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The British Are Coming

Margaret Hagood, teacher education and literacy professor

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Margaret Hagood Argues for Pop Culture’s Place in the Classroom

They may collectively be called bookbags, but grade-school students seem to specialize in stuffing their satchels, backpacks and purses with everything but books. If something has the potential to provide entertainment or distraction, chances are a student will try and smuggle it into school. Teacher education and literacy professor Margaret Hagood ’92 welcomes such potentially disruptive items with open arms.

Hagood and two former colleagues recently published Bring It to Class: Unpacking Pop Culture in Literacy Learning (Grades 4 Through 12), a book that advises teachers to embrace the assorted media and objects students tote to school, sending the signal to students that educators recognize the importance of such media in their lives. To tell children that the pop culture they enjoy should be a strictly extracurricular pursuit, Hagood says, is to effectively tell them their interests are superfluous. This attitude, she adds, also ignores the potential of different pop media to improve assorted literacies necessary for childhood development. In other words, the textbook is not enough these days, and students can benefit from educational value provided by television shows, movies, video games, trading cards, comic books, music and more.

“What we value, we bring into school,” explains Hagood. “When we forbid pop culture, we’re saying you can’t bring yourself in here.”

Sometimes, pop culture is merely used as a hook to delve into traditional material and fundamentals. However, Hagood and her co-authors of Bring It to Class, Donna E. Alvermann and Alison Huron-Hruby, believe that this approach does little to acknowledge the literacies found in pop-culture texts. Instead, these authors present teaching approaches in the text where pop culture and traditional literacies are coupled, each adding to the overall student learning.

For example, Hagood mentions how one teacher asked students to imagine how Paul Revere might have benefited from the technology of text messaging. Similarly, one of Hagood’s College of Charleston students devised a lesson plan about barter economies, the capitalist system and an awareness of marketing that is based on Silly Bandz – the popular, stretchy silicon bracelets worn and traded by children. Such techniques, Hagood says, validates students’ perspectives while achieving traditional educational goals and addressing literacies relevant to 21st-century learning. These techniques also soften the arbitrary lines drawn between school and home life– boundaries that some students and teachers have trouble navigating.

“It’s not the silver bullet,” Hagood says of pop-culture–related lesson plans, “but it helps bring things alive.”