Using Fan Fiction to Teach Critical Reading and Writing Skills

Article excerpt

"I'm working on my next unit with my pre-service teacher and we are thinking of doing creative writing with a twist. Do you have any suggestions?" asked Michele Hood a seventh grade language arts teacher, as we discussed the progression of the current research unit we were implementing. As the teacher-librarian, I immediately got excited!

I work closely with the teachers at my middle school, collaborating on many levels, and I enjoy adding popular culture to the curriculum where appropriate. I add music, movies, and reading material my students enjoy outside the school environment. For example when talking about Internet safety, I discuss Facebook and MySpace because students are familiar with these sites. When examining literary devices, I use the text of their favorite songs or books. Students are motivated by and connect with lessons that involve media they appreciate.

WHAT IS FAN FICTION?

The teacher's inquiry excited me and I looked forward to the opportunity to introduce a new concept from popular culture--fan fiction and participatory culture--to my colleagues and our students using a reading and writing unit.

Jenkins (2008) defines fan fiction as "original stories and novels which are set in the fictional universe of favorite television series, films, comics, games of other media properties" (para. 1). Fan fiction generally involves writing stories with a combination of established characters and established "worlds" or settings with established histories of how the character normally interacts in its usual world or setting (Granick, n.d). Fan fiction authors generally take one or a combination of these elements and write a story line that is different from what the original author produced. The fan fiction writer then posts his or her work on the Internet in specialized forums such as www.FanFiction.net.

Individuals who write fan fiction often change characters, introduce their favorite characters to characters from other works, or place their characters into new settings (Jenkins, 2008). Fan fiction writers' creations can be isolated stories or on-going bodies of work in which they post entire chapters at a time. Other people in the forum often give writers feedback, sometimes praise, and at other times constructive criticism. If the feedback is a critique, it is generally tempered with enthusiasm; hostile responses are discouraged {Black, 2005). Authors post notes orienting their work and usually give it a rating (K- general, K+ some innuendos, T-teen, or M- mature).

Through the online world of fan fiction, entire social communities are formed. This social community bridges age, race, gender, and educational status as the writers and fans work through a participatory culture to socially connect through their writing (Gee, 2004; Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robinson, & Weigel, 2006b).

FAN FICTION AS A PARTICIPATION CULTURE

I initially discovered fan fiction from reading Chandler-Olcott and Mahar's (2003) article "Adolescents' Anime-inspired 'Fanfictions': An Exploration of Multiliteracies." They followed two teenagers who wrote fan fiction outside of school. The teenagers in the study viewed fan fiction writing as a way to have fun, avoid boredom, and develop online friendships.

Fan fiction provides a participatory culture that fosters an excellent learning environment. Many writers develop a "following" of individuals who give constant feedback and look forward to future installments. Jenkins et al. (2006b) described a participatory culture as:

   A culture with relatively low barriers
   to artistic expression and civic engagement,
   strong support for creating
   and sharing one's creations, and
   some type of information mentorship
   whereby what is known by the
   most experienced is passed along to
   novices. A participatory culture is
   also one in which members believe
   their contributions matter, and feel
   some degree of social connection
   with one another (at least they care
   what other people think about what
   they have created. …