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Engaging New Ideas in Education with Kim Lenters and Catherine Burwell

Science fiction, fantasy and potty humour as teaching tools….why not?

One is a brooding, dark, impossibly attractive teenager with surprisingly pointy canine teeth and a thirst for blood; the other, a beleaguered principal clad in skivvies, doomed to a life of heroic exploits through the machinations of his overly-imaginative students. While these two don't seem to have much in common, Edward Cullen and Captain Underpants share the common bond of being two of the most popular characters in young people's fiction today.

Neither is currently part of the regular classroom curriculum, but Catherine Burwell and Kim Lenters think that the way young people are engaging with these cultural phenomenon may be significant for literacy instruction.

"Young people build community through their use of popular culture and digital media. These communities are powerful places of learning that educators should recognize and learn from," says Burwell, an assistant professor in the Werklund School of Education.

In 2009, the American Library Association reported that, in their Top Ten List of the Most Frequently Challenged Books, the Twilight series placed fifth by school boards across the United States; in 2002, the Captain Underpants series landed in the number six spot. But Burwell and Lenters argue that banning popular culture from the classroom—including books like the Twilight series and Captain Underpants, as well as digital practices such as remix and gaming -- is a mistake.

Lenters, also an assistant professor in the Werklund School of Education, asks "How might we, as educators, balance the tension between the kinds of creative enterprise young people are engaged in at home and the constraints a school context imposes?"

In their presentation on February 8, "Vampires and Villains: Addressing the place of young people's out-of-school literacies in the classroom", Lenters and Burwell explored a range of young people's out-of-school literacy practices -- including digital remix, social networking, fan fiction and role play – and how they connect to literacy instruction. They examined how young people gain valuable knowledge and skills through their recreational activities, and argued that schools should address such literacy practices in order to create more equitable classrooms. "Young people's digital practices offer opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge valued in the modern workplace, and may lead them toward a more empowered notion of citizenship," says Burwell.

View Powerpoint Presentation (PDF)

Dr. Tom Strong

Introduction by Associate Dean, Research Tom Strong.

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Kim Lenters and Catherine Burwell

Kim Lenters and Catherine Burwell address the place of young people's out-of-school literacies in the classroom.

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