Teachers' Full Knowledge of Students' Popular Culture and the Integration of Aspects of That Culture in Literacy Instruction

By Xu, Shelley Hong | Education, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Teachers' Full Knowledge of Students' Popular Culture and the Integration of Aspects of That Culture in Literacy Instruction


Xu, Shelley Hong, Education


As we have entered the 21st century with massive presence of popular culture, we have continually advanced our understandings of literacy and of preparing all students to become literate. In the last decade of the 20th century, one line of research has reexamined the notions of literacy and of students' outside school literacy experiences within the context of popular culture (Alvermann & Hagood, 2000; Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Brooks, 1998; Buckingham, 1993; Finder, 1996, 1997: Worthy, 1998). Popular culture may include, but not be limited to, popular music, books and magazines, movies, TV shows, Internet, computer/video games, audio recordings, and commercial advertising. Popular culture seems to play an increasingly permeating role in the lives and worlds of adults, adolescents, and young children (Brooks, 1998; Buckingham, 1993, 1998; Dyson, 1994, 1997, 1998: Steinberg & Kincheloe, 1997). "Pop culture is here to stay, and even though most of us bemoan the negative effect it has on our students" (Brooks, 1998, p. 21). This article describes a qualitative study in which I explored preservice and inservice teachers' knowledge of student popular culture and their efforts to integrate student popular culture into literacy instruction.

Theoretical Framework

Research on student popular culture and its relationship to literacy practices (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Brooks, 1998; Buckingham, 1993; Dyson, 1994, 1997; Finder, 1996, 1997, Mahiri, 1998; Worthy, 1998) has suggested that students demonstrate a broad spectrum of literacy skills through interactions with popular culture. For example, students need to know "story grammars" and have abilities to "infer character traits" while watching television (Buckingham, 1993) or while reading comic books and cartoons (Mahiri, 1998). Likewise, students need to be able to comprehend the lyrics in order for them to appreciate songs (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999). The central theme of this line of research has extended and expanded the notion of literacy. That is, a literate person is capable of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and evaluating print and non-print texts (Gee, 1992, 1996; Luke & Freebody, 1997; Moje, Dillion, & O'Brien, 2000).

The research on student popular culture has also investigated teachers' views of student popular culture and their efforts to value and integrate student popular culture in school curriculum. In general, teachers often shy away from student popular culture and feel that they have a moral responsibility of keeping popular culture out of the official school world (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Brooke, 1998; Dyson, 1997; Finders, 1997). Teachers' view of student popular culture reflected their beliefs in "schooled literacy" (O'Brien, 1998) that focused on "book culture" (Luke, 2000). Consequently, teachers fail to acknowledge literacy skills (i.e., speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing, and evaluating) that students demonstrated while experiencing popular culture. A few studies, however, have documented teachers' efforts to build school literacy instruction on student popular culture. Dyson (1997) reported how one teacher supported student popular culture by allowing her 2nd and 3rd grade students to write about and act out their superheroes. In this community of learners, their performance of written texts reflected students' unique experiences with popular culture in rap music, movies, and comic books. In a middle school setting, Alvermann, Moon, and Hagood (1999) invited the students to critically view and interpret the visual images on the CD cover of a popular singer. The students learned to discover hidden and deep messages conveyed by the visual images.

There seems to be a growing body of research on the role of student popular culture. Little research attention, however, has paid to preparing preservice and inservice teachers to integrate student popular culture into literacy instruction.

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