Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How Pop Culture Can Help Increase Student Engagement

Walking through the toy section of Target is one of my favorite things to do for two reasons. First off, I love to buy toys for my kids (Mrs. Kindergarten Guy is not as enthusiastic about this). Secondly, I love to buy things for my classroom that make my students go nuts. Recently, I was walking through a toy aisle at a Target, when I found a small, plush, Ryder (I was more thrilled than I should have been). many people actually know what I'm talking about when I say Ryder? Just Ryder? The four-year-old kid who was in the same aisle knew immediately and said, "Is that Ryder from Paw Patrol?" It was.

I love finding toys like this from popular cartoons. Paw Patrol, Wallykazam!, Team UmiZoomi, Bubble Guppies, Sofia the First, Octonauts, all of these are on my list. Of course, it helps that I have a five-year-old and three-year-old at home who are also into these shows (and when I say "into", I mean obsessed with). It also helps that any time I mention one of these shows in my classroom, the kids go nuts. If you want to really connect with the kindergarteners in your classroom, immerse yourself in their culture. I have no choice...I'm fully immersed anyway. I will say, though, that even if I wasn't already into the pop culture of five-year-olds, it would be worth getting into as a kindergarten teacher.

Do you know any of these guys? (You can find them on Nickelodeon.)

I refer to, or quote, one of these characters daily. We use them for anchor charts (Marshall, the Dalmatian from Paw Patrol was featured during Fire Safety Week). We listen to songs from their shows. I also use their iPad apps in my classroom. The apps are very well designed, very educational, and very engaging (if you just search the name of one of these shows on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, you can find many options). The best part of using them, is the effect that they have on the kids. When the kids see these characters, they instantly want to be involved in whatever the activity is. When they see their favorite characters, the students become instantly engaged.

Besides cartoon characters, I try to stay current on what books are popular (specifically what characters from books). Pete the Cat, Elephant and Piggie, Charlie the Ranch Dog, and Fly Guy are favorites in my classroom. I use these characters the same way that I use the ones mentioned above. I read Pete the Cat Saves Christmas this week, and you could hear a pin drop in the classroom.

I feel that it's very important as a teacher to be aware of and in tune with the pop culture of my students. The characters, plot lines and stories are very important in the lives of our students (whether we like it or not) and, if used correctly, they can help increase student engagement in the classroom. These characters can make students want to read and write. They can help them to understand the intricate details of difficult concepts, just by giving them an image to spark their memories later.

I would encourage any teacher, at any grade level, to immerse themselves in the culture of their students. Watch some clips of their favorite shows, listen to some of their music, play their video games, read their books, watch their movies. You will amaze your students, you'll  really connect with them, and I think you'll find that it really does make teaching easier.

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