Magical literacy and learning, part 1

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Yesterday my colleague and I presented “Magical Literacy and Learning: The Harry Potter Club” at the North Carolina Reading Association. While we waited for the preceding session to end, I watched other educators gathering in the hallway outside the closed door where our session would be held. I could hear whispers: “Harry Potter . . . Harry Potter . . . .” For a second, it was almost like being in one of the books or movies. Here’s a portion of what we presented, in narrative form. There’s more to come . . . .

For seven semesters now, a colleague and I have hosted the Harry Potter Club for third, fourth, and fifth graders at our school as part of our creative arts and science magnet theme.

When clubs began in 2015, teachers who volunteered to do clubs were told, “Pick something that interests you. Something that you enjoy.”  Here’s a small sampling of club offerings over the years: cooking, gardening, etiquette, beading, creative writing, acts of kindness, paper airplanes, tie-dye, iPad movie-making, weightlifting, astronomy.

My colleague and I wanted to integrate arts and crafts with reading enjoyment, so that’s how our Harry Potter club was born. We figured we’d read some passages from the books and have the kids make something. That’s all the vision we had, in the beginning.

The club became so much more.

Last winter, a former student of ours, in his first year of middle school, was killed in an accident. My colleague and I, mourning, recalled that he’d been in our club more than once. We remembered how much he enjoyed it, how much he smiled, how he asked questions. We went back over our club rosters to see when he’d attended, and that’s when we discovered something that we hadn’t exactly realized before.

Maybe it’s due to our school improvement-trained brains, but, as we looked back at lists of club kids, I said, “Hey . . . there’s something significant going on with subgroups here.”

That, of course, led to further analysis.

Here’s what we learned about our club:

70% of attendees are male.

54% are non-white or minority.

Over half have identified learning or behavioral needs.

Siblings of nine families have attended.

Boys chose Harry Potter over sports camp, Lego mania, football, and tech. Several of them made this choice more than once; they asked to be in our club again and again, even when we said, “But you’ll just be making the same crafts as you did before!” They said: “I know! I just want to be in the club.” Children of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and races identify with the predominately white Potter characters and their struggles, because the underlying themes speak to all children, all people: Friendship, teamwork, love, hope, redemption.

During club sessions, after I’d read a portion of a book and the kids were busy with their craft—painting a wand, tracing wings and attaching them to keys, making pencil brooms or gold-foil Snitches—discussions developed. Unscripted, organic discussions. Many of the children had seen the movies, some had read the books, some had done neither, but everyone talked. Everyone had questions, observations.

Professor Snape in particular fascinates the children (I often have to say, “Snape. His name is Snape. Not Snake”):

“He was so mean to Harry and Harry thought he hated him, but really he was protecting Harry the whole time.”

“Yeah, because he was in love with Harry’s mother.”

“What do we learn from Professor Snape, then?” I interject.

Pause.

“Even when somebody seems bad, they really might be good. You don’t always know what’s in their heart,” pipes a voice.

I see their heads, bent intently over their craft, nodding.

The children speak of how much Harry’s mother loved him, how she died to save him. The mothers in the series are some of the strongest characters: Molly Weasley, Narcissa Malfoy. In the end, Narcissa saves Harry in order to save her own son.

It’s a safe place, the club. A place of belonging. It doesn’t matter if you’re academically gifted or have an IEP, if you’re an extraordinary reader, or if you struggle with reading. Here, with the read-aloud, the crafts, the discussions, the playing field is level. Here, everyone excels at something.

I think of how the magic was probably the pull for many of the kids, at first.

Or maybe the crafts.

But something deeper keeps them coming back for more.

16 thoughts on “Magical literacy and learning, part 1

  1. I found it interesting that there were students who attended without having seen the movies or read the books. It’s a testament to the community you and your coworker built with this club, and an idea to ponder for my own library.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s fascinating to watch how the kids develop bonds … something new, unexpected, amazing frequently just happens, due to the “freedom” of the club and kids just talking. Do let me know where your ponderings take you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A place where kids can get lost in the magical world and make something. I get why they want to be there. Kudos for you and your colleague for creating such a place! Now, more teachers have your ideas churning in their brains to implement something similar in their schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I leave your piece with the lovely feeling of conversation while our hands are busy. Like old fashioned quilting bees. I can imagine how your kiddos loved the calm, safe, magical space you created with your club. And sometimes I think the club is more important than the lessons we work so hard to prepare.
    I teach origami after school, and I moved form a “do what I do” method to a workshop format, where everybody can be a teacher and we can be doing many things, but together. As with your club, many students come back session after session. I just love it. And I am always trying to analyze it. Doing origami together is way more logico-mathematical than discussing literature. But something good is a work there…

    Liked by 2 people

    • How well you describe the atmosphere, hands at work, conversations flowing – I love this comparison to a quilting bee! Yes, the energy is like that. I’ve used origami in a math camp before – kids love it. The bonds that develop around creating something and just talking are amazing. Thank you for this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Harry Potter is one of my favorite series. It’s just amazing how something that seems so simple can be so powerful for the students. I’m sorry to hear about your former student, and happy to hear about the impact this group has on your current students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad to know you’re a fan! The series keeps gaining momentum with new generations. I sometimes reread all the books over summer vacations. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

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  5. This club sounds magical. Yes, it might be the books or the crafts or the community, but I’m also thinking that you and your colleague and the world you’ve created for these kids is the huge draw. Would love to have seen your presentation! I’m looking forward to reading Part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am fascinated by this observation, “Here, with the read-aloud, the crafts, the discussions, the playing field is level. Here, everyone excels at something.” This is incredibly important. I will definitely be following along to see what your other observations are. Ideas are already churning in my head for my reluctant Grade 10 group…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I occasionally tutor high school students in writing. When one of them realized I facilitate a Harry Potter club, he gazed at me intently: “Do you know how popular that would be at a high school? Seriously.” I’d love to know what you decide to do!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “It’s a safe place, the club. A place of belonging.” How powerful an observation. Those kids thrive in such an environment and you are responsible! You must be incredibly proud. You captured this safe place extremely well. The dialogue you included helped me understand the perspective of your kids. Thank you for your insightful, reflective slice.

    Liked by 1 person

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