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Harry Potter at Buffalo State

Posted: August 9, 2011
The Harry Potter series of books and movies has captivated millions of people. At Buffalo State, a specialized Harry Potter-themed graduate course, Developing Literacy Through Literature, teaches graduate elementary education students how to develop a literacy program using real literature–not just a standard, generic plan from a textbook.

“Kids don’t like to read these days,” said Christopher Shively, adjunct professor of elementary education. “The character and setting depth of Harry Potter helps these future teachers to be creative with their literacy plans. A teacher excited about a piece of literature in class is infectious.”

Shively uses the second-to-last book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in class. He believes it gives background about Voldemort, Harry, and several other characters that is crucial to the series. Shively uses visual imagery exercises, where students must read a page or two from the book and then have one minute to draw the scene as they pictured it in their mind.

“It’s interesting to see how different people from different backgrounds interpret the same passage,” Shively said. “Most of my students have never read Harry Potter, but once they start they get sucked in.”
Shively does not recommend using Harry Potter in elementary school because of its “darkness,” but believes the story can relate to almost everyone on a certain level.

“This class is about socially constructing knowledge,” Shively said. “Students provide information and insight for each other, expanding the course beyond one, individual perspective.”

Shively, who works full time as a teacher at Alden Elementary School, knows firsthand the struggle of incorporating technology, literature, and parental involvement into a child’s learning experience.

“Engaging parents in a child’s literacy is essential,” Shively said. “My graduate students create literacy plans through research and assuming the position of a learner, so they can say to the parents, ‘This is what I’m doing to make your children literate.’”
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