Classroom Practice - Do You Need to Get Down with the Kids?: Pedagogy

By Evans, Darren | Times Educational Supplement, May 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Classroom Practice - Do You Need to Get Down with the Kids?: Pedagogy


Evans, Darren, Times Educational Supplement


From hip hop to the Hunger Games, students' cultural interests can be used to boost engagement in lessons - just don't take it too far.

Are you a Belieber? Do you keep up with the Kardashians, know how to dance "Gangnam Style" or how to play the Hunger Games? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, it's likely that you already have a good grasp of popular culture. But if you had no idea what any of it meant, does that mean you are any less of a teacher?

In a 2004 paper published in The English Journal entitled "At the crossroads of expertise: the risky business of teaching popular culture", American professors Meg Callahan and Bronwen Low acknowledge that popular culture is often used as a "hook" or "attention grabber" to draw students into more traditional elements of the curriculum, a "fun way to begin before moving on to more serious fare". This would suggest that an intimate knowledge of students' cultural interests is desirable but not essential.

Callahan and Low go further, though, arguing that incorporating forms of popular culture into the classroom provides a "meeting place" where students and teachers can share their expertise, a "site where the intersection of student and teacher expertise results in genuine dialogue".

This proposition of popular culture as learning interchange has plenty of support. Many argue that knowledge of what students are watching, listening to and playing with is a key tool in helping those students to learn.

Tony Eaude, an honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford's department of education, is one advocate of this approach. He says that teachers should build long-term relationships with children and show an interest in their lives outside school. Part of that interest should be finding out what makes them tick, he argues, and that means a knowledge of and appreciation for popular culture.

"Teachers should understand and make use of those interests and apply them to the classroom," he says. "It can help to build the sort of relationship that encourages children's learning because the teacher is interested in the same sort of things."

There are a number of ways of putting this theory into practice. Low worked with an English teacher at an arts school in the US who adopted the hip-hop culture that interested his students in order to teach a number of subjects. He used CDs and videos of rap music and slam poetry in his lessons. This led to class discussions about the use of language and offensive terms in rap and youth culture. He also had students do frequent free-writing exercises after watching spoken-word performances. …

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