To celebrate the release of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ in November, our Middle School libraries have been running a selection of Harry Potter based activities throughout the term. This week I organised a Kahoot! lunchtime challenge, usually a fun and reasonably popular activity. To my great surprise, no sooner had the bell for the beginning of lunch chimed, that students began flooding the library door. Many of these were members that very rarely frequented the library and it had me thinking about the popularity and the wide reach fandoms like the ‘Harry Potter’ series experience to this day.
Fandoms themselves are not a new concept, just look at Doctor Who or Star Wars. Our school actually has a very popular Dr. Who club who meet weekly and we have in the past had great success with a ‘Star Wars Week’ in the Senior part of the school which included trivia quizzes and blow up droid races. The question is, what makes people identify so much with something like Star Wars and Harry Potter and how do we channel this into great experiences for students in the educational environment? How do I get students to approach their school work with the same amount of excitement and fervor they attend a Harry Potter lunchtime event with? Jamie Gleklen, a high school Senior wrote an article for Huffington Post in 2014 titled ‘Fandoms and my Generation’ and she makes the point that information about your chosen fandom is so much more easily accessible today through sites such as Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube, resulting in people becoming more and more involved in the world of their favourite celebrity, band or fictional character. She suggests that as a hobby, being part of a fandom is a great form of escapism from the day to day teen life, where one can analyse desirable characteristics for themselves in those they follow.
While watching the first episode of ‘Survivor Australia’ a few weeks ago, one of the contestants stated he had prepared for the competition by reading a selection of books including ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘Bear Grylls’ and ‘Robinson Crusoe’. This got me thinking, this hugely popular show had just made itself directly relevant to my library with it’s reference to books we have on the shelves and straight away I began planning a display relating to the show, including the books mentioned. After talking to other members of the library team, however, we came up with a plan to turn a program we had been developing called ‘How to survive the zombie apocalypse’ (yet another Fandom) into something that may be more ‘younger student friendly’. It was then that we created the idea of ‘Survivor Hacks’ and the program has been immensely popular, with students even attending the library on a Friday afternoon to learn the new ‘hack’ of the week! Past hacks have included braiding paracord wristbands and compass making, successfully tying this very current fandom into a real learning experience. Reflecting on this we posed the question; could we in future approach other fandoms the same way? Could we form clubs where students could meet to create or to discuss particular fan bases they are a part of, similar to the Doctor Who Club? Or could we go even further and attempt to teach topics based on certain fandoms, looking at things like ‘The Heroes Journey’ in English or comparisons to historical events in a Humanities subjects such as those suggested in the Star Wars article ‘Fully Operational Fandom: Star Wars in the Classroom’?
In fact, why stop there, more and more recently I have been hearing people discuss the inclusion of fanfiction into their writing classes. Members of fandoms can often progress to creating fanfiction and I am not too proud to admit but I have in the past read one or two Harry Potter fanfictions in an attempt to go back and visit the magical world. I have found some people, those often quite young, to have written HP fanfictions which were quite magnificent and almost as good at the books. There are however a few hurdles that come with the introduction of fanfictions in the school environment, I have often found myself in conversations with teachers and librarians regarding how suitable it would be due to the inappropriate content some people are using online. Peter Gutierrez wrote a series of articles for the ‘School Library Journal’ between 2012 and 2013 on this particular subject stating that the reuse of other stories in well known books throughout history, just like the recently released to film ‘Pride, Prejudice and Zombies’ by Seth Grahame-Smith, is one way to legitimise to educators the fanfiction we see today. He also noted it was important to reiterate that the writing does not necessarily need be created online, removing the dangers that come with anonymity and inappropriate content. Fanfictions are actually a great way to bring students with similar passions together or just get them a little more excited about writing whilst also modeling responsible peer-mediated feedback. Our library has been extra busy this week with a writer in residence program wrapping up on Friday and when proofreading some of the student’s stories I found quite a few that sound almost too familiar to popular young adult books, with similar characters and similar settings. Perhaps students are already showing us in their daily lives that the incorporation of fanfictions and fandoms, in general, is something that may help them to become more involved and passionate about their learning. There are many possibilities to including fandoms in schooling life, it is just a matter of gaining the support of all members of the school community and considering a wide-reaching fandom that will not alienate people to the real aim of the activity to begin with.
Gleklen, J. (2014). Fandoms: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-gleklen/celebrity-fandoms_b_5056143.html
Gutierrez, P. (2012). Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg… When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher Education — @Peter_Gutierrez Connect the Pop. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/connect-the-pop/2012/11/comics/guest-post-by-christopher-shamburg-when-the-lit-hits-the-fan-in-teacher-education/.
Gutierrez, P. (2013). Fanfiction: What Educators Really Need to Know — @Peter_Gutierrez Connect the Pop. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/connect-the-pop/2013/07/english/fanfiction-what-educators-really-need-to-know/
Gutierrez, P. (2013). 433 Words on Why Fandom Doesn’t Belong in Schools — @Peter_Gutierrez Connect the Pop.Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/connect-the-pop/2013/05/english/433-words-on-why-fandom-doesnt-belong-in-schools/
Ratcliffe, A. (2015). Fully Operational Fandom: Star Wars in the Classroom | StarWars.com. Retrieved from http://www.starwars.com/news/fully-operational-fandom-star-wars-in-the-classroom