ALAN v26n1 - THE RESEARCH CONNECTION: Current Events in YAL Research

Volume 26, Number 1
Fall 1998

The Research Connection

Jean E. Brown and Elaine C. Stephens, Co-Editors with Ted Hipple, on The ALAN Foundation Award for Research in Young Adult Literature and Melissa Cromer, "Research on College Level Young Adult Literature Courses"

When Sissi Carroll asked us to be her successors as co-editors of this column, we were honored and pleased for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant one is our belief in the importance of research and its potential for making a difference in every classroom. This potential for educational research to make a difference in the lives of teachers and students is two-fold: first, it provides a current source of data and findings for the teacher to function as an intelligent consumer/practitioner. At a time when education is receiving ever-increasing and often hostile scrutiny, research provides teachers with the keys to explore probing questions and the ammunition to respond to the crescendo of the critics voices. The second difference research can make is by encouraging the role of the teacher/researcher. As teacher/researchers, teachers seek answers to questions arising out of their own teaching or use research methodology to explore new ways of working with students in their own classrooms. Often without ever articulating that they are using research, many effective teachers informally use some type of research methodology to make changes in their teaching and to assess the results and implications of these changes.

As the new co-editors of this column, we also feel that it is important to continue the tradition established by our predecessors to help to de-mystify research and to help teachers recognize its accessibility and value. The term "research," unfortunately, has long born an ominous connotation for many teachers who equate it with a highly formal, sterile scientific process that does not reflect their real situations and experiences. Current trends in action research and the involvement of teachers in their own classroom studies reflects a more realistic perspective. Additionally, the university/public school connection in which collaborative studies are conducted between teacher educators and K-12 educators is mutually beneficial. In their description of collaboration in a middle school classroom ( 1997 ), Carroll (an English Educator at Florida State University) and Corder (a middle school teacher) relate the facets of a working relationship that had a significant impact on both of them as well as on the group of 7th students they worked with as they sought answers to real classroom problems.

The title of this column, The Research Connection, provides a philosophical context that we ascribe to: that the inquiry involved in the processes of both conducting and reading about research are vital to helping teachers understand the broad context of their work and to affect meaningful changes in their classrooms.

In the past few years we have had the opportunity to be involved in two research studies funded by the ALAN Foundation. In the first study, we worked with two of our public school colleagues, exploring the changes in their students attitudes about and involvement with literature. We worked with these teachers to expand the traditional curriculum to include works of multicultural young adult literature, thus helping them to gain a new perspective on literature that reflects both the nature of and concerns about young adults and the multicultural world that they live in. We accomplished this by developing and directing an intensive program of reading and discussing appropriate young adult books. We assisted the teachers in selecting multicultural young adult books and in designing appropriate learning strategies to affect curricular change and enhance student involvement. We documented the processes of change that both the teachers and their students go through as they read and study multicultural young adult literature in order to provide insight and strategies for other teachers who also are seeking to broaden their study of literature.

We are currently completing the second study in which we surveyed and analyzed the growing body of literature for young adults about the Civil Rights Movement in order to assist teachers to update their knowledge about appropriate books. Second, we worked with teachers to recognize effective teaching strategies or to develop new ones to facilitate using this literature in their classrooms. They developed a series of literature-based units that can be used with middle school and secondary students to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. For both of these studies, the support of the ALAN Foundation was crucial to their implementation.

Wanting to encourage others to avail themselves of the resources available through the ALAN Foundation, we asked Ted Hipple , Executive Secretary of ALAN and Professor in the College of Education, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, to write an update on the Foundation and its activities. His essay follows:

The ALAN Foundation was established in 1982 with one overarching purpose: to support research in young adult literature. Funding for Foundation grants came initially from only membership dues, with one dollar being taken from each members dues to support the Foundation. A few years later, Don Gallo made arrangements with Bantam Doubleday Dell for a portion of the profits received form the books of short stories written by YA authors that he edited (Sixteen, Visions, Connections, Join In, among others) be also given to support the foundation.

Initially grants of up to $500 were awarded. As ALAN grew and as the books edited by Dr. Gallo increased both in number of books and in their sales (thus generating more income from Bantam Doubleday Dell), the Executive Board agreed to raise the maximum award to $1000, its current limit.

To date, 48 awards have been made. These recent awards will provide an idea of the kinds of research being done:

  • Brewbaker, Jim (Columbus State University, Georgia)--A Developmental Tasks Poetry Anthology
  • Brown, Jean and Elaine Stephens (Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan-- Young Adult Literature of the American Civil Rights Movement
  • Carico, Kathleen (Virginia Tech University)--Encouraging Literate Behaviors in Young Adults
  • Chance, Rosemary (Texas Womans University)-Literary Elements of Young Adult Novels: A Content Analysis
  • Comer, Melissa (Cumberland College, Kentucky)--The Design and Teaching Techniques of the College Young Adult Literature Class
  • Crowe, Chris (Brigham Young University, Utah)--A Longitudinal Study of Reading Interests of High School Students
  • Franklin, Melinda (Antioch High School, Nashville, Tennessee)--Young Adult Literature on Audiotape
  • Goodson, F. Todd (East Carolina University)--Folklore, Young Adult Literature, and the Classroom
  • Lesesne, Teri (Sam Houston State University, Texas)--Responding to the Needs of At-Risk Students
  • Lockhart, Robert (Radford University, Virginia)--Young Adult Literature as a Reflection of the Deweyan Pragmatic Theory of Community
  • Poe, Elizabeth (Radford University, Virginia)--Exploring First Amendment Rights through Young Adult Literature
  • Salvner, Gary (Youngstown State University, Ohio)--Breaking Taboos: The Evolution of Young Adult Literature as Seen through The ALAN Review
  • Thighe, Mary Ann (Troy State University, Alabama)--Character Education: Values in Young Adult Literature
  • Zitlow, Connie (Ohio Wesleyan University)--Sounds and Images in Words: The Language in Literature for Young Adults

Certain requirements govern the awarding of grants. Applicants must be current members of ALAN. If they hope to publish the results of their research, they must agree to submit their work for consideration first to the editor of The ALAN Review.

Recipients receive half their funding upon being selected for support, the other half when their work is completed and a final report is sent to the Executive Secretary.

The procedure for applying for a Foundation grant involves, first, writing to the Executive Secretary (currently: Ted Hipple, College of Education, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996) for an official application: title; description of the proposed research in up to three double-spaced pages, included in which is a budget; beginning and end dates of the research; and a one page curriculum vitae or biographical statement. Six copies of this application of this form are then to be submitted to the Executive Secretary by September 15 for support for that year.

The Executive Secretary then forwards the applications to a panel of the five immediate past presidents of ALAN who, acting independently, send their judgments about each application to the Executive Secretary who compiles these evaluations and sends out the yes or no letters by early November. (The Executive Secretary does not have a vote.) Recipients are also announced at the ALAN breakfast held in conjunction with the annual NCTE convention and are listed in an issue of The ALAN Review. Approximately 60 percent of the applications received to date have been funded.

It may be worth returning to the opening statement of this essay: the purpose of the ALAN Foundation. Clearly, that purpose has been achieved. Research in YA literature, like the field itself, continues to grow, both in quantity and in quality.


Ted Hipple has long been recognized for his valuable contributions to the field of young adult literature and to ALAN. Additionally, his willingness to mentor new researchers benefits us all.

The following report was written by Melissa Comer, a former doctoral student of Dr. Hipples. Her research was supported by the ALAN Foundation.

Research on College-Level Young Adult Literature Courses by Melissa Comer

In the Fall of 1996, I mailed questionnaires to 87 ALAN members who had written articles or books about young adult literature, had been officers in ALAN, and/or had presented at ALAN workshops. Of the 87 sent out, 70 were returned netting a response rate of 80 percent. The information gleaned from the questionnaires not only provided me with research for my dissertation but also gave all of us interested in college level YA literature courses with some significant insights into our work.

Most college young adult literature courses seem to share two common purposes: to acquaint students with young adult literature and to provide them with ways to incorporate it into the educational curriculum. Acquainting students with YAL is most commonly done by sharing the literature. Incorporating it into the educational curriculum is approached in the following manner: students, in the adolescent literature courses, write lesson plans and/or unit plans for teaching a specific novel. For example, instead of searching for obscure symbols in a YA novel, students might have their middle school learners illustrate the setting of the book through sketches or handcrafts.

The typical young adult literature course includes the use of core novels. Recent publication dates are not a requirement for inclusion. Many of the young adult books considered to be "classics," such as The Outsiders and The Chocolate War, are still widely used in YAL courses. Newer novels, like Lowry's The Giver and Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes are also used. Numbers of core novels required vary a great deal among professors. A review of sample syllabi that accompanied the returned questionnaires revealed that the minimum number for those requiring core novels is two while the maximum number is twenty with an average number of eight. One hundred and seventy-eight different titles were cited with nineteen selected four or more times and ten specified six or more times. Listed below are the top ten used. (The number in parenthesis preceding the title indicates the number of times chosen.)

(27) The Giver by Lois Lowry
(16) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
(11) Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
(10) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
(9) Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
(9) Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
(7) A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
(6) I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
(6) Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
(6) Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Interestingly, many of these titles were cited on earlier surveys concerning young adult novels ( Hipple, 1989 ; Abrahamson, 1980 ; Gallo & McGaffrey, 1977 ). Cormier's The Chocolate War, Hinton's The Outsiders, and Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die appeared on all of these surveys mentioned. I Am the Cheese, by Cormier, made my list as well as Abrahamsons (1980) . Appearing on Hipple's (1989) list was Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved which is, as this study reveals, still widely used today.

There appears to be an underlying consensus that courses in young adult literature will help students (many of them future teachers) to realize its importance to teenagers and its importance to adolescents reading programs. The primary reason for this belief is based on the premise that young adults are able to identify with the issues that characters face in these books. Today's teens are deciding whether to try drugs, whether to have sex. The characters in Cormier's, Crutcher's, and Cooney's novels are deciding the same things. Because these books hold teens' interest, they read them. Once college students, especially those who work or will work with adolescents, are aware of how young adult literature meets reading interests of teens, they are often able to foster lifelong reading habits among adolescents. These reasons, many of the participants feel, certainly encourage, the inclusion of young adult literature in the educational curriculum.

Young adult literature instructors generally share the goal that their students will gain an appreciation of YA literature and accept it as quality literature. This goal was cited time and time again. It appears that instructors are still arguing its validity and worth in the literary world. Although the young adult literature, as we know it today, has been around for 30 plus years, it still receives negative attention from many people. Too often, one participant argued, English majors graduate with an incurable case of literary snobbery and defame any literature that was not part of their undergraduate canon. And usually YA literature has not been part of that canon.

Several other underlying premises arose from this study. First, most of the respondents agree that reading lends itself to response-based reactions. They support this belief by reference to Louise Rosenblatt and her work with the reading response-based theory. Students in these young adult literature courses are asked to respond to what they read through journals, through reaction/reflection annotations, and through thought-provoking questioning. Next, the young adult literature professors taking part in this study believe that a positive attitude about reading for enjoyment is important when considering the reading likes and dislikes of adolescents. This belief echoes Daniel Pennac's statements in Better Than Life (1994). Pennac argues that too often schools (and teachers) place emphasis on students reading, understanding, and finding all the literary qualities of a work; then reading for enjoyment is all but forgotten.

Another premise that arose in this study is that YAL should have a place in the secondary school English curriculum, if for no other reason than to "show young teens that they are not only ones who experience problems and even turmoil when dealing with their new bodies and sexuality, with changing relationships with parents and friends, with more philosophically advanced ways of thinking about themselves, the world, and their place in it" ( Carroll, 1997 ). Lastly, it should have a prominent role in English classes because "an adolescent can relate to the characters and plot of YA novels" ( Bushman, 1997 ).

Perhaps, the most important underlying theme revealed by the ALAN members who were a part of this study was the idea that literature should be appropriate for and meet the needs and interests of adolescents. All genres of young adult literature should be incorporated into the curriculum, including, but not limited to, horror, romance, humor, and fantasy. If Hipple's (1997) contention that it is the that of teenage reading, and not necessarily the what that is accurate, then all types of young adult literature should be included in the curriculum. One participants syllabus disclosed that he uses books written by R.L. Stine. While some may not think Stine's novels have literary merit, teens are reading them. They have, in fact, made him the best-selling author in the United States ( Reid and Cline, 1997 ). And THAT teenagers are reading seems to be a primary goal of all the young adult literature professors.

In subsequent columns we will report the work of other new researchers like Melissa Comer as well as the work of our "more seasoned" colleagues. We invite you to become actively involved in the research of young adult literature, adding to its knowledge base and providing educators with important information.

Works Cited by Brown and Stevens

Carroll, P. S. and K. Corder. (1997). Literature Reading and Research in a middle School Classroom. The ALAN Review, 25 (1) .

Works Cited by Comer

Abrahamson, R. (1981). How adolescent literature is taught in American colleges and universities: A national survey. English Education, 13 (3).

Bushman, J. (1997). Young adult literature in the classroom- or is it? The English Journal, 86, (3).

Carroll, P. (1997). Today's teens, their problems, and their literature: Revisiting G. Robert Carlsen's Books and the teenage reader thirty years later. The English Journal, 86, (3).

Gallo, D. & McGaffrey, M. (1977). How do you teach an adolescent literature course? English Education.

Hipple, T. (1997). It's the that, teacher. English Journal, 86, (3).

Hipple, T. (1997). Have you read...? English Journal, 23, (2).

Pennec, D. (1994). Better than life. Toronto: Coach House Press.

Reid, L., & Cline, R. (1997). Our repressed reading addictions: Teachers and young adult series books. English Journal, 86, (3).

Jean E. Brown and Elaine C. Stephens are both Professors of Teacher Education at Saginaw Valley State University, University Center, MI, 48710. Their e-mail addresses are: and and they welcome your responses.

Reference Citation: Brown, Jean E. and Elaine C. Stephens. (1998). "The Research Connection." The ALAN Review, Volume 26, Number 1.