Harry Potter in Schools: Should Children Read It?

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From evolution to witchcraft, education pushes the traditional parent away from some parts of lessons because of religious or personal opposition. In every classroom, decisions need to be made that pit student’s learning against parents’ disapproval in importance. While parental involvement is undeniably vital, students can miss out on important learning opportunities because of their parents’ beliefs. In literature, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has proven to be a tool to inspire children to independently learn and love reading, following the daily life of a young wizard, Harry, as he embarks on challenges with his friends. However, since the first novel’s publication in 1997, the series has endured constant criticism for its themes of witchcraft in the hands of the youth. Despite these criticisms, the strong themes, plot, and symbolism have the potential to not only break from the routine of “boring” literature, but it offers a variety of learning opportunities to help high school educators teach this modern classic with literary implications. In freshman and sophomore years, these novels can teach a variety of basic literary terms, like plot, theme, and characters. In the upper level classes, juniors and seniors can find metaphors, symbols, and deeper meanings in the pages. In their senior year, what is designated as, “British literature,” students can learn about the most massive contribution to British modern literature, which would become a worldwide phenomenon. High school educators must learn to adapt their normal lesson plans to incorporate this modern literature and answer for the possibility of outcry from the parents involved. Ultimately, as a justifiably immense part of modern literature, this series as a lesson plan ought to only be tackled by an educator who can explain its usefulness, no matter what naysayers they encounter along the way.

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Upon their publication, the Harry Potter novels were met with a largely positive review. Educators and parents alike were shocked to find that their technologically-inclined children were away from the computer long enough to read the novels with zeal. Despite inspiring children to independently read, parents across America were concerned for their children. Parents were concerned about a child’s tendency to be receptive to the themes of witchcraft, even claiming that children would be more likely to pursue the avenues of the occult. Religious sectors cited biblical scriptures that warned against allowing children to be taught by role models, or vessels, of Satan through witchcraft or wizardry. Though most of these claims were by religious minorities, they were effective. In some places of the United Kingdom and the United States, the Harry Potter series has been banned as a result of parental uproar. Although the book has been shown to create an environment of self-sufficient reading that is unprecedented in modern classrooms, parental interference keeps these books out of the hands of students who may be one novel away from a love of reading. Because many educators have recognized this as a problem, solutions and adaptations of the novel have been made available in classrooms across the globe. Harry Potter has been shown in parts, or edited, or offered as free-reading material. By implementing these strategies, students can access this series without upsetting their parents, giving them a desire to read without hurting the moral conscious of the guardians involved.

The standards surrounding Harry Potter would differ depending on the grade level, because Harry Potter can be accessible to many grades on a variety of topics, including themes, novels, plot, character development, symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphors, and conflict. For example, a ninth grade English teacher could utilize The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the Harry Potter series, in a novel unit for their English class. This unit could cover a multitude of standards the state of Louisiana set for English education. The anchor standards set forth could include, “Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.” This standard is covered with any character within Harry Potter, but it is most easily traced in the main character, Harry. Another standard that could fit within this unit is, “Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.” The ninth graders in this class would find a variety of thematic issues in the novel to write about. In addition, the standard, “Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise,” fits well with the time-travelling plot of the novel. To fulfill a sense of diversity in the classroom, this unit will also incorporate the standard, “Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.” After incorporating these standards, the criticized text is justifiably used because it has an immense educational value to offer a classroom.

After adopting these standards, the objectives for the unit lesson plan become clearer for the ninth-grade English teacher. The teacher will create a list of objectives for the novel unit to cover. The objectives will include, “The learner will be able to identify the theme of various plots within a novel,” and, “The learner will compare interactions between characters to showcase the interactions’ importance in both characters’ development.” These objectives will follow along with the standards that are set up in the beginning of the unit. The teacher would create the assessment to prove the mastery of those (and a variety of other) standards. The assessment for this unit will be a traditional paper-and-pencil assessment, a presentation, an essay, and a performance. For a novel this length, assigning forty-four pages of reading a night, it would take about two weeks to complete the unit. However, whenever you factor in final projects that can only be completed when finished with the novel, it is best to assign about three weeks to complete this unit. Because it covers a variety of overarching standards, as well as course-specific standards, and it can fulfill the class requirement of prose writing, it is not a misuse of time. In fact, allotting this much time to enjoyable reading may be a good break between a poetry unit or Shakespeare production, which are not as well-received, but can be related to, Harry Potter.

After creating the objectives, the nitty-gritty of lesson planning comes with a day-by-day lesson plan. Each part of the unit must be broken down into lessons to cover the standards and objectives of the lesson plan. The first lesson for this unit will be themes and how they interact with one another. The second lesson will cover the characters and how they grow in the novel and in the other books. Finally, the last lesson will consist of studying J.K. Rowling’s particular choices in plot devices, time, and storytelling to create her piece of fiction. When broken into these parts, the standards are clearer and easier to achieve. If the unit covers three weeks, the first lesson will consist of themes of the novel. The students will be reading chapters individually at home. The lesson will consist of lectures at the beginning of class that are made interactive by the use of slips of paper that the students turn in with discussion questions or concerns that they have about their assigned chapter. Students will then be split into groups to discuss each chapter and find themes that they find unique to the chapter and across the book as a whole. The first project will be a paper on themes. Each student will be given a theme that was discussed in class on a slip of paper. They will be required to define that theme and showcase where it is most evident in the book, how it is maintained throughout the book, and what the resolution to the theme is at the end of the book (or if it is most likely to be continued into a sequel. In the next week, the lesson will be about characters. Students will be assigned one of the characters in the novel when they come into class the first day of the second week. During each lecture, they will be called upon as advocates for a particular character and asked to speak the opinions of a character on many different issues in the novel. Because the characters come from diverse races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and countries, this can be an opportunity to discuss diversity in their classroom as well as the classroom in which the lesson is occurring. Afterwards, we will discuss character interactions with “Think, pair, share,” in mind, grouping the students in pairs to brainstorm the importance of having rival characters for both plot and character development. There could be a group activity in which students, representing their particular characters, are grouped and asked to act out a scene from the book and describe the ways that characters interact with each other. This scene will be the final assessment, not on acting ability, but on the ability to explain the importance of the character interaction for the characters involved and for the novel as a whole. Finally, in the last week, we will begin to understand Rowling’s particular choices in the novel. The beginning discussion will start with a four corner debate on the importance of a variety of plot points. For example, a student can “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Strongly Agree,” or, “Strongly Disagree,” on Rowling’s incorporation of the time turner as a solution to Harry Potter’s dilemma in the final chapters. This discussion will call into question how Rowling used these devices, why they are important, and other options that she may have had when writing the novel. With this introductory activity in mind, students will group together and do “KWL,” charts, modified as, “understood or unclear,” charts, on a variety of teacher statements, including, “Do you understand the role of Lupin in this novel?” or, “Can you explain the theme of fatherhood for Harry Potter?” There will be an activity where the instructor compiles the “unclear” questioning of students and has student-based answering that is mediated by the instructor. In essence, the students will answer each other’s questions. The final activities will be to redesign the cover of The Prisoner of Azkaban to include themes, character interactions, and a particular plot device. Finally, they will take a test that combines the essential parts of recall and memory (multiple choice) with higher-level essay questions on all three basic standards. After this novel unit, students will display mastery of themes, characters, and plot devices, which cover a huge amount of ninth-grade literature in a single novel. To skip this novel because of its “witchy” content would be a mistake, because it offers an opportunity to allow students to learn necessary skills while reading something they might actually enjoy.

There will be obvious criticisms with the inclusion of Harry Potter in a classroom. Although these complaints have been largely silent since the early 2000s, it is possible to encounter these outcries when incorporating this novel into an English classroom. Therefore, it is imperative to preemptively answer the parental response to keep the classroom running smoothly and avoid derailment of an entire unit of instruction. For starters, it is recommended to make the controversial nature of the topic known at the beginning of the lesson. It is recommended to set up ground rules and focus on the topic in order to avoid the students themselves getting sidetracked into the controversy. However, most of the time, the parents are more responsible for the controversy than the children. Therefore, having a system of awareness for the parent can make them feel respected. A teacher should make the parents aware of what the children are reading. In the beginning of the year, the teacher could provide the book list and let parents decide what they want their children reading. Before the lessons are crafted, the teacher should come up with comparable pieces of literature that a student with an opposition could read in tangent with the rest of the class. If a student or parent opposed this novel, the teacher could provide a novel like The Goldfinch, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Donna Tartt, which in reviews is shown to have similar themes, including friendship and the loss of parents, to Harry Potter, without the magic. The student would be able to follow similar essay questions, similar discussions, and be included, ultimately making the parent and student feel as though their decision to abstain is respected while ensuring the child still learns the important concepts. In addition, if a large percentage of a class were opposed to Harry Potter or sought a different novel, this lesson plan could adapt to fit any number of literary works. This work can function in tangent with other novels from different countries or backgrounds, or parts and pieces of this novel can be used as comparatives to find the plot, characters, and devices work both similarly and differently in other cultures. This book is an epic of modern literature because it teaches a variety of subjects while remaining adaptable to fit into other lessons. Despite its controversial nature, it should not be left out of classrooms, but instead, molded to fit into a variety of learning experiences as it is needed.

When Rowling created the fictional world of Harry Potter, she created a masterpiece that inspired children of all ages, countries, and backgrounds to read. This powerful motivation can be utilized by teachers to create lesson plans so long as they respect the rights of parents and justify their use of the novel. Because this novel can teach everything from plot, characters, and themes, to important political issues and symbolism, it is transcendent in its use for high school English students and should be adapted for lessons across the board. When the parents are notified and given options, the majority of students will still have access to the novel and its ability to teach. Teachers should incorporate this novel by creating an environment that accepts it, because the lessons of Harry Potter extend far beyond the walls of Hogwarts.

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