viernes, 19 de febrero de 2016

Young adult fantasy literature… in the classroom? (2nd part)


 


Fanart” of the most characteristic symbols of Memorias de Idhún: the three mythic creatures: the unicorn, the dragon and the shek as well as the hexagon that represents the three suns and three moons of this fictional world. Fuente: http://lincelots.deviantart.com/art/Idhun-268499134

In the first part of this article I presented some arguments in favor of using YA fantasy literature in the school as well as some possibilities to introduce it in classroom practice. Yet, the educational potential of fantasy books does not only lie in the text itself but it goes far beyond the pages of the book as we shall see below.

When teenagers like a story and they feel identified with it, they do not want the experience to end when they finish the book, instead, what they want to do is to share their impressions, chat about what they liked or did not like, or form groups in which they can make the story their own. In other words, they try to include a social component into the solitary act of reading. With this intention, fan communities appear: groups of people who share hobbies or a liking for a certain cultural object and who find in the Internet an ideal space to develop this interest. A simple search across the web shows that YA fantasy series are especially prolific at creating this type of fans communities, with Harry Potter, Twilight or Memorias de Idhún being prime examples.

A peculiarity of these groups is that they encourage and promote the creation of contents and creative material related to the source text, and this is the reason they are often called “participatory cultures” (Jenkins, 2009). Some examples of the materials they create are the so-called “fanfics” (short for “fan fiction”), fan-written literary texts which enhance or complement the story on which they are based; “fan arts”, any type of artistic or visual material, including drawings, videos or craftwork, or “cosplays”, costumes which represent an specific fictional character and which are normally created and sewn from scratch by the fans themselves. 

What is especially interesting about this fact is that we have evidence (Borah, 2002, pp. 347-348; Evans, 2006, cited in Reynolds, 2007) that a great part of the members of these participatory cultures are teenagers or young people. It means that the same students - often those who are unmotivated in our classrooms- are able not only to form online groups which they themselves manage but also to cooperate in the development of literary texts, videos and other artistic materials.

Moreover, one needs to take into account that, once they are finished, most of these creations are later shared online so that they can be commented on or evaluated by the other members of the community. Lluch and Acosta (2012) describe these interactions among members as a form of “positive feedback in the act of sharing which strengthens the good behavior among the forum users and which encourages them to keep reading, analyzing, learning and reflecting” (p. 49 ABM transl). Thanks to this receptive and cooperative atmosphere, the teenagers exert themselves in their work in order to receive positive comments and feedback from their peers and they often show an involvement and a passion in these tasks that we often miss in their classwork.

For instance, in the following image (retrieved from a personal account of DeviantArt, the popular virtual community of art makers), one can see that the author created a high quality picture based on a scene of Memorias de Idhún in which he/she combined techniques from traditional drawing with digital illustration and image processing. By accessing the portal where the illustration is hosted (please see the description under the image) one can also observe the messages of support and criticism I referred to in the last paragraph.
 


“Fanart” showing one of the scenes of the first book of Memorias de Idhún in which Victoria heals her friend Jack’s wounds with her magic. Source: http://sparkly-monster.deviantart.com/art/MDI-Jack-y-Victoria-493098540

The same quality work can be appreciated in many “fanfics” too, in which their authors (it is important to remember that many of them are teenagers) are very careful to note both the language used and the level of fidelity to the story they are based on, something which requires a very close reading of the original text. If anyone is interested in “fanfics”, I recommend the virtual community “wattpad” or the official forum of Lauga Gallego in the case of Memorias de Idhún, which fulfill the task of repositories of these amateur literary works. As to videos, the platform Youtube is without a doubt the best tool to use in the search of fan-made book-trailers.

Summarizing, teenagers are able to create quality art work, sometimes alone and sometimes in cooperation and, furthermore, they are able to appreciate the work carried out by others by making value judgements. It is worth highlighting that they do all of it selflessly in their free time, fuelled only by their motivation towards stories and characters which connect to what concerns them and what they are interested in.

 


Fan-made Booktrailer of the first book of Memorias de Idhún. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pM0m7b4dIM
 
The point I’m trying to make is that, although it is true that YA fantasy literature is a rich and motivating material in itself, all those participatory processes which derive from it and that I have detailed above are no less interesting from an educational point of view.

Teachers and educators tend to think that it is complicated to find innovative and interesting activities which motivate students. However, I think we should simply identify what they like doing and make them aware that their hobbies are also opportunities to learn. In our case, by paying attention to the activities youngsters carry out in the on-line communities, we can find many different ideas that may be integrated perfectly into classroom practice. Participating in forums or creating transmedia contents about the stories they like should not be in a conflict with literature learning. On the contrary, I consider these new practices to be a new way of understanding and creating knowledge and, therefore, they would be a useful tool to lend that twist to education I referred to at the beginning of this article.

For example, the required reading of a book might turn out to be something worth doing if it is a book which students like or about which they have heard from people their age, even if it is as thick as Memorias de Idhún; the boring process of writing a composition might become a self-improvement challenge (as it is already promoted from the platform NaNoWriMo (*) or the traditional summary of a text may be more fun to do when used as the script of a booktrailer recorded in class and subsequently uploaded to an on-line platform.

In conclusion, and in contrast to what it has traditionally thought, YA fantasy literature is a didactic material as valid as any other. Its rich stories and the flexibility of the genre make it a useful tool not only for teaching literature but also for any other subject area. Moreover, because of the high level of motivation that these books rouse in young readers, they become involved in collaborative processes of artistic creation which in themselves have great educational potential and, if allowed, these processes can work as innovative class elements that connect with 21st century youngsters’ tastes and interests.
Alberto Bolaños Montealegre

Notes
(*) The online platform NaNoWriMo is described on its webpage as “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing” in which “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.” Despite the possible difficulty of the challenge, the fact is that this initiative has had a warm reception on the Internet. In fact, there are already some interesting novels published as a consequence of this project, like “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell or “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer in the field of juvenile literature.

References
- Jenkins, H. (2009) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st century. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: The MIT Press. Available from: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/confronting-challenges-participatory-culture (Last accessed 9th January 2016)

- Borah, R. S. (2002) “Apprentice Wizards Welcome: Fan communities and the Culture of Harry Potter”. In: Whited, L. A. (ed.) The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Columbia; London: University of Missouri Press.

- Lluch, G. y Acosta, M. (2012) “Conversaciones sobre lecturas en la web 2.0: El caso de Laura Gallego (Análisis de conversaciones virtuales entre adolescentes)”. En: Lecturas para el nuevo siglo: formación receptora y lector hipertextual. La Laguna: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de La Laguna.

- Reynolds, K. (2007) Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

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