Educators are encouraged to bring popular culture into the classroom in meaningful ways to engage students and build relationships. For many this means chatting with students about popular music, movies or TV shows; to others it means using popular culture to introduce lessons. While both of these efforts can awaken a student’s initial interest in listening to us, we need more to sustain active student learning.
School Librarians must have a keen sense of what appeals to our students in order to bring them into our facility. Here are 3 ways a School Librarian can bring pop culture into the Library:
- by integrating it into the library collection,
- by infusing it into library lessons and signage,
- by incorporating it into student projects.
INTEGRATE POP CULTURE INTO THE COLLECTION
To integrate is to bring together or incorporate parts into a whole, to combine into one unified system. We do this when we ‘mix, merge, and blend’ popular literature and non-fiction topics into the print and online reading collection. We librarians use print & online vendor catalogs and online librarian blogs about children’s & young adult literature to discover those books and topics that are currently popular with students throughout the global library community. I regularly used Follett’s Titlewave to discover the most popular books to add to the fiction collection, and yearly in-school visits with reps from Davidson Titles and Rainbow Books enabled me to bring entertaining books from more than 2 dozen publishers into the non-fiction collection.
|Images from Amazon.com|
Junior Library Guild is another invaluable collection development service for reading materials. With a reasonably priced yearly subscription I received more than a dozen popular fiction & nonfiction books each month on a variety of subjects and reading levels, including graphic novels & Spanish-language titles. According to their website, over 95% of their selections receive awards and/or favorable reviews, and their books circulate more than other books published for children and teens.
INFUSE POP CULTURE INTO LESSONS & SIGNAGE
To infuse is ‘to introduce, as if by pouring’. We do this when we insert pop icons in library signage and intersperse popular expressions into our lessons. The American Library Association’s Celebrity READ posters are a perfect example of signage that appeals to our students and arouses them to visit the library.
|Images from ALA Store|
We needn’t be experts at popular culture to interject references into our lessons. In my Fairy Tales Library Lesson I use “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…” as an introduction every student recognizes as the beginning of all Star Wars movies.
Making pop culture a reason for doing something during a lesson makes an even bigger impact on student engagement. My 6g Library Orientation Guided Activity introduces Christopher Paolini, who wrote the book Eragon when he was only 15, as inspiration for each student to discover where we’d place their own Fiction book (a sticky note w/ their personal call #) on our library shelves.
We can infuse pop culture into lessons in other similar ways, such as the recent trend toward gamification, speed dating or “dining” with various fiction story subjects/genres, and using social media or emojis for activities.
INCORPORATE POP CULTURE INTO STUDENT PROJECTS
To incorporate is to unite or combine so as to form one body. This is where we gain the most buy-in from students, as we amalgamate, embody, and fuse pop culture with projects so students can express their personal preferences. It’s also the most challenging: we may need to rethink the entire lesson so the end product incorporates pop culture as a true assessment of lesson objectives. Here are 3 examples of how teachers and I adjusted lessons to provide authentic, real world pop culture products:
- A 7th grade research project had students choose a Greek or Roman god/goddess, record their attributes from books or websites, and create a written paper or slide presentation of the information. Ho hum…I’m yawning and so were they. My suggestion: compare a Greek or Roman god/goddess with a current popular star from TV, film, music, or sports, explain the key attributes they share, and why you think these two were/are idolized.
Every kid has a favorite star, someone they seek to emulate, and this assignment helps them examine the qualities they admire in this person and whether they really do want to be like them. They must also examine several Greek/Roman deities to decide who to compare, which demands a more skillful analysis than the original assignment, and juxtaposing ancient mythology with ‘modern mythology’ helps students realize the continued need we humans have to look outside ourselves for help in understanding and coping with life.
- Music teachers—band, choir, and orchestra—used the same assignment for missed performances: a 3-page biography research paper differing only in the list of composers/musicians. I suggested that students have a performance-based make-up assignment using the library’s varied audio/video collection.
For the revised lesson, a student listens to or views 2 or 3 composer/musician performances and picks a favorite. They still do the biography research, but rather than a research paper, they write a script as if they’re a music radio host, playing musical excerpts while discussing the person: biographical information, their place in history, and how the music influenced or compares to a current performer that they like.
The student records their “performance,” interlaced with music examples (originally on an audio-cassette but later through a digital format) and both the written script and audio recording are turned in for the grade. It’s fascinating for students to discover how “old” music relates to their current favorites!
- 8g Spanish and Science classes study weather during the first semester. The teachers expanded concepts and vocabulary, I taught students the fundamentals of scriptwriting & storyboarding, and I provided video examples so student teams could produce live broadcasts of weather reports from our library’s TV broadcast studio.
Spanish students did a daily weather report en Español for a city in a Spanish-speaking country and Science students reported historical weather disasters around the world, ranging from Vesuvius to Fukushima. Students in the classroom watched through our closed-circuit TV system.
The Spanish teacher liked the TV project so much, she designed her end-of-year Spanish project, for students to show their language prowess, by having teams produce a live-TV reality, talk, or game show. Students love it, and it is so hilarious to hear their renditions of Oprah and Survivor “en Español!”
Implementing these 3 ways to bring pop culture into the library requires an awareness of what appeals to each grade level of our students. While a classroom teacher typically has a single grade level of students, the School Librarians must appeal to anywhere from 3 to 6 grade levels, more if their library serves a combined campus! It’s important to circulate among students before and after school, in the hallways, in the cafeteria, and during their library visits so we can listen to their conversations about what’s important to them.