Dystopian Observations

One of the great joys of being a middle school teacher is the time within the block when my direct instruction is over, and my students are applying the lesson taught to real world setting. Once the students are working – on their own, in small groups, in larger groups, or going back and forth between independent and group work – my classroom becomes a rather hectic place. There are 28 young adolescents with a myriad of needs. As I move around the room checking in with students, providing more clarification, or conferencing with students, I also get the chance to just observe the students. If I do this right, I can watch and listen without the students realizing I’m there (if they know I’m standing and watching them, they’ll tense up and try to produce something that they think I want). It’s during this time watching them that I start to question both their product and my pedagogy. It’s during these times of observation that I grow the most as a teacher. As a result of observations over the course of the year, I have noticed an interesting reading trend in my classroom. I don’t know what it means or why it’s happening. It’s just one observation of millions during the first five months of the school year.

Over the years I have amassed a collection of non-fiction texts – generally about war and primarily for my boys. If I speak in generalities, my male readers, prior to 2010 -2011 school year, preferred non-fiction, fantasy, or sports when it came to self-selected reading. The non-fiction reading the boys preferred was generally about war and more specifically about World War II. My more reluctant male readers usually read non-fiction. Knowing this, I tried to have books for this population of reader in my library.

This year I noticed a new trend in the male reader. My boys are still reading fantasy and sports. However, my non-fiction books are languishing on the shelves. They are not being checked out. I can’t even say the last time they have been checked out. Why do I even bother to mention this? Big deal, the kids aren’t choosing non-fiction (although in light of the new Core Curriculum Standards this is kind of a big deal). The students have replaced non-fiction with another genre. That’s what’s fascinating to me.

Instead of reading non-fiction, my male readers are reaching for dystopian novels. Lots and lots of dystopian novels. They’ve gone through The Hunger Games trilogy, despite the research saying that boys don’t want to read novels with female protagonists. They’re plowing through The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials and are anxiously awaiting Dashner’s third book in the series. They’ve read The Giver, and actively debated in class whether the society was a utopia or dystopia and then wrote their literary analysis papers on this topic. They’ve read Unwind. They’ve read Gone, Hunger, and Lies and are anxiously awaiting the April release of Grant’s The Plague. They’ve read City of Ember, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and Uglies. They read one book and continue through the series, annoyed when they need to wait for another book to be published. And then they ask for more books like these.

I find this trend interesting. I don’t know why non-fiction has been left to side for dystopian fiction. I don’t know if this is a trend that’s going to continue. However, I do know that at this point in time, the boys in my room are clamoring for dystopian societies and will read them as quickly as I can stock them in the library.

Until next time… See YA!

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