Teaching New Works Instead of ClassicsHave you replaced a classic work with a new(er) book in any of the classes you teach? What were the texts, and why did you decide to do so?

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slcollins | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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I am lucky enough to teach IB classes which means I can bypass the conservative school district guidelines in choosing works to teach. I like to make changes every couple of years and add a new book or two. If I feel something has lost its appeal, I look for something new. I could never do this in my classes that aren't IB. Some of the more current novels have included The Handmaid's Tale, Into the Wild, and The Road. All have been recevied very well by the students. Unfortunately, The Handmaid's Tale was not so well recevied by the parents. The kids love The Road. I told them the first day of school that I wanted to give them a book that they would never forget. After reading it, they agreed that the images and message are unforgettable.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I think this is a VERY bad idea. Students live in the 21st century and are saturated by images of the contemporary. Knowing only one period, and therefore thinking that the cliches and unquestioned assumptions of one very tiny period are univseral truths, leads to narrow-minded ignorance. Since school is often the only place students are exposed to a period outside their own, teachers who drop classics and instead teach books about the contemporary period students already know, aren't really educating students, they are just reinforcing a narrow and insular chronological perspective.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I am more inclined to teach more modern literature based on thematic units to my non-honors classes, or classes with relatively few students who are college bound.  Originally, my goal was to prepare all of my students for college work.  Then, I realized I was teaching in a school where most students were on a vocational path and likely not seeking a 4 year post-high school degree.

In a public school system which requires 4 years of English for graduation, it quickly became my goal to peak student interest in reading and literature, and hopefully spark new reading habits in a school where the majority of my students claimed to "hate" reading.

Ender's Game is my go-to novel for hard-to-inspire classes and students.  Our entire 10th grade department taught Night.  Two 12th grade teachers incorporated Cold Mountain into their AP reading list.  Other non-classics I've used in class include Monster and House on Mango Street.

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litlady33 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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With my curriculum, I don't have much choice as to what novels I incorporate. I do, however, think it's good to have a balance between contemporary and classic literature. If we don't teach the classics, it is likely that students will never be exposed to them. Yes, many of them won't read them fully anyway, but I want to give them the opportunity, and I honestely would rather them learn the themes and ideas from the classics via class discussion and internet resources than to not learn about them at all.

It IS important to balance the classics with contemporary litereture because we need to instill a love of reading for students. If we bombard them with classics, most students will quickly learn to despise reading.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Since I teach mainly older literature, I don't have many options to substitute newer things, and, of course, I love the older works in any case. I find that students often don't realize how funny older literature can be -- even the works (such as sonnet sequences) that may not seem funny on the surface.  Emphasizing the humor that often abounds in classic works is often a good way to engage students.  Another way to get students interested in older works is to show them films based on those works. Often the films create interest in the texts.

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I try, particularly with my seniors, to construct courses which cover as wide a span of literary history as I can. We do Othello, Mansfield, Thurber, Glaspell and DH Lawrence short stories, New Zealand contemporary poetry, The Color Purple and The Piano or My Father's Den as films. As all literature is basically sex and/or death, we can create themes from across a range of quality texts - they don't have to be classic.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Actually, I teach a wide variety of texts. My seniors begin with Beowulf and Sir Gawain. We also read Frankenstein, The Catcher in the Rye, Man's Search For Meaning, Macbeth, Einstein's Dreams and A Streetcar Named Desire. As for new texts, we read Monster (Myers).

My juniors read Speak, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, and Night (lots of time spent on grammar and writing--given the much lighter reading load).

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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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So, post #5, are you considering Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and The Giver to be classics or new works? While I don't teach literature, I would be very inclined to incorporate those choices into my curriculum if at all possible, probably thinking of them as new, or at least newer, works in contrast to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I try to incorporate both classics and newer books.  For example, we teach Night and The Book Thief, as well as Shakespeare, Twain and Dickens.  I also incorporate newer books as independent and small group reading.  For example, many of my students are now reading The Hunger Games, to compliment texts they study in class including Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies and The Giver.


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Scott Locklear | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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This is a tough one for me. I tend to stick with the classics. In my opinion, there is a reason why the classics are classics. In may ways, they are superior to what is produced today. The only exception that I can see is when there is a tribute to the classics, which will draw students back into the classical works. My son's school does this successfully.

"My son's school does this successfully."

How so? What modern texts are used to draw students back into classics?

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is a tough one for me. I tend to stick with the classics. In my opinion, there is a reason why the classics are classics. In may ways, they are superior to what is produced today. The only exception that I can see is when there is a tribute to the classics, which will draw students back into the classical works. My son's school does this successfully.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I'm not a literature teacher, but I do incorporate novels into my class.  I have found students respond much better to contemporary fiction than the classics (mostly).  There is a reason they are "classic".  They are both old and extensively taught, researched and written about.  Most students--and this is true--don't read the books, because they're bored, and because they don't have to.  They can easily find information they need online.

Texts I use in class:

The Death of Jim Loney

Fools Crow

Where I'm Calling From