Monday, February 3, 2014

On the Cusp

This is my second year teaching 8th grade and I feel like the name of my blog has come under scrutiny. One thing that I've noticed about 8th graders is that they are much more high school than 6th, or even 7th, grade. My colleagues in the 6th and 7th grades are consistently remarking on how much the kids have grown up and matured since their time with them. I see this as well, even over the course of the year. The middle schoolers I meet in August are freshman before May. This is a huge growth year for adolescents and it makes running a successful classroom library quite tricky in an 8th grade classroom. For example, my students are obsessed with John Green right now and I don't think there's any way to argue that John Green is a middle grades writer. He's brilliant and funny and he writes YA. They are also in love with Laurie Halse Anderson, and while some of my struggling students have been immersed in CHAINS and FORGE, most of them have clasped onto SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, with THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY having a giant waitlist. These are not middle grade titles, but my kids adore them. This makes me concerned for any potential justification I may have to make as to why a title is in my classroom library, but more than anything, I see my students becoming readers and that is what is most important. This is also where you have to be very on top of what your students are reading, particularly if they got it from your library. I work in a very conservative district and this is a real concern for me. However, for the most part, I think the voraciousness with which my students are reading has been seen as a welcome change and I am always quick to tell a student when I'm not sure that they are ready for a title. Usually, being in 8th grade, this just makes them want to read it more. But it allows me to have that conversation with them, telling them that there may be some content in the book that they struggle with, but that they need to not get hung up on particulars and focus on the bigger picture. Trusting kids makes them want to be trustworthy. All of that to say, I'm not so sure that Middle Grade Reads is quite the proper title for my blog at this point, because most of what my students are begging for is YA. Those of you who teach 8th grade, have you noticed the same thing in your classroom? How do you handle it?