Why Pop Culture has a Place in the Classroom

 In Classroom Practice

Incorporating pop culture and media into the classroom is a divisive issue amongst teachers, and not without reason. While pop culture has its benefits, it could be distracting if it is integrated inappropriately, and intimidating for a teacher to try and relate to students of a different generation without feeling out of touch.

However, the benefits of teaching using popular media are substantial, helping engage students, bring lessons off the page and address controversial topics. Furthermore, it could be a fun lesson for the end of the semester or a light distraction during the tense academic periods.

Why?

“We cannot sit back and let our students passively digest material. No, instead, teachers should actively engage their students in discussions about the controversial material bombarding them.” Mark Hauser wrote in Edweek rallying teachers to stare down music with inappropriate themes rather than shy away from it.

Hauser notes, correctly, that ‘clean’ versions of popular songs mask the profanity but don’t modify the inappropriate themes that come with the choice language.

The net result is that students believe the moral shortfall is in the specific profane terms – not in the overarching theme of the content, which is more damaging to a student’s life view.

In regard to controversial themes, pop culture provides a great jumping off point for discussions on ethics, morals, and current world events.

Music, movies and entertainment inspire richer discussion, compared to news articles, which require a reader to see a rolling coverage in order to understand and engage on the topic.

The other resounding point the Education Consultant makes is that pop culture lessons help educators meet students in the middle and relate to them in ways they understand, something Clay Morgan endorses.

“Lucky I know about zombies” he petitions, before detailing how he used 2009 film Zombieland to explain the Morgenthau Plan, a strategy that made a bored class come alive.

‘The Morgenthau Plan’ sounds like something dry in a heavy textbook, perfect for closing and taking a nap on. Introducing the topic through Zombieland’s rules of zombie apocalypse survival – in this case, Rule #4 “The Double Tap”, like Morgan does, can draw more interest from the outset.

How?

Would Benjamin Franklin be a Facebook user? How would Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaigns look on social media? What would the Great Fire of London, or the toppling of the Roman Empire look like through the eyes of Twitter?

Teach students a lesson about digital media whilst deeply exploring historical figures and events by having students create social media accounts for important figures and events.

The task calls upon elements of digital literacy and storytelling that they feel comfortable with, whilst challenging them to think critically about history and social media itself.

It can be daunting to incorporate music lyrics and movie references for an educator who is of a different generation to his or her students. Educator Tim Weedon, however, provides a three-step framework for educators using pop culture in their classrooms.

Stage 1: Prep

Weedon begins by casually asking students about their tastes in music (his pet area of interest). He then goes on to analyze the responses from his students for relevance to topic areas covered in the curriculum course. Weedon pays close attention to lyrical content and themes, ensuring they are befitting of the class age.

Stage 2: Development

Using pop culture in group activities is a great way to break the ice in a new class. Weedon suggests assigning students reading and having them collectively come up with song lyrics/poems in groups. You can read a full breakdown of his lesson plan here.

Stage 3: Practice

Primarily useful in teaching literature analysis, Weedon asks students to analyze their favourite song lyrics and how they would be relevant to the course.

The educator subscribes to the same view as Hauser on inappropriate subject matter saying “It is better to discuss the text rather than avoid the subject matter without offering any educational choices or advice.” He does, however, state that he looks closely at the chosen songs and doesn’t guarantee their use.

Once they have decided on their list of topics and songs, they break down the song structure, pertaining to vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and linguistics.

A popular and effective format for lessons are songs, whereby teachers, use the melodies of well-known songs or matching a popular style to teach a lesson. It takes confidence, but when done well it is fun for teachers and makes content incredibly catchy and memorable for students. I’ve been singing math lessons in my head all day on more than one occasion!

There are many resources out there to guide you through using pop culture in your teaching. It’s an element of pedagogy that can give an edge to your teaching and provide a deeper reference to content. Join one of the many communities online, connect with teachers on social media, or simply dive into music, movies and tv. It isn’t as intimidating as it seems.

Some great resources for you to explore incorporating pop culture in the classroom:

Browse Tim Weedon’s full series here: https://developmenteducation.ie/feature/exploring-popular-culture-in-education/

Visit the Popular Culture Pedagogy Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/popculturepedagaogy

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