Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Harry Potter and Scholarly Texts

I thought Alyssa's post last week was great and a good way to help our students see the bigger picture of academic research. I just wanted to share an activity that I tried that seemed to go well. First, I did a search of full-text, peer-reviewed articles on Harry Potter in EBSCO. I got about 300 or so hits. I printed off six very different articles from different journals (one was in a law journal about bureaucracy and government in the books, one from a social work journal about parenting in the books, one was about using Harry Potter in the classroom for teaching Latin roots, one was a feminist literary critique of the books, one was from an economics journal about the marketing of the books, and one was about moral education). Actually, since some of the articles were long I just printed the first few pages and the last page or so (for the references). I then divided the students into small groups and gave each one an article to analyze. They had to answer the following questions:

Who is the author of the article and what are his/her credentials?
What is the name of the journal that published the article? What other types of articles do you think might be found in this journal?
Who is the intended audience for this article?
What is the main idea/thesis of the article?
What kinds of sources are listed as references for this text? Based on their titles, what do you think they are about?

After each group had about five minutes to familiarize themselves with their articles, we discussed each one as a class (I had the PDFs on my computer so we could all see them, but that's not necessary). My goals for this were two-fold: first, to familiarize the students with journal articles and how to understand what their main points and context are; second, to help them see how to take a scholarly approach on a subject, even one that was seemingly non-academic like Harry Potter. I think this activity worked really well for my students. They were mostly able to get a feel for what each article was about and who the intended audience was. Many of them also expressed surprise that scholars were discussing Harry Potter in so many different ways, and it helped them understand better what a scholarly approach to a subject is.

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