What does Jenkin’s chapter, “Why Heather Can Write,” tell us about the teaching of writing? What if anything can new teachers learn from this reading? Write a 900-word essay and post your response before class meets on Monday, 3/29.
I think Jenkins article teaches us what we already knew, but do not think about. Writing is more than just placing thoughts into words. I thought this article was really interesting in that it really shows how much outside influence there is in writing. I think what it means for us is that we should not be teaching writing that ignores culture and media. I also think it is interesting that Jenkins says, “Just as we would not traditionally assume that someone is literate if they can read but not write, we should not assume that someone possesses media literacy if they can consume but not express themselves” (170). Teachers should keep in mind where students come from and what they have been exposed to. Depending on the neighborhood, students might write their own fan fiction or are rarely exposed to the internet and books outside of school. I think you need to be cognizant of this when considering lessons for your students.
It is also interesting how students and people are able to write off of characters. Jenkins mentions how people are able to convey what they want better because of the character’s previous formation. People are learning within this new environment of media. New teachers must not hinder students by ignoring this new world of learning. Heather was able to create a world where people who have never written before were creating elaborate stories. As a teacher, I think this teaches us that you must always appeal to students’ interests and emotions.
Another part of this article that would be appealing to teachers is how invested people were when faced with the legal issues. Although these people were not all students, their sense of ownership of the material is really interesting. Maybe not with this issue in particular, but I think there is something to be said about getting students strongly invested in something they have created. I don’t think it is a bad thing that there is controversy surrounding the Harry Potter series. The religious conversations opens up for people to analyze and make connections between other texts or why this conversation arises. With this controversy, students and teachers are able to speak up with their opinions and explore texts more critically. With the organization, SPEAK!, students are able to learn how to write their emotions as well as communicate and learn from other kids.
I think about what this would look like without the internet and computers. The controversy would not be as widespread and I do not think students would have the chance to voice their opinions or even know about the situation unless it affected their own school. Students would not be as involved with a text, unless it was within their own classroom or school. For writing and communicating, the internet allows a huge space for ideas and thoughts. In our modern times, I also think we as teachers often forget that there often is a strong backlash from certain groups. We need to be prepared to address parents or groups that may disagree with our teaching. Even in writing assignments, there may be controversy. We always need to be able to back up our assignments with rationale. Having students get involved with this may be a good or bad idea. I do think having students write as much as possible and in as many ways as possible is crucial. If this means writing fan-fiction about Harry Potter, then so be it. For a lot of people my age, they never finished a book until the Harry Potter series. Jenkins says there is a backlash from certain Christian groups that believe this series will lead to more intense things, I think if Harry Potter opens students minds in any way that it is positive. Personally, I do not see Harry Potter as offensive, but I must understand different points of view if I am to be a successful teacher. I think presenting these ideas or concepts as a teacher is important to give them more than just a text to consider. Jenkins gives the theory that some feel all fantasy is negative for children. However, this is a great way to get students to think and imagine outside of their comfort zone. The magic is already there and can be expanded upon without others criticizing the legitimacy of something. Students should be able to imagine and create in order to learn how to write and express. Teachers would be doing their students a disservice by ignoring the resources of the internet and the worlds outside of traditional text. New teachers should take the initiative to make these changes and expose students to these things. Even seeing the writing online can inspire students to see that there is more than just traditional texts. Traditional texts can often be discouraging for students. Seeing something like fan-fiction can be a great entry point for students to learn to read beyond text or write something beyond the traditional mold.
I think that this article just reinforces what we (teachers of writing, writing students, writers in general) already knew to be true. Writing is most meaningful when we are able to work with a subject that we find interesting and exciting. When you are asked to draft a specific and very lengthy response to some assigned reading, the interest level is low. Therefore, writing is a grueling process and the quality of the finished product is mediocre. However, when you freely choose to begin writing about something that you love unbound by page requirements or stylistic restraints, the words come easily and you work to revise, improve, and perfect. This is true in the classroom, at work, and at home. In order to achieve great writing – or any other kind of greatness really – you have to be driven, and that determination must be genuine. It’s difficult to really push yourself to succeed when your only working for the grade or the deadline; you have to invest yourself and really care about what you’re doing.
Finding this intrinsic motivation for writing is almost always really difficult to find in the classroom. Getting students to develop and refine their writing skills is one of the biggest struggles for teachers. When we teach writing, we always try to motivate by focusing on how important writing is for the future: you need it to get into a good college, you need it to get a good job, you need it to succeed! As a teacher, it’s easy for me to see that all of these things are true, but it’s always a hard sell. Not every child wants to pursue a degree or become a professional – so what about them? Even the ones that are motivated to work hard to achieve future success may be missing out, because they don’t necessarily discover a personal joy for their writing. Instead of taking ownership of their work, they just worry about producing what they think teachers and employers want to read.
This is issue is a definite worry for me, which is why I found Jenkins’s descriptions of the young writers in this article so refreshing. Heather Lawver’s story is an amazing example of the kind excitement and authorship that teachers should be trying to produce when they teach writing. She created a really impressive organization centered on the joy of writing and the development of writing skills. In putting together The Daily Prophet, editing the work from all of her columnists, and corresponding with her international staff, she took on an incredibly writing intensive workload. I’m positive that she must have devoted much, much more time and effort to The Daily Prophet than I was putting into any school assigned writing at that age. It’s just stunning to me that a child would take on that much work without being asked or offered some kind of reward. It makes me wonder if young Heather would have been as successful or as willing to work if a teacher had assigned her The Daily Prophet as a project. It’s impossible to know, but I think the answer is: no. It seems to me that the key to her success was the passion she found in creating something completely out of herself – that is her own interests and talents. It was a labor of love. She could take ownership of the project and be proud of it. She even went so far as to defend her rights to continue the project on national television, because she was so personally invested in it. I believe this is what allowed Lawver to really succeed.
Her story was really exciting to me, but the question is: what can teachers of writing (myself included) take away from it? What has Heather Lawver’s success taught me? First and foremost, I have to let my students write about things they enjoy. I know this isn’t possible every step of the way. I have to prepare them to write college application essays, five paragraph themes for ISAT and the ACT, and so on. Giving them the freedom to write about what interests them most is a good place to start though. I feel that in most cases of writing instruction, teachers only assign such a topic in journals or free writes – pieces of writing that don’t really matter and aren’t given much attention. There’s no reason I cannot assign more value to projects that let students explore what they love. Secondly, I have to help my students become a community of writers. This was, to me, one of the most interesting aspects of the article. Jenkins wrote numerous times of young writers not only expressing themselves through writing, but also helping one another improve their stories through very intentional peer revision. I am personally not always comfortable sharing my own work, but I recognize how valuable peer feedback can be. In order to make it so, I need to create an open classroom environment where my students view one another as respectable equals and sharing is safe. Creating such a openly collaborative space like these websites provide may not be possible without the anonymity that the Internet allows, but it is a goal worth aiming for. Last but not least, I have to give my students the opportunity to see their writing as a product that is bigger than a mere classroom assignment – something that they can be proud of and own, just like Lawver was took great pride in The Daily Prophet. This could mean publishing an end of the year book or monthly magazine, or even creating a class website. There are endless possibilities.
Jenkins’s article discussed how we should deal with children’s freedom to read and write. He specifically explored the controversy surrounding Harry Potter and how kids react to the series. Reading about Heather, I thought that her website and Daily Prophet idea was really cool. I bet those kids have so much fun writing about a fantasy world they wish they could be a part of. That is so creative and beyond Heather’s years to come up with a concept like that. I think anything to get reading and writing is great, especially in today’s world of video games, T.V. and the internet. Kids are reading less and less because there are so many different options for entertainment, and reading is usually the last one their list, since many kids would prefer to do something more mindless than think critically about a book. Yet, these kids are seeing that reading is really fun and that you can analyze books and explore concepts and share your thoughts with others through writing. I can’t believe anyone would think that creating a website that encourages kids to read and write would be negative in any way. Yes, it may be a fantasy world, but these kids know how to differentiate the difference between fantasy and reality. They are just having fun with their favorite books, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Kids aren’t the only people reading Harry Potter either. People of all ages read and enjoy the series. In my family, both my parents and even grandparents read Harry Potter. I don’t think I would even call the series children’s books because, as Harry grows older, the books get darker. Plus, the books appeal to all ages. Jenkins also addresses how the series should be used in an education setting. Kids would participate more if they were reading “fun” books, and they would begin to consider the classroom as a fun setting. Yet, teachers also have to be careful because schools are supposed to be academic, and the reading is meant to be more scholarly. Personally, I think Harry Potter should be taught at schools because it gets kids excited about reading, and then they actually want to write about it on their own, not even for a classroom assignment. I have a younger brother, and when he was little he never wanted to read, but once he started reading Harry Potter he couldn’t stop reading. Now he is a freshman in college and an English major. I think it is important to promote books like these to kids through education. There is a reason Harry Potter is so popular, and kids should be able to explore the books in a classroom setting. Teachers should just make sure that they still focus on more scholarly books as well, and not simply concentrate on fun books. I think new teachers today could benefit from the Harry Potter sensation. If teachers could just find the right balance between teaching the books most kids don’t want to read, yet also incorporating the books that everyone wants to read, the classroom could be a place where kids participate more. Through reading the more fun books, kids can become interested in reading the “duller” books, and then maybe they could understand their significance better. Kids would still think of education as a scholarly experience, yet they would also consider it a place where you can enjoy learning. Jenkins also mentions the controversy surrounding Warner Brothers and how they try to censor fans’ writing. That doesn’t seem fair at all, especially because they are not even the authors of the books, and if J. K. Rowling doesn’t have a problem with any of the fans’ sites, then neither should Warner Brothers. Obviously, it’s legally more complicated than that, yet it just seems cruel to try to shut down sites where kids are learning and having fun at the same time, and doing it on their own, because they want to and not because they are being told to do something. Why would anyone ever want to discourage kids from writing? I was so glad to read that Heather’s site wasn’t shut down, because that would’ve been such a shame. It’s also interesting that all of the fans are connected in such a way that they can stick up for each other, and are aware that some of these sites were being shut down. I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, but I’ve never participated in any of these sites, but it’s so interesting to read about. Had I been aware of some of these sites when I was younger, I probably would have participated in them. So, I guess that would be something else teachers would need to be concerned about. If they did decide to make some kind of Harry Potter website for their students to engage in, they would have to make sure they are being careful of Warner Brothers, but I definitely don’t think that should stop teachers. The other issue is education and religion. I think many conservatives are just reading too far deeply into the books because it is simply a fun fantasy world for kids and adults alike to get involved with, not devil worship. Plus, there have been many other books about witches and wizards, yet there was not so much hype about them. Kids should be free to read whatever they want, and conservative also need to realize that not all families believe in the same thing. The conservatives don’t have to let their kids read it, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should have to miss out. When it comes to teachers, I don’t think that should even be an issue, because religion and schools are supposed to be separate. Kids need to have freedom to read and write about what they choose, and teachers should always encourage that.
When thinking about literacy and how it is taught, one must include a variety of stipulations and restrictions because of the controversial society we live in. Instead of writing from the heart, people tend to write about what they believe will appease the audience. In this aspect we have essentially removed the identity from literacy. Writing should not be thought of as a tool for giving and receiving information but instead as a form of expression. For instance, when I sit down and start writing I try to remove the structure from writing and just let my thoughts flow freely. This is one problem I think people have with writing because they write to conform instead of writing to express their creative capabilities.
In this reading however, Lanham argues against the inclusive writer and instead promotes the individual writer. In his article, he gives an example of Heather, a teenage girl who created a fictional newspaper, “The Daily Prophet” and used it to bring together people from all across the world. Through her efforts she made an impact on both her peers as well as adults in the professional industry. Despite only being a teenager she has developed skills and projects that teacher’s use in their classrooms because they promote unity amongst diversity. Even more impressive however is the journey she took to express her intellectual usefulness. At first glance, one would think Heather was a highly intelligent girl who attended a good school. Yet you may be shocked to realize that she hasn’t received a formal education since the first grade. Now as a formally educated student myself I had to wonder how she was able to achieve such academic succession without any formal schooling but then I remembered that writing is not about what you learn in school but how you are able to relay what you learned through your thoughts. Lanham stresses this concept through Heather because he explains writing has lost its purpose.
In addition to writing losing its meaning I believe that literacy also has been affected by the way teachers teach writing. Traditionally teachers teach writing from books and other tools that have been used throughout the centuries. However what people fail to realize is that writing has changed drastically to become more freely individualistically structured rather than being rigid and strict. Teachers are using new methods of teaching because they stimulate different parts of the mind causing exponential developments in growing literacy styles. One way this is expressed in the reading is through teachers using Heather’s teaching methods. Who would have ever thought that a teenager could create innovative teaching methods that would be used globally without any formal education? Even more astounding was her reason for not receiving any formal education which was because of racism and anti-intellectualism. These are two impacting reasons that can change anyone’s life for the better or worse, depending on how they choose to react to it. In Heather’s case she chose to express her distaste through a fictional newspaper based on an imaginary world from a highly controversial book. As a result, she opened the eyes of people and gave them an opportunity to showcase their talents in a way that society would view as childish but literacy-wise would probably be seen as creative.
In this regard Heather has taught me a few things. First off she has shown me that the goal to writing is being able to write about what makes you happy. When you are forced to write about a topic that doesn’t interest you, this lack of interest will be shown in your work and may be influential enough to affect the strength of your topic. As such, teachers should allow students to choose a universal topic or simply let them choose their own. By doing so, you give the student an initial positive attitude about the assignment and then encourage them to write about whatever they choose giving them the impression that whatever their choice is it will not be frowned upon. Another useful technique that Heather exhibited through writing was peer editing. This technique has been growing popular amongst teachers and classrooms because it is no longer seen as tool of criticism but instead as a critiquing tool. If you are unable to accept advice from your peers than I believe you are not able to write. I think that as a writer you are subjected to all sorts of criticism both negative and positive, therefore you should be subjected to this as a youth for preparation purposes. Heather expresses this concept in her newspaper by editing all stories that are intended to be published and then reviewing them with their authors. By going over both the originals and the revised versions she gives her young authors the direction needed to become better writers as well as giving them a taste of what to expect when they get older.
I found the whole section about online fan fiction particularly interesting. It made me think about Scott Filkin’s visit; he made a remark about how the students were encouraged to respond to comments on their blog and to revise and edit certain entries. I find fan fiction and blogging very similar in these aspects, and I feel like teachers can use both to help students emerge through their literacy.
I think many children are intimidated by various things when in school. For example, they may feel embarrassed to ask questions in front of their peers or admit to something they don’t know; they may also feel as if they are not capable of doing the work – some are too afraid to try. Others may feel like they are being constantly scolded by teachers for underperforming and may feel ashamed. The article brings up the point that there is more of a level playing field in the realm of fan fiction. The internet provides a veil of anonymity in which children can experiment without the risk of embarrassment. I’m sure that if the middle schooler, Flourish, would not have been as warmly welcomed in the “real world,” because many might feel that she was too young, or wasn’t a good enough writer because of her age – or that she did not go through the motions like everyone else did to get to such a high point in her career. But, because of the internet, she became a mentor to people twice her age. No one cared as much about her age because they were focused on her work – the internet seems to provide a certain spotlight that you cannot get in real life. In real life, you think about the author and the work – and you make judgments based on what you see and read. Online, however, that veil of anonymity provides us to make judgments on what we read and not what we see visually (in terms of the author).
The Internet also provides anonymous and quick feedback. In addition, there is less bias because readers can only assume what the author is like. I think this provides children with a more accurate reading of what their work is really like; they can see for themselves how their work is received and so on. I remember Scott making this comment also; he said he would point out comments made by mentors and explain to the students that there are other people who feel a certain way about their writing – true and unbiased, because they were not teachers. In addition, there are millions of people across the globe that is able to read these works and provide commentary.
The article also points out that the fan fiction community is usually more tolerant in regards to grammatical and spelling errors. I know that many children get caught up on grammar rules and spelling, which make them more hesitant to write. When thinking about my own experiences, I have to agree. I am currently taking a Korean class meant for students who grew up speaking the language. Although we all feel comfortable speaking the language, writing is hard for many of us. Personally, I hate to write because I know I cannot spell for the life of me (in Korean) – which makes writing less enjoyable because I have to constantly look up words in the dictionary. Instead of trying to write in terms of plot, I write sentences that are easy and simple, without a lot of adjectives or descriptions because I find looking up everything in the dictionary is so tedious. None of my writing is very cohesive and when read out loud, it sounds like it came from a grammar textbook rather than a personal narrative. I imagine that many children feel this way in regards to their own writing, no matter what language it is in. I have also made the mistake of focusing too much on grammar and spelling when teaching/tutoring children. Last year, I tutored at Urbana Middle School and without being asked, I would always correct a child’s spelling while grading their writing assignments. The teacher saw me do this one time and asked me to stop. She explained that many of the kids get discouraged by seeing a whole bunch of red marks, and that the point of writing was not about how perfect it was, but what they were writing about. She wanted them to write freely, without having someone cross it all out with a big red pen.
I think that we have something to learn through this article, especially when some of us will be teachers and/or parents. Although I will not be a future teacher, I hope to be a parent that takes an active role in my child’s literacy. I want my child to learn how to write and read on their own terms without feeling afraid or insecure about it.
Teachers can learn a tremendous amount from the fan writing that is taking place with Harry Potter, as well as other fan topics. Harry Potter is something that kids can really relate to and enjoy. This is a series where kids discover a world that allows them to escape the harsh reality of their own lives at times, or even to just have fun playing in another world. Finding something like Harry Potter that kids can sink their teeth into and become attached to is what teaching is all about. There is so much material out there these days that it becomes very easy to just pick something you liked as a kid and assume your students will like it too. While Harry Potter is huge now, when I am out there teaching twenty years down the road, there will likely be a new craze. That is simply the nature of society. But taking advantage of a love of literature is integral to a teacher’s position. When many students are clearly enamored with Harry Potter, teachers should use that love. Jenkins talks of one Harry Potter fan who said, “‘It is one thing to be discussing the thee of a short story you’ve never heard of before and couldn’t care less about. It is another to be discussing the theme of your friend’s 50,000-word opus about Harry and Hermione that they’ve spent three months writing’” (177).
Rather than turning a blind eye to this and forcing kids to sneak their writings into school and only write about them during their free time, teachers should embrace this passion. Finding something kids care so much about, especially something academic, is often very difficult, but this is the perfect opportunity. Jenkins talks about the fear that “Many adults worry that these kids are ‘copying’ preexisting media content rather than creating their own works,” (182) but as he goes on to say: this is no different than how things used to be. The idea of apprenticeship is nothing new to society. For hundreds of years people learned from others, copying them, imitating their methods, and then creating their own works in time.
Long ago Socrates taught Plato who then taught Aristotle, who in turn taught Alexander the Great. These are all great men who are remembered for their contributions to the world of literature and thinking. They were taught the ideas of the one before them, but then expanded those ideas into their own, unique ideas. That is what happens with these Harry Potter fan sites. The children involved are not simply stealing JK Rowlings’ narrative; they are using her ideas to create new stories. Through the use of her back plot children are able to learn to write better. They do not have to worry about the idea of plot, which often tends to be very difficult, but can instead focus on simply telling a story they enjoy and, at the same time, improve their writing. These online communities have built-in editors who are ready and willing to assist others in working the kinks out of their pieces. Teachers try to do this in the classroom, but if you are attempting to edit a friend’s paper and it is boring and about something you could not care less about, your editing will be lazy. And the assumption that all editors are equal is flawed as well. Teachers could take some notes from the guidelines listed at the Writer’s University website where editors are encouraged not admit their faults and only edit the specific areas they are particularly proficient at. Too often teachers just assume that bringing the class into pairs and allowing them to peer edit is sufficient for everyone. But if you pair two people who are bad at grammar together, then not a lot will be gained in that area for either student. Recognizing the different strengths people have will help a great deal. Furthermore, encouraging positivity and constructive criticism can help a lot. When kids are positive and give guiding assistance to their peers, that helps much more than simply marking everything wrong with the red pen and correcting it for the other person.
There are numerous issues brought up in this controversy that teachers could learn from, but the most important is the concept of writing about something important. Jenkins points out the importance of writing about something kids are passionate about. This became something so important that having it taken from them was an unheard of. So much so that when Warner Bros. wanted to take back may of the websites because of copyright issues, the children from around the world helped band together to fight the massive movie conglomerate. Teenagers from around the world not only fought Warner Bros., but actually won. This passion for writing and for the pleasures a book can bring meant so much to these people that they were willing to do whatever it takes to retain their right to write. If teachers could find a way to implement a writing unit that brought students in even half as much as this Harry Potter phenomenon did for these kids, that would be a much larger success than almost anything the classrooms currently see. Teachers need to find the works that grab students’ attention, that interest them and make them want to learn more. The feeling you get when finishing a good book where you wish it wouldn’t end is not something students often feel abut school books. But when you find the books that do leave your class with that feeling, using it is pivotal. And, if a book ends where not everything is wrapped up or where there just might be more to say, having students write it gives them a chance to just write about something fun without having to worry about everything behind it and they can instead focus on the importance of grammar and writing in general. Teachers need to use this love for books and allow for creativity and passion for reading to come out within the classroom rather than suffocating it.
I think this article is very interesting, and it deals with a very important issue that all educators should be aware of. As I read about this issue with Harry Potter and the arguments for and against it, I could not help but think about the issue with education and technology. My stance on this Harry Potter issue is the same as my stance on technology in education. I think educators should embrace it. Clearly, students develop strong interests in various things they are exposed to, so it makes sense for a teacher to use that knowledge in order to engage the students and ultimately increase student learning. It might be a challenge for a teacher, sometimes, to relate a particular student’s interest with their learning. In the case of Harry Potter however, it is LITERATURE! It is exactly what educators use to teach students. Sometimes it is a challenge for teachers to instill interest for literature in students. It upsets me that groups can be so ignorant and not support this for the single reason that they believe it is “satanic”. This Harry Potter phenomenon works with student writing. The article states:
“As educational researcher Rebecca Black notes, the fan community can often be more tolerant of linguistic errors than traditional classroom teachers and more helpful in enabling the learner to identify what they are actually trying to say because reader and writer operate within the same frame of reference, sharing a deep emotional investment in the content being explored” (181).
I know that when I am peer editing I can easily fall into the mentality of searching for errors. This mentality creates a huge problem for the writer in their revision process. I should instead focus on the content, logic and structure of the essay as a whole because those errors might not even be there on the next revised draft.
I know from personal experience the problem a writer encounters when the teacher’s comments are focused primarily on words and grammatical issues. This happened mainly in high school. I would receive my first draft from the teacher and see the markings across certain words, phrases and sentences. I once read an article which mentions that students look through their commented drafts and figure out what is most important to address in their revisions. I know I did this, and more often than not I assumed that fixing grammatical and “wordy” issues was all I needed to do in my revisions. I believe this was so because the teacher did not communicate with me what I should focus on, and give priority to. If a teacher absolutely feels the need to mark up every mechanical error in a first draft, they must explain to the student that while those errors should be revised, they are not however, to be the main focus of the revision process. I feel that letting the student know of certain mechanical errors can be beneficial to them in improving their writing skills. However, they can only improve to a certain degree, or more importantly in a certain aspect of writing. Their word choice and sentence structure might improve; however, their ability to create or communicate an argument effectively might not be addressed. So, a teacher’s response should be careful not to focus on errors which might not be there in the second draft, but rather on issues of the essay as a whole. I think that this issue becomes more important in college.
In my experience, I feel that many of my papers that were commented in high school focused on grammar and mechanics. When I began writing papers in college I noticed that most of the commented papers I received rarely had any markings regarding grammar and mechanics. Because of high school, I had become used to expecting teachers’ comments to regard grammar and mechanics. So, when I began to receive my college essays I was somewhat confused because I rarely saw any markings for grammar and things of that sort. At first, I though the lack of markings were possibly because my writing had improved significantly in that regard since high school. While I am sure that my writing did improve, that was not the reason for the lack of markings. These teachers were concentrating their comments on other aspects of my essays. They were responding to the argument and other aspects of the essay as a whole. This really helped me develop and improve this important aspect of my writing.
Another interesting part of the article was how Warner Brothers was threatening children’s Harry Potter fan sites. I thought it was great how these middle school students rose up to a huge corporation to defend what they are passionate about. This is a great way for students to learn about their rights and what they can do to fight and stand up for them. It was also interesting how Heather Lawver and other adolescents who got their websites shut down by Warner Brothers came together in support of the girl that was being threatened. So not only is this phenomenon helping children with writing, interest in literature, but it builds a healthy community.
Using the Harry Potter series as an example, the article has given me insight on the teaching of writing, especially as a teacher candidate. In our program, we have been encouraged to choose novels that we think the class will really like, despite our favoritism for the “classics”, like Austen, Bronte, Dickens and so forth. We should be picking novels in which the students can relate to the plot, themes and characters to their own lives. Despite the fantasy of J. K. Rowling’s series, children have been able to relate to Harry and his hardships in being a teenager. Harry Potter was one of the examples of novels that would be useful in the classroom, and Jenkin’s article shows how engaged students can be when reading the series. Heather’s creation of The Daily Prophet is very impressive, and I couldn’t believe how many people participated in creating this imaginary paper and personal identity at Hogwarts. The creativity and work involved to contribute could actually be a fun project teachers could simulate in their own classroom, especially if they read Rowling’s novel. I have never read the series, and I never realized to what extent fans of the book expressed their loyalty to the series. However, what struck me about the fans’ participation in The Daily Prophet was their full engagement and dedication to their identity and writing in the newspaper. Fan fiction is relatively new to me; I did not know people actually wrote short stories, even full novels based on books like Harry Potter. I think it is great that a novel is striking readers in such a positive way as too getting readers taking the work into their own hands and making it their own. In a world where video games and television consume children’s pastime, people should be praising a novel that engages children to read and write, no matter what people think of the novel itself. The Twilight series has recently come under fire for similar reasons, and I think critics are being too hard on a series that gets students to read and write.
Jenkin’s article presented the anti-Harry groups, including religious groups that believe Harry Potter will encourage children to turn away from their Christian ways and practice witchcraft. The notion that they ban these books, attempting to keep their children from reading astounds me. Why limit what a student can achieve, simply due to fear of the unknown? The discernment movement that has resulted from this controversy is interesting and a positive way to encourage reading while maintaining the children’s Christian convictions. By reading the novel, followed by thinking critically about it in context to Christianity, is a great way to get children to discuss and write these ideas. Completely banishing a book from schools and children will only result in many defying their elders and rebelling what is being shoved in their faces. Keeping something away from children will only make it more desirable. Children should have the opportunity to read such controversial literature if they wish.
Many websites dedicated to fan fiction give students not only the opportunity to publish their work, but also receive feedback from not just one person, but several. Students typically only receive feedback and constructive criticism by their teachers when they turn work in, but the internet gives them a chance to not only get their work read and reviewed, but to get their writing improved as well. Not only do they receive feedback, but they can also give feedback as well, practicing what they learn about writing and how to help others. Some of my English teachers in the past would have us read other students’ work and give feedback, and I think this is pretty important for making great writers. By getting multiple peoples’ opinion, not just the teacher’s, they are able to receive a wide array of ideas on what they can do with their writing. I will certainly facilitate peer editing in my classroom.
Of course, there is always the controversy over “stealing” characters and such when writing fan fiction, which was the case between Harry Potter fans and Warner Brothers. While these sites and practices have helped children write more often, and even better, they may even help student be more involved in defending their rights and promoting social justice. Heather and many others defended each other and their works when Warner Brothers was attempting to seek legal action, which showed the courage and maturity of these young people. As teacher candidates, we are encouraged to instill social justice themes in our lessons, and writing is a great way to get students more vocal on their political or social beliefs. With the use of writing, teachers can simulate situations, like Warner Brothers versus the Harry Potter fans, and give students the opportunity to defend whichever side they choose. There are so many lessons teachers can make based on writing, but they have to seriously consider the students and how they will absorb the lesson. Choosing the right book is a great start, followed by giving them a great activity where they can expand on the novel and create something of their own and getting feedback from their peers. This is not only a great way to work and collaborate with others, but can really help with their reading and writing skills.
Looking back at my experiences in eighth grade, I was always hesitant to read the novels that were assigned to me in school. While some of the stories were a bit interesting, the distain expressed by other students in class made me not want to admit that I was actually enjoying what I was reading. After a while, I began to fit in with the rest of my classmates and complain at the sight of another novel that was meant to interest my generation, but always fell short. For one of our assignments, we were to write a book report on a book of our choice. I was not one to read for fun and I did not know of many good books to read. This was around the time that the Harry Potter series became popular and widely talked about among my peers. As much as possible, I tried to avoid societal trends; however, it was inevitable that I would eventually fall into them. When my teacher suggested Harry Potter as the novel for my book report, I was extremely hesitant. I have been fighting it for so long, but I finally gave in and decided to give it a shot. It was, in fact, for a grade. I could always use that as an excuse. When I began reading the third book, as the first movie already came out and the second was due for a release soon, I began to understand what the fascination with the series was. The book offered so many opportunities for my imagination to go wild. It did not have many boundaries. It would offer some elements open to interpretation. The way that I envisioned concepts in my head were always so much greater than the interpretation in the movie that later followed.
Literacy offers many obstacles for students. Growing up, I was always a struggling reader. For a time, I was labeled as “dyslexic” and had to take special classes to learn to read. Now that I think about it, I do not think the problem was my inability to read words on a page; it was my lack of interest in what I was reading. Students should have some influence in what they are reading. Forcing a student to read something that is not interesting to them makes the process of literacy that much more difficult.
Heather Lawver’s story was really interesting to me and I enjoyed reading it. Her idea of the online newspaper that simulated a book that many of her peers are interested in is effective at getting students engaging in literacy. Her mission statement says it all: “By creating an online ‘newspaper’ with articles that lead the readers to believe this fanciful world of Harry Potter to be real, this opens the mind to exploring books, diving into the characters, and analyzing great literature” (172). I agree with the fact that “people of many different ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds (some real, some imagined) formed a community where individual difference were accepted and where learning was celebrated” (173). The children that engage in this web site are, in a sense, learning and developing their literacy styles and sense of identity.
Many other aspects of our generation are often criticized when, in actuality, they are beneficial as well. For example, instant messaging programs as well as social networking web sites are often criticized. While there is the potential for dangers with being public domains on an unmonitored network, when used correctly, these forms of technology help children to develop a sense of self and culture. The jargon used with instant messaging programs demonstrates a child’s understanding of different media of communication. Children learn the differences between academic and more social uses of language. Web sites such as Facebook not only give children the opportunity to write and express themselves in normally healthy ways, but it also has the potential to build their self-esteem. When posting pictures or other material, it can be constructive when others comment and provide positive feedback. Children learn the different facets of privacy through use of these web sites. They also come up with ways of describing themselves and summarizing their identities when entering information in the “About Me” section of the web site.
The take home message that can be applied to teaching is that students and children in general will do things uniquely in their own ways. It is important for educators to realize these different methods and incorporate them as much as possible. Sometimes having students conform to particular forms of presentation can be limiting and will cause students to struggle. Rather than resisting popular culture, technology, and innovations in society, educators should embrace them and make them teaching tools.
Unfortunately, politics often get in the way of education and teachers are very limited in regards to what they teach and how they teach it. In an ideal world, teachers would be trusted to use their education in the most effective way possible to ensure that all students are successful in their own personal ways. In an ideal world, the Internet would be a much safer place and there wouldn’t be so many restrictions set forth on new technologies. As a society, we have to make the most of it. The bottom line is that the key to teaching anyone is to first find their interests and passions, and use those as a foundation for everything else.
Jenkin’s chapter focuses on how many children and teens have formed groups online in which they write and share fan fiction about the Harry Potter series, and the struggles these groups have faced despite their possible advantages to their members. Jenkins explains that the groups promote members to express themselves in positive ways, and that many writers are given opportunities to have a large audience read their attempts at fan fiction and give them feedback which can teach them techniques to become better writers in general. Kids who participate in these groups are often bookworms and by practicing their writing skills and getting such good feedback, they often learn more about writing than they do in their traditional classrooms, despite the fact that they do it for fun, sometimes behind their parent’s backs. These kids are passionate about the Harry Potter series and by participating in fan fiction groups they extend their reading and writing skills tremendously, which no doubt is important to their educational success later on. However, despite this clear benefit, many people are against fan-fiction websites, such as corporations which want to ensure they get profits from any creative productions related to their product, parents who think that Harry Potter and fan-fiction are non-scholastic wastes of time, and schools that think that the Harry Potter series may go against Christian values and inspire children to study the occult. Basically, the Harry Potter series faces a lot of resistance in schools as well because it is a major popular culture icon, which stereotypically sits in contrast to the traditional canon and literature used in schools to teach children. While it is attractive to kids because of its popularity, it is also dangerous and seen as a threat by those who aren’t aware of the good messages it contains and the possible benefits it may have to its young readers. It seems to me that the biggest reason that something like Harry Potter would not be adapted into a school’s curriculum or suggested in addition to the curriculum by teachers is that there are already tried and true canonical texts and traditional methods of teaching reading and writing that many teachers may be afraid to stop using. It is hard to keep up with the new surges in technology; children now learn to read and write on computers more than from workbooks and chalkboards, and many kids practice reading and writing in video games provided by their parents. There are arguable flaws in letting a video game teach your kids math; such as the fact that the game is rigidly structured and may not explain concepts as well as a live teacher who can respond and change their activities if a child acts confused or bored. Likewise, perhaps teachers see Harry Potter as only a modest attempt to engage children in reading, with most of the attempt being with the goal to make kids buy the series of books and create profits to the publishing company. It’s a fair concern. However, there is a lot of merit behind what the fan-fiction websites have created. Beyond just the books and aside from corporate agendas or profits, kids are getting online and writing pieces of fiction in addition to their normal class work and getting tips on writing from many people from many different backgrounds. This could be especially helpful for kids who live in small towns and would attend very small schools—instead of having the same 10 peers reading and responding to their homework assignments, they could have dozens of people of various ages, some much older, from all over the world read and critique their writing. As well, since the topic is a fantasy world, kids feel as if they can express themselves, something which is often very hard to do in homework assignments. So beyond Christian ethics arguments, it seems silly that teachers would argue against their students becoming submerged in the Harry Potter books, so long as it is in addition to the regular class work and not at the cost of it. I think that teachers of course want their students to practice the skills they learn in the classroom as much and as often as they can so that they can see the greatest benefit in their students, and even if it seems strange or counter-culture, perhaps the Harry Potter fan fiction websites are an incredibly useful tool to promote writing and editing skills. Jenkins mentioned some teachers creating their own similar websites for use with their students, and I think that more teachers should try to adapt this into their regular curriculums. Any subject or series of books, or any popular TV show could be adapted into an educational space for reflecting and writing and editing in a class, so there is really no reason why religion should be a limiting factor. Even the Bible could be used in the case of a very conservative private Christian school; students could share passages and write about their interpretations of them in a forum like classroom website, for example. But of course the idea behind the Harry Potter fan-fiction is to be able to express imagination and to create something enjoyable for other fans while enjoying the act of writing, and that would be lost to many other adaptations of websites. I think that schools and parents should be much more open to the opportunities that some activities have in educating and helping their kids to mature—while some activities seem more obviously constructive than others; boy scouts versus Dungeons and Dragons, for example, it’s hard to say that the boy who participates in Dungeons and Dragons isn’t learning a lot and exercising his verbal and reading skills doing what he enjoys.
“Why Heather Can Write” teaches us about the many different forms communication is taking, and how writing fits into the new landscape of multimedia. For example, Jenkins mentions how the structure of academia is vastly different from what students may encounter with an online community such as fan fiction. The informal nature of online spaces allows much more freedom to students, while at the same time the amount of people and feedback given to a student is much larger. Jenkins states how a student’s work may only “be read by the teacher and feedback may be very limited.” (184) For a community such as Writer’s University, mentioned in Jenkin’s chapter (180), being a beta reader that gives feedback have some rules and regulations. Suggestions may not be as authoritative as in a classroom setting, but the focus is to improve both the writing of the author but also the reading skills of the beta reader. There is a sense of community and equality that is difficult to attain in a more structured educational setting. This isn’t a bad thing, the power structure that a classroom setting lends itself to isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The classroom promotes learning in many ways, however the different hierarchy that an online community establishes is also helpful in the learning process.
Online communities and fanfiction tells us several things about the learning and teaching of writing. One important aspect of writing mentioned in Jenkin’s article relates to how a writer feels about their work. “As one sixteen-year-old Harry Potter fan told me, ‘It is one thing to be discussing the theme of a short story you’ve never heard of before and couldn’t care less about. It is another to be discussing the theme of your friend’s 50,000-word opus about Harry and Hermione that they’ve spent three months writing.’ “ (177) Students put more effort and time into writing on topics they are passionate about. That is the power of a community such as fanfiction. Writing for school is a chore because the majority of the time students are not writing about a topic because they want to, but because they have to. So if it is possible to teach writing in a way that allows students to write about a topic they enjoy, then it will definitely be helpful when it comes to their enthusiasm towards their assignment.
Another thing that is taught by an online community such as fanfiction websites is the power of a community when it comes to teaching. Jenkins states how,
“educators like to talk about ‘scaffolding,’ the ways that a good pedagogical process works in a step-by-step fashion…In the classroom, scaffolding is provided by the teacher. In a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way.” (178)
This makes the learning go both ways, the community learns what good writing in order to help others learn what good writing is. Thus the writers who are being critiqued are learning, while those who are trying to help are learning about their own flaws and strengths when it comes to reading a piece of literature. There is a certain self-policing when it comes to being a beta reader, and it is a good experience for all writers. Understanding how you read oftentimes is connected to how you write.
As has already been mentioned in the chapter, books as popular as Harry Potter are good opportunities for teachers to capitalize on when it comes to reading. Getting kids to read and be more active when it comes to learning is a difficult task with so many other forms of media and communication competing for a child’s attention. Getting children to be more interactive with learning is also a proven method of improving learning. The more someone is exposed to educational material, the easier it is for them to learn and remember. So incorporating popular culture such as Harry Potter can help first get a student interested, which will lead to more exposure to learning material, which can improve learning and knowledge acquisition.
This can also be an important experience when it comes to teaching kids about creativity and ownership. Legality is something that may not affect children most of the time, but it is nonetheless an important part of their world. Studying and understanding controversial legal ramifications that Harry Potter fan fiction has started can give students an idea of how intellectual property rights works. At the same time, it can also help to show how the original ideas and purposes behind these rights are changing with technology and different forms of media distribution. The fact that Time Warner changed their policies, backed down and acknowledged the creative license of fan fiction sites to create literature based off Harry Potter shows not only that times are changing but also that communities can group together not only socially but also politically.
There is also the aspect of an informal and anonymous community that is based more off of experience, knowledge, and intelligence than by an age hierarchy, which has already proved that kids or young adults can garner respect from people far older than they are. It is an empowering opportunity for students, and can help to generate not only enthusiasm, but also respect for others as well as themselves.
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