Defending the Whole Class Novel

As you can tell, I support teaching the whole class novel, at least for a couple of books. I have found so much success with teaching The Hunger Games trilogy in my own classroom with students of all levels and ages ranging from freshmen to seniors. I know many teachers in middle school AND college are having success with them, as well.
Whole-Class Novel: Yay or Nay?
Do you teach a whole-class novel?

I also teach To Kill a Mockingbird as a class. It's definitely a classic that I believe is important enough that every student should read at least once in their lifetime.

Kristen from Secondary Solutions alerted me to this controversy and she wrote a great blog post defending teaching novels in the classrooms. You can read her post here: In Defense of the Whole Class Novel

She touches on four arguments that the opposition brings up, which are: range level of students varies, students should choose their own reading materials, too many assessments, and teaching theme, plot, and literary elements can be taught with poetry or short stories instead of the novel. Her counter-arguments are valid against all these points.

I do understand the arguments for and against teaching the whole-class novel. I have to admit, for some books I completely agree. If I do not like the book, how will my students like it? I simply refuse to read any material with my students that I don't truly enjoy myself. I have to be enthusiastic about it if I expect them to want to read it.

But I do give my students silent reading time to choose reading materials of their choice. They can read graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, etc.. I want them to read simply for pleasure and enjoy it. But how can I justify my job if this was all we ever did in class (though I would simply love that, I tell ya!). I have had years where we only read one novel the entire year as a class (To Kill a Mockingbird). I spent more time on free-choice reading, short stories, poetry, drama, and, of course, fitting in all the writing instruction, as well. I had more complaints from students during those years because we didn't read another novel as a class. The fact is, the majority like it. Many are not comfortable enough to read a novel on their own and be responsible for knowing what they should about it. Some students really need that structure and guidance that a whole-class novel offers.  (Yes, others are more advanced and can handle analyzing the text on their own.  This is why I also believe in separating students by ability rather than age. If a freshman is capable of taking an upper-level honors course, let them! If a senior is at a freshman level, that's the class they should be in. If that student needs to repeat two years of that particular level in order to master those skills, they should be allowed to do so. Why do we automatically advance them when they aren't ready? I don't think we'd be arguing over the whole-class novel if we had students at similar abilities in our classes.)
The Hunger Games is an excellent choice for a whole-class novel.

I think at the high school level, teaching one or two books as a whole class is not harming the student. It may be easier to accomplish at the middle school level where the books are shorter and less complex. I love Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and middle school teacher (who I had the pleasure to finally meet last year at the Illinois Reading Conference), and agree that we need to offer choices for students. But another essential element is the time devoted to reading in class. How can I give my students quality reading time in a 44-minute class period when I also have to teach writing, as well? I do try as best as I can, but, truthfully, most of us have our hands tied once they get into high school. We take a subject area that is traditionally split between reading and English in a nice long 1.5 to 2-hour block each day, then cram it into a 44-minute combined class period in high school, yet expect the high school teachers to cover all the same standards in half the time. In addition, the materials are longer and more complex. Then we wonder why students struggle in high school.

Believe me, I would love to have my students for two class periods. And I would love to let them read novels of their choice all the time. I would also love to have a classroom where all the students are enjoying what they read; one that is more like a book club meeting where we get to share our thoughts about what we read each day. Oh wait, I do have that classroom. It happens every year when I am teaching The Hunger Games...as a whole-class novel.

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