Using Popular Culture Texts and Multi-Modal Literacy to Teach Strategic Reading

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Using Popular Culture Texts and Multi-Modal Literacy to Teach Strategic Reading
published in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of English in Texas

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  • 1. POPULAR CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGYHonor MoormanUsing Popular Culture Texts and Multi-ModalLiteracy to Teach Strategic ReadingAs a teacher, I live for the "light bulb" moments - those I quickly realized, however, that the value of using popularmoments when the synapses firing in a students brain are music went far beyond that of a "hook" or "attention grabber."visible as a flash of recognition in his or her eyes. Hungry for Analyzing and discussing thematic connections between thethose moments, I also love the challenge of reaching, song lyrics and the literary works deepened the conversationstretching, searching for ways to explain things to students and brought new perspectives and insights to both texts.that will cause their "light bulbs" to turn on. Over time Ive Additionally, once I opened the classroom discourse todiscovered that I get the best results when I create an analogy nonprint media by introducing songs, students began to bringor choose an example that is relevant to students lives. in their own examples of music, TV shows, movies, and otherSo when I want to light up the classroom, I make connections pop culture texts that they felt related to the curriculum. Thus,- and invite students to make connections - to popular culture. I modeled and supported students in making text-to-text connections across diverse media and various types of texts. Incorporating Popular Culture Texts Another tried-and-true approach to using pop culture texts in the language arts classroom is to draw on them for student-Like many teachers, I initially used popular culture "as a hook friendly examples of poetic devices and other literaryor attention grabber in the classroom to draw students into techniques. For example, in "Feeling the Rhythm of thethe traditional elements of the English curriculum" (Callahan Critically Conscious Mind" AnJeanette Alexander-Smithand Low, 2004, p. 56). I began by inviting students to analyze (2004) describes using hip-hop music to introduce the conceptand discuss song lyrics in conjunction with the works of of tone, and other teachers have used television shows, such asliterature we were studying in our twelfth-grade English class. South Park, and movies, such as Shrek, to help studentsFor example, we listened to Dan Fogelbergs "Leader of the understand satire (Hunt & Hunt, 2004; Wright, 2002-2007).Band" (1981) with James Joyces A Portrait of the Artist as a Susan Carmichael outlines a lesson called "Stairway toYoung Man (1964), The Cures "Killing an Arab" (1980) with Heaven: Examining Metaphor in Popular Music" in whichAlbert Camus The Stranger (1942), and Talking Heads students find metaphors in popular music lyrics and then"Psycho Killer" (1977), with Fyodor Dostoevskys Crime and illustrate and explain them to their classmates (2002-2007).Punishment (1866). (For additional pairings of music and (Additional lesson plans of this nature are available on theliterature, visit the SIBL Library, a searchable database of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum website at"Songs Inspired by Literature" on the Artists for Literacy programs/plans.asp.)website, Inviting students to bring their own pop culture texts into the classroom is a way of "letting students know that what theyHonor Moorman is a National Board Certified teacher with eight think and know is important" (Shaw, 2004, p. 88). Givenyears of experience teaching ninth and twelfth-grade English at the adolescents lifelong engagements with television, movies,International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. She is music, the Internet, video games, and so on, secondarycurrently working as a secondary literacy specialist for the North East students experiences with pop culture texts far exceed theirIndependent School District, and she has presented workshops at experiences with traditional print texts, and they have muchnumerous venues including TCTELA and NCTE. Honor is also a more pop culture knowledge than they do other kinds ofteacher consultant with the San Antonio Writing Project, the newslettereditor for the San Antonio Area Council of Teachers of English, and knowledge. Therefore, by incorporating pop culture texts intothe associate editor for Voices from the Middle. She has published the curriculum, we can help them connect the new to thetwo articles in English Journal, "Teaching with Passion, Learning by known. Showing students how the reading, writing, andChoice" (March 2007) and "Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and thinking skills of the language arts curriculum translate acrossWriting Poetry about Visual Art" (September 2006). various media piques their interest, heightens their engagement, and deepens their learning. English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts 25
  • 2. Drawing on students home and community resources, which meaning, Harste, Woodward, and Burke (1984) call forinclude their knowledge of popular culture, is also an educators to abandon the "verbocentric" view of literacy andimportant aspect of a culturally relevant pedagogy. Bringing adopt a semiotic one (p. 168). From a semiotic perspective, allpopular culture into the classroom can help bridge the gap creative disciplines-art, writing, photography, filmmaking,between home and school literacies. Donna Alvermann and dance, drama, and so on-share a common underlying processShelley Xu (2003) advocate "using childrens popular culture in which a message is expressed, conveyed, and understoodinterests to teach reading and language arts concepts and through one or more sign systems-images, words, actions,skills" explaining that "because popular culture texts are part symbols, artifacts, and so forth.of students everyday literacies, they hold powerful andpersonal meanings for students" (pp. 148, 150). Connie Zitlow Harry Nodens Image Grammar (1999) offers a writing(2004) notes that the "familiar worlds of our students, pedagogy based on the similarities between the visual and theconstructed with both print and nonprint media, include many verbal arts in terms of the correlations between what artistselements that can be tools for learning and objects of extended and writers do to create meaning. The other side of thisinquiry" (p. 96). Likewise, Tonya Perry (2004) points out that analogy is the correlation between what viewers and readerspopular culture can be used to enhance students learning in do to make meaning from an image or print text. As Johnthe English classroom (p. 95). Golden (2001) asserts, "the skills [students] use to decode the visual image are the same skills they use for a written text" (p. xiii). Building on Visual Literacy Therefore, visual, multimedia, and pop culture texts can be used to scaffold students growth as readers of traditional print text. Jerome Evans (2004) suggests that "[a]rtifacts of popUsing pop culture texts in the classroom is an important way culture serve as advanced organizers for students, who canto integrate visual and multimedia texts into the curriculum. then connect new material . . . to their own experiences" andAlvermann and Xu (2003) assert that "[b]ecause many popular "[s]tudents can more readily practice critical-thinking skills. . .culture texts make use of multimedia, they can be helpful in with familiar material, and they will be better equipped toextending school literacy teaching and learning beyond tackle literature new to them and discover ideas they havetraditional print-based materials" (p. 152). Matt Copeland and never thought of before" (pp. 33, 37).Chris Goering (2003) emphasize that it is important to includenew forms of literacy in the classroom in order to "betterprepare students for the skills life demands" (p. 441). In Reading in the Dark, Golden (2001) advocates using filmCertainly, the increasingly visual nature of our culture clips to "practice the reading and analytical skills that we wantdemands that we incorporate visual, media, and multimodal our students to have and then turn to the written text" (p. xiv;literacy into the language arts curriculum. italics in original). Golden (2001) explains:In 1996, NCTE offered the following rationale for the addition Its visual nature often makes film more accessible thanof "viewing" and "visually representing" to the English print for students. When film and literature are usedLanguage Arts standards: together in the classroom, student can transfer techniques they use as active viewers (which often come more naturally) to their experiences with literature. This enhances their skills To participate in a global society, we continue to extend as active readers and enables them to respond to a variety our ways of communicating. Viewing and visually of media with more depth (p. xiii). representing . . . are a part of our growing consciousness of how people gather and share information. Teachers and students need to expand their appreciation of the power of Golden recommends using film clips to teach predicting, print and nonprint texts. Teachers should guide students responding to text, and questioning the text, as well as in constructing meaning through creating and viewing analyzing character, setting, point of view, symbolism, and nonprint texts (NCTE Board of Directors). irony. Using this approach with his students, Golden (2001) observed that "the watching and analyzing of movies seemed to greatly affect their ability to read and critique literature" (p.xiv).Similarly, in "The Third Eye," Ali Eken (2002) argues thatgiven the pervasiveness of various kinds of media-includingfilm, television, and music-and the need for students to be able Scaffolding Reading Comprehensionto interpret and decode them, educators should reconsider theirdefinitions of literacy to include nontraditional forms of Another way of capitalizing on students pop culture interests"reading" (p. 221). And Elliot Eisner (2003) concurs, stating and visual literacy skills that I have found effective is the usethat literacy "can be thought of, not as limited to what the of visual and multimedia texts to scaffold instruction intongue can articulate, but what the mind can grasp" (p. 342). reading comprehension. Working with adolescent readers,Observing how children use multimodal literacies to make I have consistently observed that drawing analogies between 26 English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts
  • 3. the reading strategies proficient readers use and the viewing Establishing a Purpose/Selecting a Textstrategies viewers use boosts students confidence and buildstheir competence as strategic readers. This pairing of popular In order to establish or identify a purpose for reading, we mustculture with more traditional literacy instruction provides a make an appropriate match between the type of text we will be"meeting place where students and teachers can share their reading and what we need or want to get out of it. Proficientexpertise" (Callahan & Low, 2004, p. 52). readers do this quite instinctively and subconsciously, picking up or abandoning a text for a variety of complex motives basedBest practice in the teaching of reading includes explicit on sophisticated analysis of each reading situation. A usefulinstruction in the use of metacognitive comprehension pop culture analogy for this reading behavior is surfing thestrategies. In order to make the invisible processes of reading Internet or channel surfing while watching TV. Take channeland thinking while reading visible for students, we must not surfing for example. Most people make split-second decisionsonly model "what good readers do" when we read, we must about whether or not to stop and watch each program as italso articulate and explain the strategies we are using to make flashes by on the screen. These decisions are at least partlythe text make sense. And because teaching reading based on the viewers judgments about the genre of eachcomprehension involves making something invisible visible, television show and whether or not that genre fits the viewerswe naturally tend to use visual aids, such as graphic organizers, mood, needs, or purposes at that well as metaphors and analogies, to help studentsunderstand the abstract concepts involved in the reading To facilitate students thinking about how selecting a text isprocess in a concrete way. To help students become more similar to the channel surfing they do naturally at home, havestrategic readers, Ellin Keene (2006) advocates guiding them them participate in the following activity. First, give studentsto "scrutinize their own reading process," to think about what about three minutes to brainstorm as many different televisionthey do when they read. Students can also gain insights into shows as they can. Have students write the title of each showthe meaning-making process by scrutinizing their viewing on a different sticky note or small slip of paper. Encouragestrategies, thinking about what they do when they view and them to think of as many different kinds of shows as possible.make sense of images and multimedia texts. Next, have students work in small groups to sort and classify their television shows by genre. Have students create a three-By first introducing a comprehension strategy using a visual column chart with the following column headings: TV genres,media, we can encourage students to think critically about their examples, reasons for watching (see Table 2). Students discussviewing strategies, and then build on their strengths and why people choose to watch each type of TV show as they fillexperiences as viewers to help them transfer those strategies in their charts with the genres and examples they haveto print texts. In addition to creating an anchor chart listing the brainstormed. Guide students to move beyond the generic "tostrategies good readers use, a second column can be added be informed" or "to be entertained" descriptions of purpose, tolisting the analogous viewing strategies we use when "reading" express more specific reasons a viewer might choose to tunepop culture texts (see Table 1). The idea is to start with the into each type of show. Also, encourage them to think ofstrengths and skills students bring to the classroom-from their multiple purposes for watching each genre.experiences "reading" television, movies, the Internet, comicbooks, and so on-to deepen their understanding of the literate After students have completed their charts in small groups,practices good readers use through analogies to the visual literacy invite them to share some of their thinking with the wholepractices the students are familiar with, and to help them transfer class. Introduce the topic of channel surfing into thethis metacognitive awareness to their reading of written texts. discussion. Ask students to consider the following questions: Channel surfing while Establishing a purpose • How do you decide whether to stop and watch something or watching TV keep flipping the channels? (Encourage students to move beyond superficial responses and think more deeply about Previewing the text Watching a movie preview their own motives and decision-making process.) Following hyperlinks on the • How are you able to determine what kind of show it is so Making connections internet quickly? (This relates to previewing the text and accessing background knowledge about the show in particular or the Visualizing and making Reading comic books/ conventions of that genre in general.) inferences graphic novels • Based on a given purpose (give examples), what kind of TVTable 1. Analogous reading comprehension strategies and pop culture show would you choose?viewing strategies English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts 27
  • 4. TV Genres Examples Reasons for Watching Scrubs, Friends, That 70s Show, Saturday Night Live, Comedy Entertainment: to laugh and relax; to forget your worries Seinfeld Greys Anatomy, The Gilmore Girls, The Sopranos, Law Entertainment: to see what happens next; to get caught up Drama and Order, Smallville, One Tree Hill, House, Heroes, CSI, in the story; to find out whats happening in the life of Desperate House Wives, 24 your favorite character Dateline, 60 Minutes, Today, Anderson Cooper 360, Good Information: to keep up with the latest news, trends, News Morning America, Sports-Center, Entertainment Tonight human interest stories, sports reports, and celebrity gossip The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Sponge Bob Entertainment: for fun; to relax; also for the satirical Cartoons Square Pants, Aqua Teen Hunger Force humor and commentary on society Deal or No Deal, 1 vs. 100, Jeopardy, Are You Smarter Entertainment: for excitement; to see if the contestant will Game Shows Than a 5th Grader? win; to play along Cribs, The Bachelor, Survivor, MTV Real World, My Super Entertainment: to see how your favorite contestant is Reality TV Sweet Sixteen, American Idol, Project Runway, Bounty doing; to keep up with the latest drama; to see how other Hunter, What Not to Wear people live The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, Dr. Phil, Live with Information & Entertainment: to learn about a subject that Talk Shows Regis and Kelly, Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Show interests you; to see how movie stars will respond to inter- with David Letterman view questionsTable 2. Purposes for watching various kinds of television shows• How would your purpose for watching affect how you previewing a written text (see Table 3). Have students previewwatched that show? (Think of several people all choosing the a selection in their literature and/or content area textbooksame show, but each for a different reason.) while completing this step of the activity.Finally, relate the conversation back to the reading of print Referring back to the similarities evident on the T-chart,text. Ask students to reflect on how their approach to a given facilitate a class discussion about how previewing a writtenreading situation affects their reading. text, whether fiction or nonfiction, can improve our understanding and/or enjoyment of it in some of the same ways watching a movie preview can. Encourage students toPreviewing the Text comment on how their reading experiences, as well as movie- watching experiences, have been affected by previewing orAs part of a class discussion about the goals and benefits of not previewing the text first. Using examples of moviespreviewing a text, a natural connection to popular culture is students have seen, extend the discussion the ways in whichthe movie preview. Ask students whether they would be movie previews can sometimes lead us to have expectationswilling to pay to see a movie without knowing anything about that are not fulfilled when we watch the entire movie. Forit. Most will say, "no." The purpose of this lesson is to example, a few years ago I selected The Family Stone as a filmconvince them that there are similar reasons to previewing a to watch with two female friends, thinking it would be awritten text. To establish a common point of reference, start romantic comedy we would all enjoy. An hour and a half later,by showing a movie preview to the class (available from as I wiped the tears from my face, I realized that I was notwebsites such as This activity works best if the only saddened by the tragic events happening on the screen, Ipreview is for a movie the students have not seen. Ask students was also shocked and disappointed by the difference betweento "think-ink-pair-share" what they have learned about the my expectations based on the preview and the actual based on the preview. In other words, have students Ask students to comment on why this happens and how thisconsider the question individually, record their thinking, share relates to previewing a written text. Be sure to have studentstheir ideas in pairs, and finally discuss their responses as a consider how a movie preview is carefully constructed as awhole class. Answers will likely include information such as marketing ploy, as well as how editors and authors select thethe title, actors, genre, and so on. List these on the left side of text features such as headings, bold-faced words, anda T-chart and invite students to fill in the right side of the illustrations that our eyes are drawn to when we preview aT-chart with the analogous information to be learned from written text. 28 English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts
  • 5. original article they read. This helps students articulate the Watching a Movie Preview Previewing a Written Text various kinds of connections they might make while reading a traditional print text and analyze the various effects those connections can have on their comprehension. Point out that the connections available to us on the Internet are limited to Title Title the hyperlinks provided by the webpage author(s). On the other hand, when we read a print text and make our own connections, those connections are limited only by the range Actors/director Author of our own background knowledge and prior experiences. For the second part of the activity, provide students with a Genre Genre short print text to read. Instruct students to insert their own "hyperlinks" when they come across a word or phrase that prompts them to make a connection. This can be done Setting Setting electronically using the "Insert Hyperlink" feature in Word or with paper and pencil simply by annotating to indicate imaginary hyperlinks. Have students compare the different Characters (fiction), people kinds of connections they made, as well as the different words Characters and phrases that prompted those connections in order to raise (nonfiction) their metacognitive awareness of how making connections contributes to individual differences in comprehension and Premise (fiction), subject Plot premise interpretation. matter (nonfiction) Selected scenes-highlighted Selected scenes - illustra- Visualizing and Making Inferences moments tions, etc. Students often have trouble conceptualizing and enacting the strategies of visualizing and making inferences. The pop A few key lines of dialogue Headings, pull quotes, etc. culture connection I recommend for teaching these strategies involves the use of comic books or graphic novels. First, model for students how to read and think aloud while makingTable 3. T-chart with "information to be learned from . . ." meaning from a page of a comic book or graphic novel. Explain to students that the white space between frames isMaking Connections called the gutter, and emphasize what you are visualizing and inferring to fill in the gaps. Then have students read with a partner, taking turns thinking aloud as they visualize and inferTo help students think about the thinking involved in making to create a movie in their mind. As an extension, students canconnections while they read, the Internet provides a useful draw or write descriptions of what they visualize and infer ismetaphor. Making connections while we read a traditional happening in between frames. Debrief the exercise in a wholeprint text is somewhat like to following hyperlinks when we class discussion and continue to reinforce students use ofread on the Internet. Guiding students to explore this idea visualizing and making inferences in future reading situations.further begins with acquiring Internet access for students inthe class. If there are not enough computers for each student tohave one, this activity can also be done in pairs. Have students Helping Students Develop Multi-Modal Literacychoose a news article or other nonfiction article from a typicalmulti-purpose website such as Yahoo! or MSN, and warn them Using pop culture texts in reading comprehension instructionthat they will need to surf the web much more slowly than raises student engagement, builds on their expertise with visualusual because they will be recording each step along the way. media, and empowers students to be more strategic readers ofInstruct students to create a three-column chart where they can all texts - written, visual, and multimedia. Ideally, when poprecord each hyperlink they choose to follow, why they are culture texts and visual/multimedia are included in thechoosing to click on that link, and information about the language arts classroom, students interests, experiences, andwebpage it takes them to next. literacies are validated and valued. This practice has the potential to decenter the traditional authority of the teacherIn a whole-class debrief of this activity, ask students to reflect and the literary canon, making the learning environment moreon how making connections by following various hyperlinks student-centered and the curriculum more culturally relevant.did or did not enhance or enrich their understanding of the However, teachers must be mindful of how the various texts English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts 29
  • 6. are positioned in the curriculum. If pop culture texts are only Dostoevsky, F. (1981). Crime and punishment (C. Gardner,ever used to introduce a concept before moving on to the "real" Trans.). New York: Bantam. (Original work publishedliterature, the desired impact on student engagement and 1866). Eisner, E. W. (2003). The arts and the creationempowerment will be less likely. When integrating pop culture of mind. Language Arts, 80(5), 340-344.texts, they should be aesthetically appreciated and critically Eken, A. N. (2002). The third eye. Journal of Adolescent andanalyzed alongside the more traditional texts with equal Adult Literacy, 46(3), 220-229.respect and attention. Evans, J. (2004). From Sheryl Crow to Homer Simpson: Literature and composition through pop culture. English Journal,Linda Adler-Kassner (1998-2007) defines multi-modal literacy 93(3), "metacognitive strategies for developing literacy practicesthat can be carried across multiple sites/texts/media, rather Fogelberg, D. (1990). Leader of the band. On The innocent agethan a set of practices tied to specific sites". The lessons [CD]. United States: Sony. (1981).described above address multi-modal literacy by 1) facilitating Golden, J. (2001). Reading in the dark: Using film as a tool instudents critical thinking about their "reading" of pop culture the English classroom. Urbana, IL: National Councilmedia, 2) helping students articulate the meaning-making of Teachers of English.process and develop greater confidence in their own meaning-making abilities, 3) giving students a vocabulary for the Harste, J. C., Woodward, V. A., & Burke, C. L. (1984). Languagethinking strategies they already use when "reading" television stories and literacy lessons. Portsmouth, NH:shows, movies, the Internet, comic books, and so on, Heinemann.4) drawing analogies between viewing strategies and reading Hunt, T. J., & Hunt, B. (2004). Popular culture: Buildingcomprehensions strategies, 5) giving students insights into the connections with our students. English Journal, 93(3), 80-83.reading process and effective use of comprehension strategies,and 6) supporting the transfer of students metacognitive Joyce, J. (1993). A portrait of the artist as a young man. Newstrategies from visual to print texts. As a result, students find York: Penguin. (Original work published 1964).these lessons engaging, enjoyable, and enlightening. Keene, E. O. (2006, June 1-2). Whats essential: Comprehension instruction for all literacy learners. Presented atReferences Comprehension and the Development of Thought: Teaching Literacy Well in an Era of Growing Demands,Adler-Kassner, L. (1998-2007). Multi-modal literacy. NCTE: Heinemann Professional Development Institute, Barton Multi-Modal Literacy Key Terms. Retrieved May 31, Creek Resort, Austin, TX. 2007 from about/122819.htm. NCTE Board of Directors. (1996). Resolution on viewing and visually representing as forms of literacy. NCTE PositionAlexander-Smith, A. C. (2004). Feeling the rhythm of the critically Statement. Retrieved May 31, 2007, conscious mind. English Journal, 93(3), 58-63. about/over/positions/category/literacy/107573.htm.Alvermann, D. E., & Xu, S. H. (2003). Childrens everyday Noden, H. R. (1999). Image grammar: Using grammatical literacies: Intersection of popular culture and language structures to teach writing. Portsmouth, NH: arts instruction. Language Arts, 81(2), 145-154. Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.Callahan, M., & Low, B. E. (2004). At the crossroads of expertise: Perry, T. (2004). Taking time: Its all good. English Journal, 93(3), The risky business of teaching popular culture. English 92-95. Journal, 93(3), 52-57. Shaw, M. (2004). Bulletin from the outside. English Journal, 93(3),Camus, A. (1988). The stranger (M. Ward, Trans.). New York: 88-91. Vintage. (Original work published 1942). Talking Heads. (1990). Psycho killer. On Talking heads: 77 [CD].Carmichael, S. (2002-2007). Stairway to heaven: Examining United States: Warner Brothers. (1977). metaphor in popular music. Read Write Think. Retrieved May 31, 2007, from Wright, J. (2002-2007). Exploring satire with Shrek. Read Write lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=975. Think. Retrieved May 31, 2007, from, M., & Goering, C. (2003). Blues you can use: Teaching the Faust theme through music, literature, and film. Zitlow, C. S. (2004). Professional links: The worlds of our Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 46(5), 436-441. students. English Journal, 93(3), 96-100.The Cure. (1990). Killing an Arab. On Boys dont cry [CD]. New York: Elektra. (1980). 30 English in Texas | Volume 37.1 | Spring/Summer 2007 | A Journal of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts