Saturday, July 12, 2014

How Teaching Harry Potter Transformed My Classroom


I started the 2013-2014 school year with very few concrete ideas about what I should be doing in my classroom.  I was lucky enough to have my own classroom for my students with "pull out" minutes (special education services administered in a separate classroom), but was also spending several blocks of time a day doing "push in" minutes (services administered within the general education classroom).  I had students from kindergarten to third grade, with a very wide range of needs and levels.  I found myself wildly trying different techniques with my third grade "pull out" students, who had very low reading levels, but were quite bright and perceptive kids (though I hadn't yet realized how much so!) 

I'm not sure what clicked, but around October, I decided to start reading Harry Potter to them and doing comprehension activities along with it.  My school has adopted the Common Core standards, and I was finding it impossible to follow the rigorous third grade standards with students at kindergarten and first grade reading levels.  So without a curriculum or really any idea how my students would react, I began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I was genuinely excited to begin-- I was am one of those Harry Potter nerds who dressed up for the movie premieres and devoured each new book in one day.  They didn't show much interest in the first few chapters-- the books were a higher reading level than I realized, and it was sometimes hard for them to understand, even though I was reading the book aloud.  I started pre-reading the chapters and crossing out words or sections that didn't contribute to the plot.  I created graphic organizers for my students so they could keep track of the characters and Harry's different classes.  Their interest started to build once Harry got into the magical world.  I drew outlines of the different shops in Diagon Alley and as he visited each one we wrote what happened in each shop and colored them in.  By the time Harry got to Hogwarts, they were hooked. 


 I'll never forget the first time I saw one of my students ever show a real interest in reading.  Harry had just realized that Malfoy never intended to show up to the midnight duel he had challenged Harry to, and really just wanted to get Harry in trouble.  "Draco TRICKED him? That's BOGUS!" my student said admiringly.  I started getting reports that he was calling his general education classmates "muggles" (non-magic folk).  I was delighted when they started using their own vernacular to describe the characters.  Snape was "stingy" and Malfoy was a "crybaby."  When I needed to motivate my students to complete other work, all I had to do was mention that we couldn't start Harry Potter until they had finished.  


I started incorporating it into my other subjects.  Every word problem I did for the rest of the year was Harry Potter themed, from five groups of three snitches each, to Hermione getting six books from the library and returning two.  Working on phonics, I had a student observe that the name Snape has a long a and a "bossy e" (the silent e at the end of long vowel words).  Most importantly, we were really getting to dig into the literature standards, from describing characters to considering points of view.  Observers in my classroom (and as a first year teacher, I had a lot) were surprised at the high level of observations my students were making and questions they were answering, and so was I.  I'll admit that I didn't know they were capable of truly understanding and engaging with the text.  Teaching Harry Potter has made me passionate about using authentic texts in a classroom, particularly with students reading below grade level.  Students aren't going to be engaged in leveled readers or books designed around a certain phonics skill.  These books are useful to build specific skills, but not in encouraging a genuine love for reading.   

Before the school year begins I'll be doing a more practical post with tips and ideas on using Harry Potter in the classroom. 


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