines gender differences in terms of how family experiences are perceived, dealt with, portrayed. Some may consider the portrayal of other topics of contemporary interest in young adult literature; the number of possibilities is large, and as disparate as teen violence and virtual reality.
Janet Rahamut: "Family Relationships in Selected Young Adult Novels by Cynthia Voigt and Sue Ellen Bridgers"
"We are forged in a crucible called family," says Susan Forward in Toxic Parents (p. 166). Some individuals emerge from that crucible strong and emotionally healthy; others join the morass of dysfunctional men and women that populate the world. Peter Collier says, "Your family...is your limits and your possibilities. Some people get crushed by their families. Others are saved by them (quoted in Curran, p. 1).
In The Adolescent in the Family, Noller and Callan (1991) express the belief that a strong, supportive family can play an important role in helping adolescents cope with the many physical and emotional changes that occur during this tumultuous period in their lives (p. vii). Just as with adults, family relationships are central in the world of adolescents. Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, writers often emphasize negative family situations in their fiction, perhaps agreeing with Leo Tolstoy's comment that, "All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion" (Anna Karenina, 1946, p. 1).
Many young adult authors depict dysfunctional, unhappy families not only because those families tend to be more interesting and intriguing than are happy, well-adjusted families, but also because the targeted audience, the adolescent, often has to grapple with similar perplexing, negative problems that surface in the family life.
I became interested in family relationships in literature a number of years ago when I heard a professional counselor comment that, in his opinion, all families are dysfunctional. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family myself and having known many such families, I tended to agree with him. The number of healthy, functional, well-adjusted families that I knew personally was small indeed.
I decided to investigate the works of two well-known and highly acclaimed young adult novelists, Cynthia Voigt and Sue Ellen Bridgers, to see how they depicted the family. I limited my research to the following five novels by Voigt, each of which features the extended Tillerman family, and to the following four novels by Bridgers, each of which features a rural North Carolina setting:
Novels by Voigt Novels by Bridgers Homecoming, 1981 Home Before Dark, 1976 Dicey's Song, 1982 All Together Now, 1979 The Runner, 1985 Another Life, 1982 Notes for Another Life, 1982 Permanent Connections, 1987 Seventeen Against the Dealer, 1989
In each novel, I found and analyzed these five relationships: (1) siblings, (2) mother and child, (3) father and child, (4) husband and wife, and (5) extended family. In order to ascertain the strength and health of the families in each novel, I examined them in terms of fifteen traits of a healthy family listed in Delores Curran's Traits of a Healthy Family (1983), which is based on the responses given by 551 professionals who work with diverse families. In healthy family relationships, members
1. communicate with and listen to each other;
2. affirm and support each other;
3. teach respect for others;
4. develop a sense of trust;
5. have a sense of play and humor;
6. exhibit a sense of shared responsibility;
7. teach a sense of right and wrong;
8. have a strong sense of family, with rituals and traditions;
9. have a balance of interaction among family members;
10. have a shared religious core;
11. respect the privacy of one another;
12. value service to others;
13. foster table time and conversations;
14. share leisure time;
15. admit to and seek help with problems.
Diverse levels of functionality exist within the seventeen families depicted in the novels by Voigt and Bridgers. Approximately three-fourths of the seventeen families portrayed in the novels I analyzed experience conflicts; about one-half either fully or partially resolve the conflicts. However, no discernible pattern of conflict or resolution emerges in the family units.
Voigt's three Tillerman generations struggle with severe problems; the problems are most severe in The Runner, which features John, Abigail, and Bullet, the first Tillerman family, and reveals the family's penchant for physical and emotional abuse. In Homecoming, the second Tillerman family, including Liza and her four children, is featured; this family unit is also dysfunctional, but the problems are the result of Liza's permissiveness and even nonchalance, and are exacerbated by her worsening mental illness. The third Tillerman family, which consists of Abigail, and the children, Dicey, James, Maybeth, and Sammy, is a much stronger unit than the previous two. This family is featured in Dicey's Song, Sons From Afar, and Seventeen Against the Dealer. The third Tillerman family is not trouble free; problems within the family affect the Tillerman children's relationships with people outside of the family circle. For instance, Sammy fights, Maybeth is painfully shy and insecure, and James has a poor self-image. However, the three young children draw strength from their sister, Dicey, and once Gram is established as the head of the family, the unit becomes basically healthy: the members communicate well, affirm and support each other, share responsibility for household chores, and enjoy each other's company. Especially when contrasted with the abusive first Tillerman family and the lax, unstable second Tillerman family, the third emerges as a strong, healthy family.
An analysis of the five types of relationships presented in the nine novels reveals that siblings are positively presented by both authors. Mother-child relationships are negative in Voigt's novels but are more positive in Bridgers' books, particularly among characters who assume traditional Southern mother roles. Fathers generally do not fare well in Voigt's Tillerman cycle; however, a few fathers are given positive roles and serve to provide balance for the negative characteristics of fathers such as John Tillerman and Francis Verricker. Fathers are well-developed by Bridgers, and their relationships with their children are complex. Husband-wife relationships are negatively presented by Voigt and more positively presented by Bridgers. It is the extended family relationship which both authors portray in the most positive light. Gram in the Tillerman cycle, and the grandparents, uncles, and aunts in all four of Bridgers' novels help struggling adolescents find their places in their families and their communities. Of the many families that Bridgers depicts in the four novels that I studied, the strongest family units are those led by grandparents, such as Ben and Jane Flanagan in All Together Now and Bill and Bliss Jackson in Notes for Another Life. In these novels, grandparents provide a stable, nurturing environment for their grandchildren. Caught between the grandparents and the grandchildren is a generation of parents who are either absent or unable to care for their children. Bridgers does not, however, portray all young parents in a negative light; often, she balances a negative parent with a positive one. For instance, in Home Before Dark, Stella Willis cannot accept a role as the wife of a returned prodigal brother and a stable life on her husband's homeplace, and thus commits suicide. Her husband, James Earl, loves and is devoted to their children. In Permanent Connections, Ellery is supported by a mother who gives her teenager freedom with responsibility, despite the fact that her father is absent and uninvolved in her life.
Another indication of family health for the families in Bridgers' novels, one which is absent among the families in Voigt's novels, is a shared religious core. Most family members attend church and take an active part in church activities. Bridgers seems to suggest that the church is an important extension of the family life and serves as a means for the family to strengthen itself through connections with the community. Through their fiction, both Voigt and Bridgers speak eloquently about family dynamics. Through three generations of Tillermans, Voigt shows progression towards health and wholeness. Bridgers herself has commented that she attempts to create novels that "reveal her belief in the ability of family and place to bring self-awareness, comfort, and healing to adults as well as to young people" (Bridgers, p. 20).Family relationships are given significant attention by Cynthia Voigt and Sue Ellen Bridgers, two important authors of novels for young adults. Further examination of the entire body of work of these authors and others' books for young adults, with a focus on family relationships, may provide teachers, media specialists, and parents with insights about what teens look for, relate to, and respond to when they read literature that feature a variety of family relationships. The more we understand how and why adolescent students respond to literature that speaks to them through scenes and conflicts that they recognize in their own worlds, the greater are our chances are of growing toward an understanding of those adolescents.
In his research, Robert Lockhart, a 1995 ALAN Foundation Award for Research recipient, is concerned with a question that all teachers who value their students' experiences with literary texts must face: Must I repress my own needs as a reader, so that they will not interfere with students' needs, when I am teaching a text? He approaches the question from a variety of angles that includes philosophy of teaching and learning, psychology of moral development, literary critical theory, and pedagogy, particularly as it applies to young adult literature. Lockhart's research might serve as an impetus for teachers and media specialists to reflect on why we make the choices we make, and the impact of those choices on the lives of those students with whom we come into contact.
Robert L. Lockhart: "Literary Art as Experience: Teaching Young Adult Literature, Moral Inquiry, and the Personal Journey Toward Meaning"
Because we all read and make sense of what we read in different ways, understanding the role of personal experience is vital to the process of making meaning. Yet current educational practices sometimes devalue the significance of individuality and personal experience in the classroom. This situation is the result, in part, of a gap that exists between theory and practice; those who work in classrooms often find little that is relevant and of practical value among the theories that are promoted in universities. The situation in which personal experience is ignored in the classroom is also the result, in part, of the failure of current educational practices and theories to recognize the teacher as an experiential being. Teachers, like their students, bring individual needs and desires to the classroom setting. My research is an attempt to begin bridging the gaps between theory and practice, and between the teacher as detached professional and the teacher as experiential being in the classroom.
Borrowing a definition of "inquiry" from John Dewey in which he insists on the need for a learner to disrupt intellectual equilibrium in order to grow as a thinker, I conducted myself through an episode of moral inquiry. I asked questions that pointed toward self-definition and toward my own world view, and began to realize that my own unique, personal experiences have a tremendous impact on who I am as a person and, therefore, who I am as a teacher. I began to realize, too, that my teaching should reflect my personal philosophy about how people, including myself, grow as thinkers. I became convinced that, because I feel affinity toward John Dewey's Theory of the Aesthetic Experience and Louise Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory of Response, these philosophic stances should be reflected in my teaching. In other words, I became convinced that as a teacher, I should be willing to recognize and validate the role of personal experience in the making of meaning. But as a teacher, I also have to acknowledge the kinds of constraints with which many of us contend: specifications from outside sources that identify what my students should know at the end of the year, standardized tests that reflect on my teaching as well as on students' skills, schedules so busy that it is easier to give students my answers than it is to give them time to create or find their own, and so on. Nevertheless, I knew that I could not be an effective teacher if my personal philosophy, which is centered on the necessity of personal experience as a component in the meaning making process, clashed with my teaching style and practices.
Until I chose to engage in moral inquiry, my classroom could best be described as a place where students received teacher-directed instruction. I knew that I would have to make changes in instruction and expectations if I wanted to rely on a philosophic stance, not merely on convenience or constraints, to guide my instruction.
Before I could change my classroom practices regarding the teaching of literature, I needed to determine how important personal responses to literature were for me as a reader and as a teacher. I critically analyzed my experiences in reading, teaching, and growing toward an understanding of John Knowles' A Separate Peace (1959, 1975), and found that my personal experiences had a strong influence on the ways I responded to the novel, and on the meaning that I constructed or created while engaged with the text. My next step was to conduct classroom instruction in a way that reflected an experiential, reader-response orientation. I conducted a Reader-Response study at Blacksburg (Virginia) Middle School. Eight seventh-graders read and reacted to Katherine Paterson's Park's Quest (1988). My goal was two-fold: (1) I wanted to observe student readers in order to try to understand how they used their own experiences when making sense of a literary text; (2) I wanted to examine the teacher's role in a reader-response based classroom assignment. I was curious about whether the teacher can be granted the rights of a reader -- in other words, the right to construct meaning that draws on my own personal experiences during the transaction with the text -- my own meaning-making and experiences with the text, or if the teacher must remove him or herself from active engagement with a text so that his or her interpretations and meaning making do not conflict or interfere with students' uniquely personal reading experiences.
I found that, although students reacted and understood the novel in their unique ways, all exhibited an ability to inquire and that they responded at a variety of points along the efferent/aesthetic continuum which Rosenblatt describes. I had previously treated students as if they came to my classes with blank slates, ignoring the rich backgrounds and experiences that they brought with them to reading events. After analyzing the results of the reader-response project and my own past experiences in teaching, I have begun to identify my role as a teacher in a response-based classroom environment, a stance that is characterized by the dilemma of being an experiential being who wants his own feelings and beliefs validated, and of being a teacher who wants to allow his students the freedom to explore their own feelings and beliefs about what they read.
This research project has potential implications for classroom teachers of literature who, like me, feel torn between their own needs as readers, requirements that they teach certain specific features of some texts, and obligations to allow students to construct meanings for themselves. It also may have implications for teachers who are interested in exploring the ways that young adult literature can encourage students to be careful, thoughtful readers, and for those who are involved in teacher education programs in colleges and universities. I hope that it raises questions among all who are concerned with philosophies and theories of teaching and learning, with the actual curricular and methodological choices made by classroom teachers, and with the points where these concerns meet.
In the following brief description of research-in-progress, Melinda Franklin, a 1995 ALAN Foundation Award for Research recipient, provides evidence that a classroom teacher need not go beyond her own students in order to study reading and responses to literature. Franklin has gathered resources that have potential for enhancing the literature experience of her students; one of her unstated goals is to help them learn that reading is a pleasurable experience. An extension of her research includes questions about what reading means today, and what it will mean in the future. Can we say that students who "listen" to a novel on a cassette recording have "read" the novel? What is lost in the reading event, for example, if the input is aural rather than print? Must we respond to the increase in students' access to stimulation by visual media by changing our methods, or should we insist on some traditions in the classroom, such as whole group reading and studying of a printed text? (And why are these such bothersome questions for an English teacher to contemplate?) What might teachers of English learn from teachers who specialize in working with students who have particular physical challenges, such as vision impairment, about different ways to "read" and respond to literary texts?
Melinda Franklin: "A Voice Is Worth A Thousand Words: Using Recorded Books in a High School Classroom"
Professional recordings of books on cassette tape have become popular over the past few years. Curious about the potential benefits of recorded texts for both reluctant readers and those who are primarily aural learners, I have conducted classroom research that focuses on using recorded books in combination with and, in some cases, in place of, printed texts.
During the fall semester, I administered to students in one of my sophomore English courses a simple survey instrument. The results revealed whether each relies primarily on visual, aural, or tactile modalities as a learner. At the beginning of the second semester, the aural learners, as well as the reluctant readers whose surveys indicated that they are visual and tactile learners, were given recorded books to "read" during the Friday reading periods of the second semester. They were required to listen to the recorded text; also I asked some simultaneously to follow a print text as they listened. The books which I suggested for this group of readers included traditional pieces such as Lord of the Flies (1954) and A Separate Peace (1959). Some students selected adult contemporary recorded books, such as Ann Rice's Interview with a Vampire and John Grisham's The Client; and others selected recorded young adult literature such as S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) and That Was Then, This is Now (1971), and Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990). (Their requests were made from a list of recorded texts provided by Recorded Books, Inc., of Prince Frederick, Maryland.)
The results were as I had hoped. Students who listened as they read along read more, demonstrated a deeper understanding of the novels, and experienced an increase in enthusiasm about reading. Reading logs, surveys, and interviews indicated that students felt more focused as they listened to the novel, found listening more efficient than reading (they could listen while driving or doing household chores, for example), and they were encouraged because they completed novels.
Because of the success of one class's experience with recorded books during independent reading, and with support from the Language Arts Coordinator of Metro/Davidson County (Tennessee), I added an additional angle to my research. The major difference was that the entire class would read one novel in common, Judith Guest's Ordinary People (1976, 1980). Again, I surveyed the learning style of each student in a sophomore class, and based on the outcome of the survey, students were assigned one of three tasks: (1) read a novel in its print form only; (2) listen to the tape version of the novel while reading along with the print version; (3) listen to the tape, follow along with the print text, and write chapter summaries at the end of each chapter. All readers/listeners were asked to keep reading logs and to engage in a teacher-student interview about their experience with the text(s). Again, the responses of students who used the recorded text alone were positive. One surprise discovery, though, came for me from the students who were listening while following along with the print text simultaneously. I had assumed that if students received input from more than one source (such as visually and aurally) their comprehension and involvement in the novel would increase. However, I found that the students read silently at a rate which is faster than the recording; they wanted to read ahead and ignore the tape. I had not anticipated this conflict in pace, and was surprised that students chose to ignore the tape in order to read at their own paces.
My research continues as I access more resources and involve more students. Ultimately my goal is to be able to offer students substantive options in experiencing and enjoying literature.
In addition to their individual contributions to the field of young adult literature, the researchers' interests reveal a set of four common concerns; the following is true of each study:
* the researcher's own experience as a teacher gave rise to research questions;
* research questions became crystalized through a reflective process in which the teacher/researcher thought about his or her own thinking/learning/knowing processes and critiqued them;
* once questions were articulated, those questions gave rise to more questions; none of the researchers claims to be "finished" with the area of inquiry he or she discusses below;
* the primary responsibility for making sense of literary texts is granted to readers, not authors alone, or critics, or even teachers, by researchers who recognize that readers' own knowledge and experiences are brought with them to encounters with literary texts, and influence or even direct the creation of the literary text for the individual reader.
As this list of similarities in recent research in young adult literature indicates, much of what we are learning about the genre and about its place in classrooms is emerging directly from classrooms. Teaching is a profession that is sometimes undermined by demands that are made by those who see and understand only part of what teachers accomplish every day; rarely do teachers feel empowered to lead changes that will have lasting effects on education, particularly beyond the education of their own students. However, it is teachers and media specialists who are insisting that young adult literature be given a place in curricula and media centers. Teachers, teacher educators, media specialists can make a difference -- and are creating differences -- in education through research related to young adult literature.
Perhaps reading the descriptions of research projects that ALAN members have conducted in the past two years will spark ideas among other teachers and media specialists; when we look at our classrooms, students, teaching practices, and beliefs about learning, and find that questions are there, waiting to be answered, we take the first step toward becoming researchers, and the first steps toward assuming responsibility for creating positive changes in education, changes that will extend even further than the realm of our own students.
Research and Theoretical Works Cited
Applebee, Arthur. Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English. NCTE, 1974.
______. Literature Instruction in American Schools. Technical Report 1.4. Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature, 1990.
Atkins, G. Douglas. Introduction: Literary Theory, Critical Practice, and the Classroom. Contemporary Literary Theory. Eds. G Douglas Atkins and Laura Morrow. University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. 1-23.
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Children's Literature Review. Vol. 18. Ed. Gerard J. Senick and Sharon R. Gunton. Gale Research, 1989. 20-28.
Curran, Dolores. Traits of a Healthy Family. Winston, 1983.
Forward, Susan, with Craig Buck. Toxic Parents. Bantam, 1989.
Hipple, Ted. "Notes on a Keynote from a Keynoter." The Alan Review. 21: 1 (Fall 1993): 2-4.
Monseau, Virginia R., and Gary Salvner. Reading Their World: The Young Adult Novel in the Classroom. Heinemann Boynton/Cook, 1992.
Murfin, Ross. Preface. Heart of Darkness: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Ross Murfin. St. Martin's Press, 1989. v-vii.
Nilsen, Alleen P., and Kenneth L. Donelson. Literature for Today's Young Adults, 4th edition. HarperCollins College, 1993.
Noller, Patricia, and Callen, Victor. The Adolescent in the Family. Routledge, 1991.
Probst, Robert. E. Response and Analysis: Teaching Literature in Junior and Senior High School. Heinemann, Boynton/Cook, 1988.
Rosenblatt, Louise M. Literature as Exploration, 4th edition. MLA, 1983.
______. The Reader, the Text the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Southern Illinois Press, 1978.
Tolstoy, Leo. Ana Karenina. Trans. Constance Garnett. World, 1946.
Young Adult Literature Cited
Annixter, Paul. Swift Water. A. A. Wynn, 1950.
Avi. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Orchard, 1990.
Borland, Hal. When the Legends Die. Lippincot, 1963.
Bridgers, Sue Ellen. Home Before Dark. Knopf, 1976; Bantam, 1985.
______. All Together Now. Knopf,1979; Bantam, 1990.
______. Notes for Another Life. Knopf, 1981; Bantam, 1989.
______. Permanent Connections. Harper & Row, 1987.
Brooks, Bruce. The Moves Make the Man. HarperCollins, 1984.
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. Dell, 1974.
Farley, Walter. The Black Stallion. Random, 1977.
______. Son of the Black Stallion. Random, 1977.
______. The Island Stallion. Random, 1980.
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain. Houghton Mifflin, 1945; Dell, 1969.
Gaines, Ernest. A Lesson Before Dying. Vintage, 1993.
Guest, Judith. Ordinary People. Viking, 1976. Ballantine, 1980.
Hamilton, Virginia. M. C. Higgins the Great. Macmillan, 1974; Dell, 1976.
Hinton, S. E. That was Then, This is Now. Viking, 1971; Dell, 1980.
______. The Outsiders. Dell, 1967.
Kerr, M. E. Night Kites. Harper, 1986.
Knowles, J. S. A Separate Peace. Dell, 1959; Bantam, 1975.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993.
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Scholastic, 1988.
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved. HarperTrophy, 1980.
______. Park's Quest. Puffin, 1988.
Paulsen, Gary. Dogsong. Puffin, 1985.
Richter, Conrad. The Light in the Forest. Knopf, 1953; Bantam, 1971.
Voigt, Cynthia. Homecoming. Atheneum, 1982.
______. Dicey's Song. Atheneum, 1982.
______. The Runner. Atheneum, 1985.
______. Sons from Afar. Atheneum, 1987.
______. Seventeen Against the Dealer. Atheneum, 1989.
Wilson, Budge. The Leaving. Scholastic. 1990.
John Noell Moore is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University. Janet Rahamut is an Assistant Professor at Lee College. Robert Lockhart is an Assistant Professor at Indiana University. Melinda Franklin teaches at Antioch High School in Tennessee.
Copyright 1996, The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN # 0882-2840). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Moore, John Noell. (1996). Literary theory and the young adult landscape.The ALAN Review, Volume 24, Number 1, 49-51.
Reference Citation: Rahamut, Janet. (1996). Family relationships in selected young adult novels by Cynthia Voigt and Sue Ellen Bridgers. The ALAN Review, Volume 24, Number 1, 51-53.
Reference Citation: Lockhart, Robert L.(1996). Literary art as experience: Teaching young adult literature, moral inquiry and the personal journey toward meaning.. The ALAN Review, Volume 24, Number 1, 53-54.
Reference Citation: Franklin, Melinda.(1996). A voice is worth a thousand words: Using recorded books in a high school classroom. The ALAN Review, Volume 24, Number 1, 54-55.