Category Archives: Using Popular Culture in the Classroom

Stereotyping in Popular Culture

I came across the YouTube video Rachel Rostad – “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” through two different avenues in the past week or so.  First, I noticed it in an article by Diana Lee on Henry Jenkins’ blog.  Then only a few days later, someone posted a link to the video on my book club’s Facebook page.  We had recently discussed the lack of diversity in the books we were reading and the authors who had written them, and this video was a jumping-off point for a discussion about the inclusion of minority groups but only as caricatures.

Taylor (2005, p. 14) warns that caricatures like this “can transmit simplistic and erroneous ideas about people and perpetuate social prejudice and inequality.”

Firstly, as a fan of the Harry Potter books, I was a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t noticed this when reading the books myself.  Then, I started thinking about the stereotypes in other forms of popular culture – not just racial stereotypes, but those of gender and sexuality as well.  I very recently finished reading the Belgariad and Mallorean series of books by David Eddings (they were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, so I’m a bit behind the times).  While I enjoyed the stories, I was frustrated by the stereotypical way in which the female characters were portrayed.  Was this due in part to the world in which the stories were set, or the time in which they were published?  Or is this type of stereotyping still prevalent in today’s popular culture?  Apparently it is, and adults are not the only ones who are noticing it.  The recent film The Avengers features Black Widow, who is anything but a female stereotype – but when it comes to marketing the franchise, the stereotype of “superheroes and comics are for boys” is perpetuated.  In the following video, six-year-old Riley shares her frustration that she is unable to find an action figure in the toy stores for her favourite Avenger, Black Widow.

Similarly, in a study of stereotypes in children’s picture books, Hamilton,  Anderson, Broaddus, and Young (2006) found that modern children’s picture books continue to reinforce the idea that boys and men are more interesting than girls and women.

As teachers wishing to incorporate popular culture into the classroom, this kind of stereotyping is something we need to pay attention to – and it can make for valuable teaching opportunities.  Hall (2011) explains that through using popular culture in the classroom, students learn to question and examine ideas put before them.

In the same way that the Cho Chang video was a springboard for discussion about discrimination and stereotyping among my book club on our Facebook page, using popular culture texts in the classroom can be a discussion starter for students.  According to Taylor (2005), discussions in the classroom about minority representations in media can help kids to examine their own attitudes and biases, and encourage them to become smarter media consumers and users.

What are your thoughts?

The examples I have given here are just a few of the incidences of stereotyping in popular culture.  What stereotypes have you noticed?  Do you think stereotypical portrayals of minority groups are less common now than in the past, or just as prevalent?

Hamilton, M., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M., and Young, K. (2006). Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children’s Picture Books: A Twenty-first Century Update. Sex Roles, 55, 757-765. doi:  10.1007/s11199-006-9128-6

Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students' discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036

Taylor, A. (2005). Portrayals of Race in Popular Culture. Teacher, 44(1), 12-14. Retrieved from http://www.ctf-fce.ca/documents/Priorities/EN/pd/racism/PortrayalofRace_PDP_Summer2006_6-3_EN.pdf

Pop Culture in the Classroom – Pop Culture Points

There are many arguments for why popular culture should be integrated into classroom practise.  Hunt and Hunt (2004) argue that using popular culture provides a bridge for learning, and that by showing interest in the students’ worlds, teachers can build a respectful relationship with their students, and in turn, students are more willing to share in the teachers’ worlds.  Hall (2012, p.304) supports this idea, stating that

“Thoughtfully incorporating pop culture texts into the curriculum offers promising possibilities for engaging youths and helping them find relevance in academic texts.”

Given this evidence, many teachers would agree that incorporating popular culture into their teaching would be a valuable exercise – but how do we go about it?

There are many answers to this question, but one of the most interesting ways I have come across recently is the concept of ‘pop-culture points’.  The following video, created by a former 7th grade history teacher, explains an interesting and engaging way to use pop-culture to help students ‘tune in’ to history lessons.

While the video focuses on the subject of history, I think this concept could be applied to a multitude of learning areas.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think of this idea?  Is it something you would consider using in your own classroom?  Were there any pop culture influences that helped you to learn about the world as a child?

Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students' discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00036

Hunt, T., & Hunt, B. (2004) Popular Culture: Building Connections with Our Students. English Journal, 93(3), 80-83. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/4128814

Kids These Days…

What is popular with kids these days?  I already posted about the way my 8-10 year old students spend their screen time, but this week I have created a Pinterest board to show visually what children are interested in.  I also asked my Facebook friends for help about what is popular with their own primary school aged children.

There was an interesting mix of things that have been popular since I was a child (TMNT, Lego, The Smurfs), as well as many things that are brand new to me and I know little about (Skylanders, Minecraft).

I joined Pinterest a while ago, and pinned a few things but then the novelty wore off and I hadn’t used it in a long time until I made this board.  I know that many of my friends are completely addicted to it though.

What are your thoughts?

Which camp do you fall into?  Was your response to Pinterest like mine (fun at first, but the novelty wore off quickly) or are you a complete Pinterest addict?  Or somewhere in between?

How do children spend their “screen time”?

Innocent Girl on Laptop by PictureYouth (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)
Innocent Girl on Laptop by PictureYouth (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

“Screen Time” – the amount of time spent in front of media such as television, games and computers – is a controversial issue.  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (2010) and the CSIRO (2013) recommend that for health reasons, children should spend less than 2 hours per day in front of a screen.  However, Sweetser, Johnson, Ozdowska, & Wyeth,(2012, p. 95) argue that these recommendations do not take into account the different ways children spend their screen time, and that cognitively and physically engaging in ‘active screen time’ should be classed differently to more passive activities such as watching television.

So what about the children in my class?  How are they spending their screen time?

This week, I investigated the popular culture influences on my class of 8-10 year old students, with particular focus on how they spend their ‘screen time’ – time in front of the TV, movies, computers and devices such as tablet computers.

I asked the students in my year 3/4 class about what they liked to watch on TV, what their favourite movies and games were, and how they spent their time on the Internet.

The most surprising thing I found was the sheer diversity of answers.  There were few students who wrote down the same answers – there was a huge range of favourite TV shows, movies and games.

Television

The children in my class cited a very diverse range of favourite television shows.  Animated shows were popular, with many children explaining that these are their favourites because they are “funny”.  These shows included Adventure Time, Kids WB, Phineas and Ferb and Pokemon.  Also included were television shows I would consider inappropriate for the age group, such as Family Guy.  A smaller number of students cited drama programs such as H20: Just Add Water and Dance Academy.  Other types of programs mentioned were reality shows such as Big Brother and Wheeler Dealers, as well as ‘educational’ programs such as Backyard Science.  Only 2 students mentioned watching sport on TV, with both citing Soccer as a favourite program to watch.

Movies/DVDS

Once again, I was surprised by the sheer diversity of movies mentioned by students in my class as their ‘favourites’.  The only movie which came up more than once was Despicable Me, which was cited as a favourite by 3 children.  The remaining students mentioned a mixture of different genres, including action (The Wolverine), animated movies (Epic, The Incredibles), fantasy (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) and drama (Pitch Perfect, Australia).  Once again, children mentioned movies which I felt to be inappropriate for their age group, such as Ted.

student_ipad_school - 079 by Brad Flickinger, (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)
student_ipad_school – 079 by Brad Flickinger, (Flickr image, CC BY 2.0)

Games

On the survey I used, I asked my class “What is your favourite game, and why?” which produced some very interesting and varied results.  Students interpreted this question in different ways.  Some students wrote down computer games (with Minecraft and Naruto Shippuden being the most popular), while others wrote down more traditional or party games, like Pass the Parcel or Fruit Salad.  Still others mentioned sports like softball or board games like Monopoly.  It would be interesting to see what the results would have been if I had asked a more specific question about computer games.

Internet Use

Internet use by students in my class could be broken into 3 main categories: Games, Images and YouTube.

Graph showing how internet time is used by students in my year 3/4 class
Graph showing how internet time is used by students in my year 3/4 class – Image created by Kirsten Bailey using Microsoft Excel

The most common use for the internet was games, followed closely by searching for images using Google and watching videos on YouTube.  Of those students who answered this question (some left it blank), two students said they had no internet access at home, and only one student mentioned using the internet for research or schoolwork.

When asked about what sort of videos they liked to watch on YouTube, students again provided a wide diversity of answers.  Several students mentioned looking up videos of their favourite movies and television shows.  Popular choices also included tutorials (particularly Minecraft tutorials), music videos and ‘funny videos’ (such as funny cats, Fred, and The Annoying Orange).

Conclusions

Conducting a survey such as this one posed more questions for me than it answered.  With such a huge diversity how students spend their screen time, what do we really mean by the term “popular”?  If a larger sample size were used, how would the results have varied? How many students are regularly viewing inappropriate material?

Nonetheless, I found this to be a very worthwhile exercise.  Hunt & Hunt (2004, p. 82) suggest that teachers who want to build connections with their students should “spend time in their cultural worlds”.  I certainly feel I know my students a little better after asking them about their interests.

What are your thoughts?

How similar are these results to your own children’s (or children your work with) interests?  Have you noticed a similar diversity?

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Media Education. Pediatrics, 126(5), 1012-1017. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1636
CSIRO. (2013). Recreational Screen Time. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from http://www.csiro.au/Outcomes/Health-and-Wellbeing/Prevention/10-steps-for-healthy-families-ScreenTime.aspx

Hunt, T., & Hunt, B. (2004) Popular Culture: Building Connections with Our Students. English Journal, 93(3), 80-83. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/4128814

Sweetser, P., Johnson, D. Ozdowska, A., & Wyeth, P. (2012). Active versus passive screen time for young children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 37(4), 94-98. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=195789;res=AEIPT

Popular Culture as ‘Funds of Knowledge’

girl reading Harry Potter books
‘arry potter 63/365 by lozikiki ^_^ (flickr image, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In my first assignment for this subject, I was investigating the way in which popular culture can be effectively integrated into the curriculum.  One interesting reading I came across while researching this assignment was ‘Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular culture as funds of knowledge for curriculum co-construction’ by Helen Hedges, published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood in 2001.

In this paper, Hedges argues that popular-culture can be seen as ‘funds of knowledge’, and that the use of popular culture in the classroom may be a way for teachers to engage meaningfully with children’s interests.

As part of her literature review, Hedges explains that research has shown popular culture can be used to motivate and extend children’s literature learning, but that the extent to which popular culture is integrated into the curriculum is highly influenced by teachers’ own experiences and beliefs about popular culture.  She goes on to say that ‘contemporary’ play such as watching television or using computers can be seen by teachers are negative or dangerous experiences.

This got me thinking about my own experiences, and whether they are colouring my perceptions about what is acceptable or beneficial to students in my classroom.  Are my own personal preferences about popular culture having an impact on what is encouraged in my classroom?

Hedges’ qualitative study of interest-based curriculum explored two questions:

1.  In what ways do teachers recognise and engage with children’s interests in relation to children’s experiences and funds of knowledge?

2. How do teachers choose whose and which interests will be engaged with in building a sociocultural curriculum during both planned and spontaneous teaching and learning interactions? (Hedges, 2011, p. 26)

In investigating these questions, Hedges found that children represented their pop-culture interests in a variety of ways, including bringing objects to school and through play and conversations.  Another interesting finding was that children’s popular-culture influenced play and discussions were often deflected or diverted in the presence of the teacher – children waited until the teacher had left to resume play.  I found this fascinating and wondered whether the same thing is going on in my own classroom?

What I really liked about this study was that after collecting data in classrooms about the way in which popular culture and children’s interests were not being appreciated or acted on by teachers, Hedges provided the teachers involved with her field notes, and the teachers began to change their practice, considering the potential for popular culture in the curriculum.  Those of us who teach are very familiar with the fact that we need to be constantly reflecting on and updating our practice in order to maintain a high standard of education for our students.  Hedges was able to provide teachers involved in this study with meaningful insights to help them improve their teaching practice.

Hedges concludes by asserting that:

“if teachers overlook children’s interest in popular culture, they may be ignoring a rich source with which to engage and extend children’s knowledge and understandings” (Hedges, 2011, p. 29)

What are your thoughts?

Hedges explains that teachers need to realise that their own childhood experiences may be very different from those of their students.  Do you agree with this?  How do you think your childhood experiences are different from those of children of today?

Hedges, H. (2011).  Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular Culture as Funds of Knowledge for Curriculum Co-construction.  Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(1), 25-29.  Retrieved from  http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=950170717489010;res=IELHSS