What Middle School Students Need to Read

What Middle School Students Need to Read

Claire Needell Hollander

Claire Needell Hollander is an English teacher at a public middle school in New York City. She is the author of "Something Right Behind Her."

UPDATED DECEMBER 27, 2012, 6:03 PM

Emotional intelligence is as important as decoding ability in choosing appropriate books for developing readers. Gauging emotional readiness to tackle complex material is challenging in the middle grades, when many students possess excellent stamina and vocabulary, but vary in world knowledge and maturity. Furthermore, parents often wish to weigh in on children’s book choices, either pushing children prematurely into classics like “Lord of the Flies,” or questioning today’s social-issues driven fiction like Patricia McCormick’s “Sold,” which deals with human trafficking.

The new Common Core standards describe the skills students need to meet standards, but cite a mere five novels for grades 6-8, none of which were written in the last 30 years.

Parents and educators lack the opportunity to debate which books are appropriate choices for students. Many parents are unfamiliar with the issues-driven fiction that engages students, while educators are hesitant to push challenging classics on reluctant readers.

Which books are assigned to students when is an essential question for public debate. The new Common Core standards describe the skills students need, but cite a mere five novels for grades 6-8, none of which were written in the last 30 years. High school and college-level curricula are defined by specific texts and knowledge-content. Why should often inexperienced K-8 educators match abstract skills to text without support from leaders in the field?

Each grade in middle school typifies a range of emotional readiness. The sixth grader grapples with unresolved problems in fiction, but is usually unready to question essential human goodness. He does best with books in which terrible things might happen, but hope prevails. Seventh graders can question human nature; they engage readily with “Lord of the Flies” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Eighth graders have matured enough to grapple with hard truths. We can’t withhold from them literature like “Hiroshima” and “Macbeth.” The developers of the Common Core also need to grapple with difficult questions, and to engage in a public debate about what middle grade students need to read.

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