Bringing Pop Culture into the Classroom

Each day as students walk through the doors of school they bring with them influences from home literacies. Children from ages 8-18 spend around 7.5 hours a day exposed to media, according to a report from Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010 (Schulten, 2010 Undoubtedly, the significant amount of time exposed to media infiltrates into classrooms everywhere. In middle schools and high schools, teachers overhear comments about last night’s television shows, constantly shout over the headphones, and witness the latest attempts to copy celebrity trends. Even in the younger years, popular culture influences the identities of children. Who has the Spiderman lunch bag? Can you sing all the words to Frozen? A Transformers t-shirt? Think about your own lives as adults. How much of it is spent watching your favorite show or surfing through a celebrity’s twitter?

Should media exposure at home and school be separated and feel like two different ‘worlds’? Many schools look at media as a negative influence on students so they it from classrooms like: music, magazines and clothing.

“Formalized educational spaces such as schools remain largely tethered to archaic notions of teaching, learning and inquiry. When new media and technologies are integrated into curricula, they are integrated within existing pedagogical frames that maintain uneven dynamics of power and authority” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 5)

How can we as teachers help connect home and school for students? What are ways that we can utilize media influence as a teaching tool? Media literacy is the “ability to access, interpret, communicate, and create print, video, audio, and digital media texts” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 3). Teachers can encourage media literacy skills by creating connections between media and students while building bridges across complex texts. The use of media is most often used in literacy classrooms to “facilitate traditional” learning outcomes, which according to research, is an effective way to engage students! Yet with high emphasis on student outcomes and testing, less focus is spent on the relationships between media and students. What are some ways that you incorporate popular culture into your own classrooms while still working toward standards?

Jesse Gainer (2010) states that, “…critical engagements with multiple media sources are essential for the preparation of participatory global citizenship” (p. 364). In order to be successful in today’s society, kids need exposure to the skills acquired by analyzing the media and the world around them. Media can be used to enhance teaching, but it can also be used in the classroom to prepare young adults for their futures and careers.

How can we encourage students to be media literate? When kids start to recognize that the media and literacy overlap, then they can begin to really analyze and reflect on the world around them. If they can see that concepts from everyday life translate into their interests and school, we are helping to build aware thinkers. For example, this video shows how the media and literacy are connecting by teaching literary devices through popular culture:Literacy Devices in Pop Culture

Check out the Twitter ‘feed’ below used in a classroom to synthesize positive thoughts about students’ day from the blog “What’s new in room 202?”


Here is a link of a song a teacher about the history of Galileo to the rhythm of the song Dynamite by Tao Cruz. This teacher took a popular song and turned it into a creative and interactive learning experience for students. Would you rather read about Galileo or learn a fun song about him? While students probably won’t memorize the song they are definitely more likely to focus on the topic and become more engaged! Galileo Song

Would you feel comfortable allowing students to write about video games or films? What about analyzing popular song lyrics? What do you think the reactions of your students might be if you incorporated pop culture into your classroom?

Here is a useful resource that allows kids to interact with the media, but also study its influences. Read Write Think offers a lesson plan analyzing the social perceptions created by the media: Read Write Think

Scholastic Pop Culture Reference also gives great examples of ways to engage students by incorporating pop culture into your classroom!

Happy Planning!  



Critical Literacies & Social Justice in Education

“Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge.”- Freirethink-outside-the-box.jpg

Promoting critical literacies allows students to be active participants in the world.  Rather than passively accepting information students look critically, which empowers them and allows them to focus on the importance of equality and advocate for those with less power in our society.  They begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more critical lens. Critical literacies is the relationship between language, power, and social practices.  It gives students the ability to read text in an active, reflective manner to better understand power, inequality and injustice in relationships, and classes of people. Students begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more “critical” lens, thus promoting engagement, conversation, and a critical mindset to challenge power and societal issues. Can you see elementary students using a critical lens to read and explore social issues? Middle schoolers? High schoolers?  And if so, how could a teacher take this to the next level of action, which is social justice in motion?

Encouraging critical thinkers and promoters of social justice can make a change in our world.  We can give them the tools to question issues and see life through multiple perspectives.  We do extremely important work.

In the article Out of the Box: Critical Literacy in a First-Grade Classroom, Kim Huber wasn’t sure how changing the context of her books during story time would actually affect her class, but she came to realize that story time did not have to be about “happy” books, and basic story elements, but it could focus on equality and social justice.This article could fit into the book black ants and buddhists by Mary Cowhey.  She wrote an entire book about thinking critically and teaching differently in the primary grades. The entire book focuses on teaching kids to use their critical lens and then to set their thinking into action.  She guides her students into looking at equality and power. This is a great book to read to see social justice and critical literacies in action in an elementary school.  Kim Huber came to realize that her students had a lot to say about issues that were inequitable and unfair.  She also discovered that her students made stronger connections to  the topics of social justice than to the “happy” books.  We as teachers have the ability to engage students in thoughtful conversation about different topics.  Do you ever think out of the box?  “It is in settings like Kim Huber’s first-grade classroom that children expand their understandings of the purposes of literacy and begin to see how literacy relates to their interactions with others.” (Lehand,Harste, Huber 2005. p.258) The learning, responding and interaction between her students even changed.  “…she did not expect to find that the children would start treating each other with more compassion and understanding.  She was also surprised to find that they put considerably more effort into their written and artistic responses, took on multiple perspectives, and made lots of intertextual connections when they were reacting to these books.” (Lehand, Harste, Huber 2006. p.258)

Still can’t understand Critical Literacies? Watch this Prezi about Critical Literacies.

Thank you Stephanie Jones for helping us to understand critical literacy and its possibilities in our classrooms through a character that has been written about time and time again as someone who purposefully went around blowing down poor innocent pigs houses!  As he has now spoken up we are able to see the injustice and unfair treatment of Mr. Wolf.  He was framed!!  “History, culture, and social relations are much too messy to be neatly framed, much too alive to be frozen in representation.  At least some of this messiness can be accounted for and analyzed within the layers and tenets of critical literacy.” (Jones 2006 p. 73) Jones goes on to say “The three tenets and layers of critical literacy that I offer here are inextricable intertwined and offer tools necessary to move beyond the superficial and surface level of texts of all kinds.(Jones 2006. p. 73)  She goes on to say that “Their relationship to one another make thinking about critical literacy fascinating, intriguing, and empowering while at the same time their interconnectedness may challenge those of us trying to decide what to do with our students on Monday morning.” (Jones 2006. p. 74)


When she brought in Mr. Wolf, the tenets and layers did not seem so unreachable.  After clear definitions, she gave us questions and ways to bring each tenant and each layer into our own classroom.  Jones writes, “The metaphor of being “framed” is useful in thinking about critical literacy, the three tenets (Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Social Action) and the three layers (Perspective, Positioning, and Power).”  (Jones, p. 71)  We need to teach students how to closely read a text and look at media and modes from multiple perspectives.  Using Mr. Wolf as an example, Jones explains the tenets of critical literacy, “Mr. Wolf reconstructed a mainstream story to place his perspective at the center of attention.  For him to make the decision that a reconstruction needed to take place however, he must have engaged in some level of deconstruction of the original story and realized that his perspective was not taken into consideration.  And finally, by releasing this new version of the “real story”, Mr. Wolf is engaging in social action.”  (Jones, p. 74)  Critical literacy right before our eyes.  We see a little perspective changes everything.  We think it would be an engaging activity to have the students rewrite for an antagonist of their choice in middle and high school and maybe use this same text in elementary school while answering some of the questions she presents as a starter.  Can you think of other books that have taken the antagonist and shown their side of the story? High schoolers and middle schoolers would have to critically read the story and look at events from a different perspective.

Like us, you may have read over Jones’ questions and suggestions and noticed a few that you have already implemented into your own lessons.   Her Classroom possibilities for Deconstruction of text start off simply by reading a book and asking questions about whose voices are important or unimportant, encouraging the reader to question and challenge the author’s perspective and use of power by locating disconnections or feelings of disconnection, questioning advertisements, to finally rereading a favorite book from a critical perspective. She  goes on to share classroom possibilities for deconstruction of identities. She feels this is important for students who have not experienced marginalization.  She then shares classroom possibilities for reconstruction, and social action.  Some of these are very difficult questions about identities and our position in the world.   Take another look at the different “Classroom Possibilities” sections, are there questions or activities that you could bring into your classroom?  With what you are working on right now?

Jones then writes about the layers of critical literacy.  She begins by saying “all texts are embedded with multiple meanings and one way to examine some of those meanings is to peel away the layers through the consideration of perspective, positioning, and power.” (Jones 2006. p.79) “Perspective refers to the creator of the text, the text itself, and the reader.” (Jones 2006. p.79)  Positioning allows the writer to place someone or something using the power of language and ideology.  Power is about negotiating.  “Power is never static, or stable, or still; it moves, shifts, and is used differently depending on the context in which people are relating and the people themselves.”(Jones 2006. p. 83)  She again gives us questions to help us analyze the text through perspective, positioning and power.  Did you think these questions were helpful?  Can these questions guide your readers?

Ending with a thought from Jones, “Thinking and acting through the tenets and layers of critical literacy is one way educators can begin to ask difficult questions about texts and what kinds of tools their students need to critically read their world.”  (Jones, p. 85)  We are not just giving them the questions to ask when they are reading a text, but also perspectives to consider as they move through and interact in the world.

How can we teach our students to really think critically about texts or issues when we now live in a world of snippets of information?  When they are outside the classroom, they find can find information quickly and easily.  Google it-we do it everyday.  One can usually get just enough information to move on.  Guilt comes of not knowing who wrote the information.  In High School Research and Critical Literacy: Social Studies With and Despite Wikipedia, Harouni takes us through his journey to expose Wikipedia and teach students better research practices and strategies.  Harouni’s curriculum centers around a classroom that fosters critical literacy-yet he witnessed students that were not questioning or engaging with their texts.  Observing their research, Harouni writes, “Missing, however, was a diversity of resources,personal investment in developing certain points beyond others, and distinctions between fact and opinion.”  (Harouni, p.475)  His students were simply gathering facts from Wikipedia and presenting facts for research.  There was no enthusiasm or text-to-self connections.  Instead of banning Wikipedia, he took the students through activities that exposed Wikipedia as a source that was not always credible.  This act became important to them.  This is their culture and a huge part of their lives.  A very important lesson in critical literacy- looking at the website and questioning it.

Our students should have classroom experiences that value diversity, challenge injustices and examines the right for everyone to reach their full potential in society.  Developing and implementing social justice strategies and lesson plans should be part of a school’s curriculum.   In, Developing Social Justice Educators, Duncan-Andrade shares Ms. Grant’s social justice philosophy,  “Racial, cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic status has no effect on students’ abilities to acquire knowledge.  Schools should provide students with the fundamental skills and ideas necessary to develop within the system while also preparing them to transform the system.”  (Duncan-Andrade, p.70)  Duncan-Andrade’s article shared the teaching philosophies “guiding their instructional practices, curriculum designs, and relationships with students, that made it clear that the strength of their teaching focus came from a focus on student-empowering social justice pedagogy.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.70) These teachers show us how social justice has a place in the classroom thus allowing students to feel empowered to make changes that affect them right now.  This type of teaching allows the students to be change agents in their own communities while also developing their literacy skills. What do you think of some of their practices and how could you implement social justice pedagogy in your own classroom?

We have an opportunity to help our students look at issues and injustices in their communities and the world.  They are our future and can begin to find ways to make their communities better.  It is tough to tackle some of these topics-but they are important to the children and important to our society. The children in these classrooms tackled issues of poverty, racism, violence and inequality because these were issues facing them.  What are some issues facing your own students? “The philosophies of social justice embraced by these educators go beyond the traditional narrative, which sees education as a vehicle to escape financially impoverished communities. These teachers view education as a vehicle to invest in that can improve conditions in urban areas.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.71) Do any of you work in urban areas i need of change?  Can you see your students as change agents in 4th and 5th grade?

Leland, Harste and Huber write, “while we might wish that children did not have to deal with issues like racism, poverty, and war, the fact of the matter is that many children are deeply concerned about these difficult issues when they walk into our classrooms.” (Leland, Harste, and Huber, p. 267).  What does social justice look like in your school?  Is there a need to work on more opportunities to bring social justice activities and lessons into the curriculum?

As teachers, we need to be the change so our students can be the change.  We need to think out of the box and use our curriculum in ways that not only teaches our students but allows our students to be their own change agents while they also develop  the literacy skills necessary for school success. We can do this!

“Lights, Camera, Engagement!”

” We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. ”
– Daniel Pink

The human imagination, a powerful tool, has given people across all cultures the ability to communicate ideas to others, whether through pictures, words, or both. These stories, which been passed down over generations through verbal communication, drawings, and books, are used for entertainment, teaching, and for passing down wisdom. Telling stories through cave drawings was an advanced writing idea for the cavemen in their time. Overtime, writing has advanced to telling stories through books, and now to telling stories through digital means. The ways in which we tell stories is bound to change eventually, right? How do you think our children will tell stories in a century or even just a decade? Thinking about how our technology will evolve from how advanced it is now is a concept that is unimaginable to me and does not even seem possible, yet I won’t be surprised if by the time my grandchildren are in school, technology and how stories are told will be so advanced and unimaginable, I will be like the woman in this video: illiterate grandma. In today’s modern world, we have found a way to tell stories both orally and visually through “digital storytelling”. Storytellers old and young, and students of all backgrounds, can communicate their stories through showing images and texts, and playing sound and video.

In Make Me a Story by Lisa Miller, Linda Rief writes in the foreword of the book that she is “not surprised when students forget to bring pens or pencils to class” (xi). Why? Because the word “writing” to students now does not mean pencil to paper, but rather fingers to keyboard. Should our current and future practices forget about traditional paper and pencil writing? What could be the benefits to both traditional writing and digital storytelling? Technology is the tool that allows students’ stories to come alive. They choose the words they want to say, images they want to show, voices they want the audience to hear, and the sounds they want the audience to feel in their emotions. Digital storytelling transforms students’ writing and it allows students to feel as though their ideas matter and are important to others. Why do you think (or do you believe) that students feel differently when they create their own digital story compared to a story they wrote with paper and pencil? How does (or does) digital storytelling give writers the confidence to share their story that paper and pencil writing cannot provide?

The video below called “Digital Storytelling in the Classroom” is about a middle school 8th grade US History teacher who describes how she uses in classroom. She describes her fears about technology and hesitation to allow digital storytelling in her classroom. I loved this video because it is from a teacher’s perspective and about US History (not a student favorite in my opinion) however the students were engaged in this subject through their digital stories. Do you have any thoughts about this specific video? Can you relate to this teacher?

“Digital Storytelling in Classroom”

Through digital storytelling, all types of learners can express their ideas about topics across the curriculum, such as on historical matters as 9/11, on science topics like polar bears, and literature ideas like how to express foreshadowing in a story. Before students can express their ideas through digital stories, students must have an understanding of how stories, such as narratives and science reports for example work. Miller states that “talking about books they’ve read will give students ideas about what they might write about and how, all the way through the writing process. We can all learn by imitating great writing” (14). Digital storytelling is a forum where students can express their ideas about writing and allow them to find their own writing style. How can a class of elementary aged students (k-5) create digital stories on their own on their computers? Is this too difficult of a concept for them to understand?

Below is a (cute) digital story from a kindergarten ESL class about information they gathered from a non-fiction book about polar bears. How amazing is it that kindergarten students who are just starting to write their names and a few other words are able to express their ideas with others, farther than just their class, through their voice and pictures?!  Digital storytelling allows these students to explore how storytelling works, how stories are made and created, and about the basic elements of stories. Technology allows students of all ages and backgrounds to voice or show their ideas to other populations. Now since this video is on the world wide web, people of all backgrounds and curiosities can view this video and learn something from it, whether about polar bears or about how kindergarten students can create a digital story.

Digital Story on Polar Bears!

The image below shows the correlation between 6+1 Writing Traits and the 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling from the website Do you think students should be taught about the traditional writing traits before they are taught about the traits of digital storytelling? Or do you think these elements/traits can be taught simultaneously? How do you go about teaching young writers/readers about these writing elements through digital storytelling?

Enabling children to tell their stories digitally can also be very appealing to the their audience. Very often, I find that children have a difficult time focusing in class during presentations (of any kind). But, by sharing digital stories, students have the opportunity to enter the life of the person telling the story. It is almost as if we were living within that moment. Through the use of pictures and songs, we are able to travel back to all these important moments in a person’s life. In the text Crafting an Agentive Self: Case Studies of Digital Storytelling by Glynda Hull and Mira Katz, delves into the lives of 24 year old Randy and 13 year old Dara. Randy identifies himself as a writer whereas, Dara views herself as a writer and a story teller. During this case study, we are able to see how Randy and Dara use digital storytelling as a tool to capture and share stories about pivotal moments in their lives (or events that happened in someone elses life).

 As teachers, we must all keep in mind that not all students all traditional writers. Some are better at sharing their stories through the use of technology. In the article, Hull and Katz both argue that their goal is to promote “how alternative spaces for learning can sometimes effectively support adolescents’ interests in literacy and foster their developing sense of agency (6). Digital storytelling should not be utilized to replace traditional writing, but it should be used to aid students have difficulty writing or lack interest. What are your thoughts on that idea?

 While reading this article, another thought that occurred to me was how these experiences could help Dara at school, given that this type of technology was made available to her through DUSTY’s. Dara was able to negotiate what she wrote about at DUSTY, but this might not be feasible at school. As teachers, how can we help children develop a passion to write about topics that don’t appeal to them? How can we develop a curriculum that fosters academic writing/ writing for pleasure through the use of digital storytelling.

 In coherence with the Hull and Katz’s article, I believe that Korina M. Jocson’s piece Situating the Personal in Digital Media Production was also intriguing. For some students, writing or even creating poetry can be a daunting task. For some, the flow of writing just doesn’t come natural. Therefore, producing work that is deemed to be “good” becomes a problem. But, what would happen if students were given the opportunity to write digital poetry? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful? Like sharing digital stories, I believe that the use of technology to write poetry would be a great idea. Students would be given the opportunity to give voice to their work. I believe that pictures and sound are appealing, but they also give voice and convey a message that sometimes cannot be depicted in a traditional writing piece. This is something that Jocson also emphasizes strongly in her article. Jocson also argues  “digital visual poetry as one type of digital media that leaves plenty of room not only for experimentation to produce texts but also for participants to imagine selves and create meanings toward personal and social transformation” (187).

 Digital poetry also gives students the opportunity to be creative! How often do we do we see creativity utilized in a classroom? Many teachers are now afraid( or don’t know how) to to be creative without taking away from the Common Core State Standards. But, what they are unaware of is that there are effective ways of integrating technology into the curriculum  without taking away from the Common Core Learning Standards  have called upon. Now that we have talked about digital storytelling and digital poetry,  can you think of any other ways to use technology to teach other subjects?

EXCELLENT RESOURCE TO LOOK AT: The website “Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling” is a great resource for teachers to look at and use as a resource to understand more about digital stories in the classroom, the 7 elements of DS (digital storytelling), 21st century skills, and examples of what digital stories might look like. It also provides teachers with information how to create storyboards, which is a written out explanation of what the video will include (direct quotes, pictures, music, what scene should be first, etc). Below is an image from the website of an example of storyboards, using index cards.

The topics of digital stories that are included on the website range from personal narratives, to mathematics, to pop-culture, and to single-image digital stories. What is so fascinating about the single-image digital stories is that “a single picture can say a thousand words”. One single picture along with a student’s voice can be just as effective as the audiences’ emotions than a story with numerous pictures. It is so fascinating that there are countless ways that students of all backgrounds and ages can express themselves through digital stories!

*Final thoughts: If you had to choose any topic to write about in your first digital story, what would it be? How would you want the audience to feel? What would you want the audience to look at or listen to? Who is your audience to begin with?!