The journal article I am reviewing is titled Young Adult Literature and the Common Core: A Surprisingly Good Fit (Ostenson & Wadham, 2012). I was initially drawn to this article because of the title. Some will argue that the concepts of young adult literature and the Common Core are polar opposites and that there is not a place for YA literature in educational settings. I have a strong interest in YA literature and especially after reading Penny Kittle’s text Book Love, I am interested in how YA literature fits into the Common Core expectations in secondary schools. This article was published in American Secondary Education, which seems to target secondary education teachers, researchers, and other educators in the field. After researching this journal, I determined that it has been a prominent journal in the field for a number of decades, so I feel like it is a trustworthy source.
My initial step in approaching this article was to read the abstract to get a general overview. The abstract reveals that this article discusses how young adult literature should be included, along with classics, into literature classrooms and how many young adult texts can “meet the expectations of the Common Core and provide meaningful literary experiences for students” (Ostenson & Wadham, 2012, p. 4). This concept piqued my interests so I decided to continue browsing the article. My first observation was that this article does not contain a method, results, or discussion section like many other research articles. Therefore, this article appears to be focused on presenting a point of view on the matter rather than highlighting statistics on the topic. I kept this in mind as I started working through the text.
The introduction explains how the Common Core standards for English Language Arts classes have typically revolved around the “classic” texts, but these authors are arguing that there is a place for YA titles in the classroom and that they can meet the standards. Ostenson & Wadham (2012) discuss YA literature in general and express both pros and cons of including these books in the classroom. One of the biggest arguments against including YA literature is because many of the texts are “juvenile and not complex enough” (p. 5). However, there are a number of beneficial aspects. Most YA texts contain issues and scenarios that are relevant to teens and they contain themes that teens can relate to. It can be difficult to get teens engaged in reading, but it helps when they feel a connection to the text. Therefore, YA books can turn students who are reluctant readers into active pleasure readers while helping them increase their reading skills at the same time.
While the general argument here is that YA lit has a place in language arts classrooms, Ostenson & Wadham (2012) state that classic literature has an important place in the curriculum as well (p. 6). Classic texts require more analytical thinking that is required at the college level, so it should be an educator’s goal to get students to read classics independently. However, young adults have a difficult time relating to the concepts in classic literature and forcing students to only read these books will not make them good readers or interested in reading at all. Therefore, one of the arguments made in this text is that YA books should be included with the classics, especially since there are similar themes across both genres. YA literature sparks an interest in teens to read and to read independently outside of school, and the classics challenge students and force them to work on their reading and comprehension skills.
In order to show why there is a place for YA literature in the classroom, the authors present the Lexile range, which gives each text a quantitative score based on how it fits the Common Core standards. There are also qualitative measures such as “meaning in a text, the complexity of its structure, the use of language, and the knowledge demands made by a text” (p. 7). To support their claims, the authors discuss various young adult texts and how t hey meet the qualitative and quantitative requirements. They conclude that there are a number of YA texts that meet the need for complexity in concept and language, while also being a better match for teen readers to keep them interested in the text and reading in general.
Overall, I thought this article presented a powerful position, being that there is an important place for YA literature in the classroom. However, I feel like I would have been persuaded even more if the authors had conducted a structured experiment to demonstrate why YA literature meets the Common Core standards. They cited other research articles when making their arguments, so it is evident that they looked at a number of other experiments to support their claims. However, I do wish there were more statistics present in this paper and I imagine other educators and practitioners might make the same critique. More figures and experimental evidence would make their argument a much stronger one.
My critique on the content of this paper is more of an applause than a negative review. After thinking back on my own high school experiences, I believe that developing a language arts curriculum based solely on classic literature is a dangerous endeavor. In high school, I was an active pleasure reader, but I found it very difficult to stay committed to the required reading when it was comprised of “old” books that I could not relate to. I agree that there are a number of YA books that are not complex enough to be included in the classroom, but there are plenty that present a challenge both in concept and in the writing style, while providing a theme or main character that young readers can relate to. This article contributes to the evidence that Penny Kittle highlights in her book about how YA literature can introduce teens to reading as a pastime and hobby, but it takes this idea one step further by arguing that there is a place for these books in the curriculum. I imagine that secondary education teachers reading this article might have conflicting views on what this paper presents. I picture a divide between the teachers who believe in tradition and continuing with The Red Badge of Courage or The Great Gatsby, versus the newer, more open-minded teachers who would welcome The Hunger Games into their classrooms as a text reflecting government oppression. Hopefully, all educators can be persuaded by this argument.
Ostenson, J., & Wadham, R. (2012). Young adult literature and the common core: A surprisingly good fit. American Secondary Education, 41(1). 4-13.