SRU student-faculty researchers to assess value of young adult literature


Girl selecting a book in a library

A student-faculty research team at Slippery Rock University is surveying teenagers this summer to learn how much they value young adult literature.

July 23, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - A student-faculty research team at Slippery Rock University is hoping to learn how much adolescents value young adult literature. Rather than listening to the hush of readers at the library, they are seeing if there's any pep for the YA genre at cheerleading camps.

"We know as educators and college students that there's a lot of value in young adult literature, but are teenagers in high schools even reading it?" asked Tim Oldakowski, SRU associate professor of English. "Do they read it in the classroom or outside the classroom? Do they like it? Do they relate to it?"

Oldakowski posed those questions to his Young Adult Literature class, not thinking that a student who interacts with hundreds of teenagers each summer would be motivated enough to find out.

Becca Lasko


Becca Lasko, a senior dual major in secondary education-English and English writing from Beaver Falls, works as an instructor for the Universal Cheerleaders Association's summer camps in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. She received a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant from SRU to conduct the research and administer surveys to teenagers in grades 8-12.

"A lot of people think that books are dead but I don't think that's the case," Lasko said. "I always thought young adult literature should be a stepping stone in the classroom for canon texts, and reading would get more of a positive connotation if we associated reading with young adult literature."

YA is a genre that targets teenage readers, often dealing with social issues with young protagonists who encounter a growing or life-changing experience. Popular titles include the S.E. Hinton classic "The Outsiders" to contemporary texts such as "The Hunger Games" trilogy and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Personal favorites of Oldakowski include Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give," which he used in class last semester.

"We're hoping to find that teenagers value young adult literature," Oldakowski said. "Our argument to (secondary education) teachers is that this is not fluff and there are valuable lessons here, not that (contemporary works should) overtake (the classics), but to bring a little more (YA) in."

"A book can be a friend or the answer to something," Lasko said. "Reading also helps expand critical thinking and being more emotionally intelligent as well. Letting (teenagers) read young adult literature will help them make connections to other books as well and help them in life."

Lasko will distribute consent forms at 10 UCA camps across the region this summer with the goal of having at least 500 responses to online surveys that are sent after the camps. She said that people would be surprised by the varied types of teenagers who attend cheer camps and that responders won't be limited to one gender, socioeconomic characteristic or physical activity level.

Once the data are analyzed, Oldakowski and Lasko plan to share their findings at the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts Conference in October, and possibly submit manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals next year.

"I'm gaining more insight in the whole research process and I'm excited that I'm out of my comfort zone and exploring something different," said Lasko, an aspiring teacher and novelist. "I'll be able to understand the perception of young adult literature to write (for teenager readers) and be able to teach them better when using novels in the classroom."

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