How do you teach effects of bullying through young adult literature?

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Answered by: BRYDY, An Expert in the Books by Subject and Topic Category
Many times literature reflects life experiences. Readers can easily relate to the same complex emotions a character in a book might experience. Similarly, by escaping into the world a young adult novel might be set in, students can experience the harshness of bullying without actually placing themselves in a serious and life-threatening situation.

This literature-based approach to teaching about bullying not only allows students to empathize with a character who is a victim, but encourages them to believe that they are not the only ones being bullied--that there are others like themselves. By reading and analyzing young adult literature, students can build the skills they need to respond effectively to difficult situations where they may become a victim of bullying.

In hope, even the aggressors themselves may be able to relate to certain characters in a novel and realize how much pain they cause their victims—understanding that the negative behavior is unwelcomed. But in order for this approach to be effective, teachers must recognize and help define the various forms of bullying practices for their students.

The Many Forms of Bullying

A student who refuses to go to school because a classmate has been threatening him or a student who finds herself without a friend because classmates constantly ignore or ridicule her for being different, are just a few of many scenarios that can be used to describe the act of being bullied. Cases like these are all too common around the world and are increasingly growing worse. Bullying, with its many forms, can affect people of different ages and cultures and create multiple victims.

Bullying can be separated into two forms: direct and indirect bullying. Each form is equally damaging to vulnerable young adolescents--especially those in the middle grades or those just starting high school. Direct bullying branches out into three different types, which include physical, verbal, and psychological bullying. Indirect bullying, on the other hand, includes exclusion, relational aggression, and malicious gossip.

One of the most widespread types of bullying is physical bullying that manifests itself through hitting, shoving, and other violent forms of unwanted physical contact. Frequently affecting many students, the act of physical bullying is often seen throughout young adult literature. A ninth grade language arts class can study and analyze physical bullying by reading Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, a young adult novel about a boy who is often bullied by several of his classmates. Physical bullying is only one of the many types of bullying found in the book.

For example, in the beginning of the story, Lance, a popular student, embarrasses Simon, the school nerd, in front of the entire school by “grabb[ing] the exposed elastic band of Glass’s underwear…stretch[ing] it out, then releas[ing] it” (5). This singular action further marks Simon as the class loser and sets the story in motion. Focusing on scenes like the one above can yield productive class wide discussions that will lead students to think about experiences similar to Simon’s that they themselves may have experienced at one point in time.

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