Teaching Harry Potter in the classroom

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Fictional literature as a source of new knowledge

When reading fictional works, the reader can get an insight into other and new perspectives. This could, in turn, result in a specific type of knowledge. Martha Nussbaum believes that people can acquire new knowledge from reading fiction. Nussbaum (50) argues that one advantage of reading literature is that people who read literature has the potential to become what Nussbaum calls citizens of the world. Nussbaum believes that world citizens (69) see themselves as part of a global world through knowledge and sympathy with other cultures. According to Nussbaum (110), world citizens strive for the general good. Moreover, world citizens look after the interests of a group and strive for multicultural understanding where differences must be met with compassion (Nussbaum 110). Literature can help individuals to « see the lives of the different with more than a casual tourist’s interest – with involvement and sympathetic understanding » (Nussbaum 88). Nussbaum (111) means that literature can transport readers to other people’s lives and make their experiences understandable. By this, Nussbaum means that with the help of literature, the individual can develop a more profound empathic ability and committed sympathy. Based on Nussbaum’s arguments, it can be concluded that there is some sort of new knowledge to be gained from reading fiction and that this knowledge is mainly about how literature can function as a way to help people gain new and broader perspectives.

Fiction in the classroom

Fictional work is used in several ways in the Swedish education system, both in education for children and young adults and in teacher education (Dodou, p. 129). There are several reasons why fiction should be used in the classroom, and these reasons will be presented in the following section. Bo Lundalh’s work on English language didactics and the Swedish Curriculum will form the basis for this. As mentioned in the introduction, it is stated in The National Curriculum for upper secondary school that fiction should be a part of education. The following is written about fiction: ”[students] can use non-fiction, fiction and other forms of culture as a source of knowledge, insight and pleasure, » (Skolverket 8) and, ”[students] can obtain stimulation from cultural experiences and develop a feeling for aesthetic values, » (8). The National Curriculum clarifies that fiction should be part of upper secondary teaching and that in addition to being entertaining to read, fiction can provide students with new knowledge.
Besides the fact that fiction as a source of new knowledge is mentioned in the Swedish curriculum, many researchers in the field of literature argue that fiction has value from a learning perspective. For example, Bo Lundahl argues in his book Engelsk språkdidaktik: Texter, kommunikation, språkutveckling that fiction is necessary for students. Lundahl (476) argues that stories have a place in language teaching because they are a fundamental way of expressing experiences. Lundahl has five main arguments as to why fiction should be used in the classroom. Firstly, Lundahl (477) argues that fiction is a source of intercultural learning. Stories and fiction are universal and timeless as they exist in different cultures, which means they function as a source of intercultural learning (477). Lundahl continues by arguing that stories and fiction are fundamental ways of creating meaning and imparting knowledge, and stories are a way to share one’s own experiences (477). Moreover, fiction is a way to engage and arouse people’s imagination, developing the ability to empathise (Lundahl 477). This means, in turn, that stories can serve as a tool for conflict management (477). Lastly, Lundahl (477) writes that with the help of fiction, people can better create connections and remember something.
In addition, Lundahl (478) means that fiction has didactic value since it affects language development. According to Lundahl, students can increase their vocabulary and understanding of the construction of language (478). Lundahl also strengthens his argument with the fact that reading fiction is included in the curriculum. The two points in the curriculum that deal with fiction quoted 7 in this essay align with the arguments that Lundahl presents. This is so since they include the suggestion that literature should be used to gain insight, knowledge and pleasure. In addition, the second quote from the curriculum that fiction can create « stimulation from cultural experiences » (8) can support Lundalh’s argument about fiction being a source for intercultural learning.

Teaching Harry Potter in the classroom

This section will discuss the benefits of working with Harry Potter in the classroom based on previous research.
Using the Harry Potter books when teaching can have several advantages. First, students and teachers can learn from reading and discussing teaching and learning together in the classroom, around these popular texts, which foreground the school environment. Valerie Frankel writes in Teaching With Harry Potter- Essays on Classroom Wizardry from Elementary School to College that one advantage of using Harry Potter is that most of the students are at least familiar with Harry Potter, even if it is through either the books or the movies (1). Second, Frankel writes that the fascinating thing about using Harry Potter books in the classroom is that it can teach more than just literature since so many topics are covered (1-2). In addition, according to Frankel (2), books offer moral and social values for students. This claim is in line with what is stated in the curriculum: the school’s democratic mission aims to promote students’ civic competence by ensuring that students share fundamental democratic values. Another benefit of using the Harry Potter books in teaching is that students can relate to events in the books. For example, most students can probably relate to having a teacher they dislike and whom they have an unsatisfactory relationship with, just as Harry’s relationship with Snape.
Besides this, there are several examples of how Harry Potter has played a significant role in students’ opinions on reading. For example, Blake (32) gives an example where a teacher reads Harry Potter aloud to his year six students, and they ask the teacher to continue reading even though the lesson has ended and they are going home. In addition to this, in 2016, Steve Dempster, Alice Oliver, Jane Sunderland and Joanne Thistlethwaite conducted a focus-group study to see if Harry Potter has helped improve students’ literacy skills and whether students think the books have changed their attitudes to reading. The result of the study was that most of the students from the study consider the Harry Potter books as a significant contributor to their self-identification as readers and their broader literacy development (Dempster et al. 278). The Harry Potter books also showed that students were more motivated when reading at a general level (278). Furthermore, the books also made students want to read more challenging literature (278). The fact that the Harry Potter series are crossover literature can have an impact on the fact that they seem to function as a way of weighing reading engagement since the Harry Potter books transported readers into adult fiction (278). Based on this, it can be concluded that there is an advantage to working with books from the Harry Potter series to encourage students to read and one reason for that is that it is crossover literature.

Theoretical framework

Teaching styles

As this essay focuses on pedagogy in fiction, which includes different teaching styles, the article ”Toward an Integrative and Fine-Grained Insight in Motivating and Demotivating Teaching Styles: The Merits of a Circumplex Approach » will be used as a theoretical framework. In this article, Aelterman et al. present different teaching styles (2) that will be used to analyse selected teachers at Hogwarts. The reason this article is used is that it is shown that teachers at Hogwarts can be categorized under teaching styles that are used in the real world, even if the teachers at Hogwarts are fictitious. The teaching styles they identify are autonomy support, structure, control, and chaos (Aelterman et al. 2). To each teaching style, there are two subareas. This essay uses this framework to identify and analyse the teaching styles represented in Rowling’s texts, relating these teaching styles to pedagogical principles and insights of other educational philosophers.
The teaching style ”autonomy support” is defined in the following way « The teacher’s instructional goal and interpersonal tone is of understanding. The teacher seeks to maximally identify and nurture students interests, preferences and feelings, so that students can volitionally engage themselves in classroom learning activities » (Aelterman et al. 2). The sub-areas included in this teaching style are participative and attuning (Aelterman et al. 2). Since these two sub-areas fall under the same category, they have several similarities. Both a participative teacher and an attuning teacher are engaged in students’ interests and try to identify them and care about them (2). In addition, both a participatory teacher and an attuning teacher let their students follow their own pace.
However, there is a difference between these two approaches to teaching. A participative teacher wants to have a dialogue with students and invites them to provide input and suggestions, thus seeking interaction between teacher and student differently than an attuning teacher (2). In comparison to this, an attuning teacher attempts to engage students by creating lessons that the teacher believes the students will find interesting and enjoyable. Furthermore, instead of offering choices in how students deal with learning activities, an attuning teacher provides explanatory information when needed (2).
The ”structure” teaching style is defined as follows, !The teacher »s instructional goal and interpersonal tone of guidance. Starting from the capabilities and abilities of students, the teacher provides strategies, help and assistance, so that students feel competent to master classroom learning activities” (Aelterman et al. 2). The two sub-areas to this teaching style are a guiding teacher and a clarifying teacher (2). The similarities between a guiding teacher and a clarifying teacher are that these teaching styles are very present and accessible to students during the lessons. A guiding teacher and a clarifying teacher also offer much structure in their teaching, even if the ways are slightly different. For example, even if a guiding teacher goes through the necessary steps to complete a task, a guiding teacher takes a step back but is always ready to provide appropriate help and assistance as and when needed (2). However, a clarifying teacher has more traditional teaching, communicates expectations to students’ clearly and transparently, and offers an overview of what students can expect from the lesson (2). At the same time, the teacher keeps track of students’ development during the lesson (2).
The ”control” teaching style is defined in the following manner: !The teacher »s instructional goal and interpersonal tone [is[ of pressure. The teacher insists that students think, feel, and behave in a prescribed way and imposes his/her own agenda and requirements on students, irrespective of what students think” (Aelterman et al. 2). The two sub-areas to this teaching style are a demanding teacher and a domineering teacher (2). A common denominator for these two teaching styles is the concept of power. Both a demanding teacher and a domineering teacher use power to clarify what the students are supposed to do and do it properly (2). The difference is that a demanding teacher uses power in the form of powerful and commanding language to make clear what students have to do (2). On the other hand, a domineering teacher exerts their power as a teacher (2), for example, there can be a punishment for the students in the form of detention.
The ”chaos” teaching style is defined as the following !The teacher »s instructional goal and interpersonal tone of laissez faire. The teacher leaves students on their own, making it confusing for students to figure out what they should do, how they should behave, and how they can develop their skills” (Aelterman et al. 2) The two sub-areas to this teaching style are an abandoning teacher and an awaiting teacher. The similarities between these two styles are that both can be described as styles where the teacher has given up on the student and, in principle, removed themselves from the teaching (2). Both styles leave the responsibility for teaching to the students themselves, instead of having a teacher in charge (2).
Aelterman et al. (3) present a model to illustrate how the teaching styles and their sub-area are related to each other and the core of each teaching style. According to Aelterman et al. (3), both teachers who have a controlled teaching style and a structured teaching style are highly directive toward their students. The model’s sub-areas closest to high directiveness are demanding and clarifying. Even if these two sub-areas are not under the same teaching style, they have certain similarities since they are both precise with what they expect from students Aelterman et al. (3). Teachers who have the “chaos” and “autonomy support” teaching styles are passive in their teaching and give students weak support and encouragement (3). This means that students who need high support risk underperforming if they get such teachers. In the model (Aelterman et al. 3) an awaiting teacher and a participatory teacher are placed next to each other, even though they differ in several ways. For example, an awaiting teacher takes a step back and allows things to develop independently of the teacher’s influence, while a participatory teacher communicates with his students based on dialogue. However, a similarity between these is that these teachers take a step back and allow students to control their learning by themselves. Aelterman et al. provide essential insights into teaching styles. In identifying and examining these styles as represented in Rowling’s fiction, this essay also relates styles and methods used in the fictional world of Hogwarts to central aspects of teaching philosophies.
A disadvantage of using this model and categorization may be that a teacher can be placed under several categories and not just one since a teacher can be more complex. For example, when these teaching styles are applied to the fictional teachers, Dumbledore is placed under the category « a participative teacher ». This is because Dumbledore shows many traits and teaches in such a way that he can be placed under this category. At the same time, Dumbledore shows traits that could categorize him as « a guiding teacher ». To place him under only one category will therefore be limiting. However, although it might be limiting , there is an advantage to using this model. This model can help to create a structure and make an analysis of teaching styles clear and easier to follow.

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Teaching philosophies

In addition to these teaching styles, can different teaching philosophies can be used to analyse the fictional teachers’ methods they use during their lessons. Even if they are fictional lessons, the teachers teach in a way that their lessons can be analysed based on real teaching philosophies. The teaching philosophies used in this essay are mainly John Dewey’s concept of learning by doing, coming from progressive education. It is relevant to use Dewey’s ideas because almost every teacher at Hogwarts uses practical moments during their lessons. This seems to increase motivation among the students. The only teacher who does not use practical moments during the lesson is Professor Umbridge, which the students are critical about. In addition to this, Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which, includes the concept of zone of proximal development is used. Further on, the behavioural theory developed by John Watson and Frederic Skinner will be used.
« Learning by doing » is a well-known phrase connected to John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist, and educator. However, Dewey did not create this phrase, but his works often use it by way of summary. Dewey is a source of inspiration for numerous people in education, and several educational philosophies have emerged from John Dewey’s ideas, which are presented in his book Democracy and Education. Dewey wrote that the purpose of this book is to show the ideas embodied in a democratic society and apply them to the tasks and problems of education (33). Dewey believes that a good education is of high value and that it should provide the best possible conditions for young people to grow naturally in the learning process.
Dewey writes that « The learning in school should be continuous with that out of school. There should be a free interplay between the two” (343) . What is shown by this quote is that Dewey has a practical approach to learning, and the focus should be that teachers should let students do practical exercises on their lessons to learn.
In addition to this, Dewey writes about the importance of habits. Dewey states the following: « Habit means that an individual undergoes a modification through an experience, which modification forms a predisposition to easier and more effective action in a like direction in the future. Thus it also has the function of making one experience available in subsequent experiences. » (Dewey 325) Habits thus make learning more accessible, so for a student to perform more efficiently in a subject, for example, Defence Against Dark Arts, it is essential that students practice a lot to make the exercises a habit.
Dewey (202) argues that the idea that a book or a teacher should offer ready-made solutions is problematic. Instead, students should be provided with materials that they must use and adapt to answer a question (Dewey 203). This clarifies why Dewey’s work is associated with the phrase « learning by doing », as this constantly recurs in Dewey’s ideas. Therefore, it is relevant to use Dewey’s work when analysing the teachers at Hogwarts since the students at Hogwarts often learn by doing.
In addition to Dewey, Vygotsky’s work will also be used as a theoretical framework, and to be more precise, the zone of proximal development (ZPD) that is part of Vygotsky’s sociocultural and contextual perspective on learning. Vygotsky explains the fundamentals of ZPD as the following: « It is the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers » (Vygotsky 86).
When it comes to behavioural theory, John Watson was the first to use the term behaviourism (Jarvis et al. 26). Pavlov’s ideas influenced Watson, but he further developed Pavlov’s ideas and extended his work to human learning (Jarvis et al. 26). After Watson came Frederic Skinner, who partly continued on Watson’s research regarding the behavioural theory but developed it further. For example, Skinner conducted experiments with animals and food and found that rats could learn to push down a lever to get food (Jarvis et al. 26). Skinner formed two laws based on this discovery, extinction and conditioning (26). The term conditioning explains that a behaviour can be intensified, which means that the probability of repeated behaviour increases. Extinction is the opposite of the conditioning behaviour, i.e., the probability of the repeated behaviour decreases (27). Thus, Skinner developed the concept operant conditioning/instrumental learning in behaviourist learning psychology (Jarvis et al. 27). A concept included in behaviourist learning psychology is reinforcers. Jarvis et al. (28) explain how reinforcers can be divided into positive and negative. One teacher at Hogwarts who uses this in his teaching is Professor Lupin, who actively gives students positive reinforcement, and therefore it is important to include this in the theoretical framework. What is interesting about these theories is that, as previously mentioned, these are real theories, but it is still possible to apply these to a fiction analysis.

Table of contents :

1. Introduction
2. Previous Research.
2.1 Fiction as a source of new knowledge
2.2 Fiction in the classroom
2.3 Teaching Harry Potter in the classroom
3. Theoretical Framework
3.1 Teaching styles
3.2 Teaching philosophies
4. Analysis
4.1 Pedagogy at Hogwarts
4.2 Teaching Styles in the Harry Potter Series
-Professor Dumbledore
-Professor McGonagall
-Professor Snape
-Professor Lupin
-Professor Umbridge
4.3 The different teaching styles and methods at Hogwarts in relation to students’ learning processes
5. Conclusion
Works Cited


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