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Connecting Classrooms With Online Fanfiction Communities

by Jayne Lammers
 | Jan 13, 2017

TILE 011317Writing fanfiction—creative works that fans write based on storylines and characters in existing books, movies, or other media—has moved from the fringes of fandom activity to having more mainstream visibility. Some of the earliest examples of fanfiction appeared in science fiction fan magazines in the 1930s. However, the advent of the Internet and the popularity of online sites like FanFiction.net, Archive of Our Own, and Wattpad have brought fanfiction writing to millions of readers and writers worldwide and garnered the attention of literacy researchers and the popular press.

Literacy teachers can connect their classrooms to these online communities to foster their students’ development as writers. As a literacy activity that requires authors to become experts on the original source material, fanfiction has opportunities to practice reading and writing skills valued by the Common Core State Standards, including close reading and writing narratives. Sharing their work in an online fanfiction community further provides youths with authentic opportunities to produce and distribute their writing with the help of technology (also covered in Common Core) as they collaborate with others and receive feedback, though not always very helpful feedback, from the online audience.

Because of the intermittent quality of feedback available in online fanfiction communities, teachers can play an important role in guiding their students’ writing for and with online audiences. As my own long-term research with one fanfiction author has revealed, even skilled writers may be only haphazardly tapping into the potential of a site like FanFiction.net. Young writers need teacher support to fully benefit from participation in these online writing spaces. Such support might include the following:

  • Scaffolding students’ explorations of existing fanfiction texts and the reviews authors receive to better understand audience expectations and various fanfiction conventions.
  • Encouraging students to offer feedback on others’ writing in an online space first before posting their own work, which will give them an opportunity to read critically and deepen their familiarity with the fanfiction genre.
  • Designing continued reading and writing activities that allow students to maintain a connection to their chosen online writing community and develop an audience for their work.

I recently talked with literacy teachers about these suggestions when I gave a presentation at the New York State Reading Association conference in Rochester, NY. During this session, we shared ideas for how teachers interested in connecting their students to online fanfiction communities find space to do so in already crowded curriculums and school days. One local high school teacher planned to return to her building and suggest that they consider turning an existing Creative Writing elective into one that explicitly and systematically connects young writers to online writing communities. Two teachers from Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in Omaha, NE, told us about their FanGirl Club, which meets monthly after school. Members run sessions to teach other kids about writing fanfiction and host a fanfiction writing contest at the end of each year. Finally, we discussed possibilities for structuring an ongoing unit about online writing spaces as part of a literacy or language arts block, in which students research, select, write for, and maintain a connection to an online writing community of their choice throughout the school year. 

Whether you find space through electives, after school, or as a small part of the existing literacy curriculum, providing teacher guidance can go a long way to helping young writers benefit from the rich learning opportunities in online writing communities.

Jayne Lammers_headshotJayne C. Lammers is an assistant professor and director of the secondary English teacher preparation program at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education. She can also be reached on Twitter.

 

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