Encouraging Literacy Through Fan Fiction: Guest Post by Erika Romero

Erika Romero discusses how an unconventional form of literature like fan fiction can really engage learners. 

Fan fiction seems like an unusual source of material in teaching literacy. How is it used by educators?

Rebecca Black, an associate professor at UC Irvine, is just one scholar who has extensively researched fan fiction’s educational potential, exploring the literacy practices of middle-school English Language Learners who write fan fiction outside of the classroom. She examines how fan fiction can increase the critical thinking, communication, and language skills of all students, not just those struggling with academic writing. By improving these skills at a young age, students can gain confidence in their academic abilities and be inspired to further explore the texts that they will encounter in the future.

My own experience with fan fiction in an academic setting did not occur until this past year, when I took the class, “Digital Narratives for Young People.” We read fan fiction and discussed its place in popular and literary culture, and had the opportunity to write our own as a final creative project. I have spoken with multiple college professors who include fan fiction in their literature courses, using it as a tool to analyze the social, political, psychological, and stylistic components of a required text.

Note: If you’re interested in learning about ways to integrate fan fiction into your classroom, a simple Internet search of “fan fiction in the classroom” will provide you with plenty of helpful sources.

Besides academic uses, can being engaged in fan fiction have emotional or social benefits for learners?

Definitely. Writers can use fan fiction to express their thoughts on topics discussed in the shows, books, films, and other texts that they are deriving their stories from. This provides both an outlet for working through difficult experiences and an opportunity to spread positive stories inspired by these works. As a virtual community, it gives readers and writers a chance to connect with like minded individuals around the world, creating friendships that cross geographical and cultural boundaries.

Are there groups of students whom educators might not think would benefit, but who do?  

I would say any student can benefit from reading and/or writing fan fiction. Many students often lack the motivation needed to excel in the classroom, especially when working on writing assignments. With fan fiction, students have the opportunity to explore texts in which they are already emotionally invested, which can increase their interest in the classroom assignments. Students who already enjoy school can still benefit from the analytical and critical thinking skills used when reading and writing fan fiction. With the plethora of popular culture texts to work with, every student has the opportunity to find some aspect of the assignment that incites their passion.

There’s obviously a technological component to fan fiction that might not be present with other forms of literature.  What benefits do learners stand to gain from this?

Different fan fiction platforms require various levels of digital literacy. Fanfiction.net, for example, is a website where writers can upload their stories (solely textual), and receive feedback from readers through reviews of the chapters or the work as a whole. Archiveofourown.com, on the other hand, allows writers to also upload stories that have fan art interspersed throughout the text. Finally, blogging websites, such as tumblr and livejournal, give members the opportunity to create multimodal fan fictions that include text, illustrations, videos, music clips, and more. By working in these various platforms, learners have the opportunity to build their digital literacy one step at a time, while also receiving constructive criticism from those who they wouldn’t be able to reach without this digital medium.

Erika Romero received B.A.’s in English and Sociology at The University of Florida, and is currently working on her M.A. in English, with a children’s literature concentration, at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in English after her graduation in May 2014.