In an effort to encourage young readers, a Kansas University professor is writing a book to help teachers make the most effective use of young adult literature.
John H. Bushman, professor in the education school's curriculum and instruction department with emphasis in English education, is completing "Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom," which is due out in October. Co-authoring the book is his wife, Kay Parks Bushman, an English teacher at Ottawa High School in Ottawa and instructor of the undergraduate young adult literature course at KU. She also is president of the national organization, Assembly of Literature for Adolescents National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN).
The text, Bushman said, is a "resource book for teachers and pre-service teachers who want to know more about young adult literature and want to know valuable ways it cam be used in the classroom." Young adult literature consists of works that have been written expressly for adolescents and preadolescents. It serves as a middle ground between children's literature and adult literature, often considered "classics" in the English classroom.
Bushhman said he is a strong believer of the quality of current young adult literature.
"Young adult literature, in the past, did not have the kind of quality educators demand for classroom use," Bushman said. "But since the late '60s and early '70s, the quality has increased to the extent that I would say I would put any quality young adult literature up against any piece of literature."
Bushman said examples of quality pieces of young adult literature include "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor; "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier; "Summer of My German Solder" by Bette Greene; "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson; and "Chinese Handcuffs" by Chris Crutcher.
Young adult literature offers the same educational opportunities in the classroom that other types of literature do, he said. The difference is that young adult literature is written specifically for that younger audience, not for adult readers.
"We try to show that it is extremly important to match literature with the adolescent and preadolescent," he said.
"If we believe what has been written for several years who the adolescent is and knowing the development levels adolescents go through, it seems imperative that we choose literature that speaks directly to these adolescents," he said. "It doesn't make any difference what the quality of a work is if the student can't read it or respond to it."
Bushman's book also shows how the young adult novel can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.
"We also show how young adult literature short story, poem, nonfiction also can be used effectively in the English classroom," Bushman said. "And we show how to teach writing, reading and language skills through the use of young adult literature."
Bushman, who this fall is beginning his 22nd year at KU, said young adult literature should be used to supplement the traditional literature found in anthologies.
"The anthology still plays a very important role in the classroom curricula, and therein lies the problem," he said. "Much of the literature in anthologies is old, to say the least."
He said those anthologies often use older pieces of literature to save money on royalties, and they often lack diversity.
"There's very little Hispanic literature, black literature, or Native American literature (in texts), and teachers really should make sure that's represented," he said. "And young adult literature can be one of the sources. The creative English teacher must supplement what's in an anthology.
"I don't see the anthology disappearing. It's going to be there."
Bushman said one of the major goals of an English teacher or English department is to create lifelong readers. And young adult literature can help accomplish that.
"If the students are reading literature that is so difficult to read, either they stop reading (the assigned material) or even stop reading all together, or they do just what they have to do to get by," he said. Most students who struggle with the classroom material usually begin to stop reading all together, which only adds to the non-reading adult population, he said.
Studies show the general public is reading fewer books, Bushman said.
"We have to ask why this is so," Bushman said. "Some argue that it is the influence of television. Yes, that plays a part. But look at what's been given kids to read. A lot of kids are not able to read the classicsthat are given to them in school and therefore are turned off to reading. This attitude continues into adulthood."
Bushman notes the reader response theory in identifying appropriate literature for young readers. Students must understand a work in order to add meaning and respond to that literature, he said. And young adult literature offers an ideal opportunity for them to respond to a story or other work that they find meaningful. Young adult literature creates an instant connection with the young reader because the main characters are usually adolescents of similar age to the reader.
"You don't have to use traditional adult literature in order to teach the writer's craft," he said.
To make the book a useful took for educators, he has included several activities teachers can use with young adult literature. He focuses on eight popular young adult novels in his new book, and he provides suggestions on using the books and on creating the connection between reading and writing. But the activities can be applied to other young adult works as well, he said.
Bushman also is working on another book, "Using the Six Traits Analytic Scale for Instruction: Activities for the Classroom," which will be available in September. He is being assisted by two KU doctoral students. The book is being published by The Writing Conference, of which Bushman is director.
He has written three other books as well. He and his wife wrote "Teaching English Creatively," a methods text, and he wrote "The Teaching of Writing" and "The Teaching of the English Language."