Enhancing Language Experience through Digital Literacy and Popular Culture
By Dr. Leslie Haas and Dr. Jill Tussey
Language Experience is an educational approach associated with student experiences expressed through reading, writing, listening, and speaking (Hall, 1970). Student artifacts are then used as instructional supports for literacy development. This traditional academic approach is uniquely personalized and has a strong foundation for reinvention by moving outside the academic setting to support student learning as they consume, create, and share literacy experiences in a variety of digital formats.
These formats embrace a variety of learning styles and can be both collaborative and independent while highlighting student literacy encounters and expressions based on popular culture. These may include fanfiction, movies, podcasts, social media, television, and video games. By embracing language experiences within students’ cultural context, educators have the opportunity to develop true culturally responsive pedagogical practices.
Fanfiction is when writers utilize characters and plotlines from original work with a fandom base and modify them by developing new relationships between characters, extending plot and timelines, creating new settings, and exploring novel themes (Jamison, 2013). One way to incorporate this type of creative writing into K-12 classrooms is by using popular culture narratives as mentor texts.
Mentor texts take the full cognitive load of creation off students and allow for focused attention on one particular aspect of writing. For example, when a popular comic book is chosen as a mentor text, students can focus on developing the point of view of a less developed or minor character without also needing to focus on setting and plot. This type of support can be particularly advantageous for English Language Learners because mentor texts can offer quality examples of dialog, imagery, sentence structure, etc.… within the context of the chosen genre.
Movies are typically characterized as stories represented through recorded images, movement, and sound to entertain or inform (Computer Hope, 2020). Incorporating movies into literacy classrooms can take on many forms. One form is the exploration setting as an integral part of storytelling. For example, students can select, analyze, and discuss a movie scene, then collaboratively develop a script for the same scene within a different setting. Questions for students to consider during development could center on the changes to characters dialog, relationships, and reactions based on the setting.
Social media is a digital tool that allows users to create and publically share and information (Nations, 2021). Utilizing social media to examine, discuss, and compose persuasive writing is one example of how to incorporate popular culture literacy into academic literacy instruction. For example, students could choose a topic relevant to a local political issue and follow social media influences on both sides of the topic.
Students would then examine the persuasive writing techniques of each influencer, discuss the effectiveness of the techniques, and develop an essay outlining which influencer was the most persuasive and why. This examination could then act as a foundation for student development of their own persuasive work which could be in the form of an essay, podcast, post, and/or video.
Television is a prevalent popular literacy medium that brings information and entertainment into the homes of many students, and can bridge cultural, economic, ethnic, and generational gaps (Hartley, 1999). It offers a variety of programming, including episodic or serial storylines. For example, teachers can utilizing episodic series by watching and discussing a season of a particular program in order to develop ideas around story arc extension. Providing students with an opportunity to choose a television program season and extend the story arc of a particular plotline can offer engagement, experience, and support through the creative process.
Video games are interactive games played in a digital setting on a variety of platforms that come in a variety of forms and genres (Li, 2020). Many popular video games encompass detailed unique mythological storylines. These storylines offer opportunities in the academic setting for analysis and comparison. For example, students could compare and contrast a game’s mythology to mythologies found in Chinese, Greek, and/or Norse cultures. This could lead students to explore the mythologies of other games and/or cultures while also acting as a catalyst to create new or extend existing mythological storylines.
Embracing digital literacy embedded in popular culture is one way to motivate students in an academic setting. Respecting language experiences students engage with outside the academic setting provides educators a window into student lives. Making connections with students and the culture in which they identify can be a powerful bridge between teaching and learning. This bridge provides a way to honor student literacy experiences both inside and outside the academic setting.
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- Computer Hope (2020). Movie. Retrieved from https://www.computerhope.com/jargon/m/movie.htm
- Hall, M. A. (1970). Teaching reading as a language experience. Charles Merrill.
- Hartley, J. (1999). Uses of television. Routledge.
- Jamison, A. (2013). Fic: Why fanfiction is taking over the world. Smart Pop
- Li, J. (2020). A Systematic Review of Video Games for Second Language Acquisition. In Sullivan, P. M., Lantz, J. L., & Sullivan, B. A. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Integrating Digital Technology With Literacy Pedagogies (pp. 472-499). IGI Global.
- Nations, D. (2021). What is social media? Lifewire. Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-social-media-explaining-the-big-trend-3486616