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6 Reasons Why Children’s and YA Novels Work Well in the KS3 Classroom

Choosing the right novel for your class is tricky. There really isn’t a novel out there that suits everyone, but we still need to try to find one that offers at least something for all students – in terms of moving on their learning and grabbing their attention. EMC’s director, Andrew McCallum, is running an online CPD session on 25th January called ‘What Kinds of Texts Work Best at KS3’. While recognising that room needs to be made on the KS3 curriculum for older, canonical texts, the course will argue for the importance of teaching good children’s and YA novels. Here are six reasons why, that will be explored more fully in the CPD itself.
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1. They’re pitched at the right level to develop literary understanding

It’s our responsibility at KS3 to induct students into the disciplinary practices of literature study. They are best able to do this when working on texts that are challenging but accessible. If the texts are too hard and need lots of teacher intervention to aid understanding, then students will have precious little time – or cognitive capacity – to develop their own understanding of how literature works and how they can respond to it, be that critically or creatively.

2. They encourage deep thinking

This point is very much linked to the one above. Literature pitched at the right level develops patterns of deep thinking in young readers. This is more likely to occur when the texts themselves aren’t excessively difficult (so, again, they need to be challenging but accessible). Good children’s and YA novels are written to make young people think – by giving them the space and time to think. This thinking might be in keeping with the disciplinary practices of English, but it might go in different directions too, providing them with important ways of thinking that they can use beyond the English classroom. So in reading challenging but accessible literature, students can think deeply about, for example, the issues explored in books, different ways of representing people and the world, alternative perspectives, and so on.

3. They’re age appropriate

Novels and other literary works written for adults tends to include adult themes. Just because some of these are canonical doesn’t make them appropriate for younger secondary students. As one teacher said to me recently, about having to teach Othello to Year 9, against his better judgement: ‘We seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about adultery.’

Difficult, ‘adult’ themes do crop up in children’s and YA novels, but written with the sensitivity required for their audience.

4. They reflect contemporary realities

While the publishing industry has a lot of catching up to do in order to get catalogues up-to-speed with the contemporary landscape, recent children’s and YA fiction contains plenty of examples of work that reflects the realities of life for young people today. Whether you’re looking to increase the diversity of representation on your curriculum, or engage with particular issues, there are children’s and YA novels that can give you and your students what's needed. Rudine Sims Bishop’s ‘mirrors, windows and sliding doors’ analogy is really useful to draw on in this context.

5. They’re a useful foil for older canonical texts

Part of the process of becoming skilled at literary reading involves developing a bank of reading experiences to draw on – with exposure to different genres, styles, structures, narrative voices, and so on. If young readers have a decent chunk of accessible yet challenging reading behind them, then they will be better prepared to deal with difficult canonical texts when the time is right.

6. They’re fun

Fun might not be exactly the right word, because plenty of novels for younger readers deal with some pretty weighty themes. But even then, these novels tend to offer more opportunities for young people to play around with them on their own terms, to have fun with them in that sense. Because they can access the texts, they can, for example, more readily engage in role-play activities, come up with alternative scenarios, or write back to the texts. I’d say that all of those things are fun!

These points might well have raised as many questions as answers. They’ll all be addressed more comprehensively in What Kinds of Texts Work Best at KS3, which will also provide lots of examples of recent children’s and YA fiction, as well as some ideas about how to teach it.

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