Fanfiction Unit for a Grade 4 Classroom
By Donna Brunnquell & Nicole Tufano
We, as educators, want to instill a love for reading and writing in our students and we are expected to teach them how to become familiar with the writing process, which includes; prewriting, writing, proofreading, editing and publishing. What better way to teach them than through a meaningful experience with reading, writing, editing reviewing and so on through Fanfiction. “Online blogging communities such as LiveJournal and sites such as have become more than repositories of Fanfiction; they are communities of readers and writers who provide commentary, share enthusiasm, offer proofreading, and collaborate on creative pieces.” (Shamburg, 2008, p. 50) It is easy to argue that enables students to use all steps of the writing process and, as such, lends itself readily to meeting school and classroom curricular goals. In many schools, is blocked so you have options as listed under the teacher resources in this unit. For this unit, we have set up a class blog that will allow the teacher and students to participate in our online community.

Lessons in the following unit build on one another as the students gain an understanding of each fanfiction genre and take time to “muck around” with their blog posts and interact with others within our fanfiction community. With that said, the intent of this unit is to build a community of writers with fanfiction as their shared affiliation. As teachers, our overall goals for this unit are:

    • Short-term: To provide a learning experience that enables students to make “real world” connections to learning through practices that are situated in social praxis. This alters the “school literacy” practices whereby competition to always get “the right answer” is negated. With fanfiction as the focus, students employ skills of reciprocal learning as they consult with others in the community.
    • Long-term: To foster the desire in our students that leads them to independent reading and writing as a choice, something pleasurable and informative.

This unit is comprised of ten – seventy minute time blocks. All lessons are situated in student centered learning, supported by teacher modeling. Within this unit, 3 activities warrant teacher decisions based on sound pedagogy: students with similar writing ability are paired together as peer editors to elicit appropriate feedback; blogging partners are assigned to ensure all students receive feedback; teachers will choose to have students present their sketch ideas in class to prompt a live discussion. As Shamburg (2008) cites, live discussion is often beneficial to the community (p. 84). As these activities are presented in the unit, further clarification is provided.
Following are FAQ that will help with your planning:

  • Will Students have enough class time to work on the computers?
Students are afforded the opportunity to come to class early or stay late if they choose to do so. We have contacted the local public library so that students know they can ask their librarian for help. In addition, the class blog post provides a means for classmates to help each other. The students will have the ability to contact the teacher via the class blog and/or email.
  • What if the students want to play around in the blog to become familiar and start up help is not available?
The unit incorporates 2 How-To videos with easy to follow directions: How to Post (to the blog) and How to Comment (on blog postings). These will be helpful resources for parents as well.
  • How does the unit provide for Differentiated Instruction?
As explained in greater detail within the unit, where applicable, we have made accommodations and modifications for students at different levels of reading and writing. Some of these include: all students are required to complete a minimum of 2 sketches for their storyboard, advanced students will be required to complete 3 sketches; peer-to-peer learning environment where students can help each other; students will select books based on ability; feedback from teachers and peers scaffolds learning for ELL students as they improve language and writing skills; computers and online learning serve to facilitate ease of learning for many students in an inclusion environment, e.g., low vision or hearing impaired who benefit from zoom and screen backlighting as well as text to speech, respectively.

Following is a fanfiction unit for a grade 4 classroom supported by a comprehensive appendix and rationale.

Writing Standards K-5 (for grade 4):

5. With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed
by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of
Language standards 1–3 up to and including grade 4 on pages 28 and 29.)

6. With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to
produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate
sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.

Language Standards K-5 (for grade 4):

2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation,
and spelling when writing.
a. Use correct capitalization.
b. Use commas and quotation marks to mark direct speech and quotations from a text.
c. Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence.
d. Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.

creative writing, participation, collaboration, fanfiction, feedback, blogging system, storyboard

Students will:
  • Learn how to post blogs on class blogging site and comment on blogs posted.
  • Review ethics of copyright and copyleft.
  • Be introduced to fanfiction and all of fanfiction genres.
  • Produce creative writing pieces through the use of fanfiction.
  • Read samples and students’ pieces.
  • Learn how to provide constructive feedback and give meaningful feedback to writings by their peers.
  • Edit their work based on feedback given by peers and the teacher.

Internet access
Blogging Software

For Teachers

Academic Treatments of Fanfiction
Adolescents and Online Fanfiction (Black, 2008)
Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 2006)

Other Fanfiction Resources
For Teachers Only (explicit words)
Contains curse words but teachers should be aware of these as some students may have older siblings who prompt them to use some of these words. Kids are not so shielded- they know these things so teachers must educate themselves.
Bloglines is a free online service for searching, creating, and sharing blogs, newsfeeds. Once you register you can choose the feeds you are interested in and Bloglines will keep track of them for you.
From Free software & online resources
Stories written by kids that are not based around a particular book. Kids are free to use their imagination & write their own stories.
*Stories can be sorted by media filter for school use.
Contains both fiction and poetry. Site allows to sort by media filter for school use.

For Teachers and Students
Derivative and Transformative Stories

Before Green Gables (Wilson, 2008)
The prequel to Anne of Green Gables. The story of Anne Shirley’s early life.

The Frog Prince Continued (Scieszka, 1991)
Life with the prince and princess after the frog turns into the prince.

Peter Pan in Scarlet (McCaughrean, 2006)
The sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Alternate Realities
Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth (Hart, 2005)
This novel traces the evolution of James Matthew from a present day student, an
outcast among his peers, backward in time to the scourge of Neverland.

Alternate Universe
Cinderella (as if you didn’t already know the story) (Ensor, 2006)
The modern day story of an unhappy stepsister.

Letters from Rapunzel (Holmes, 2007)
A modern day version of Rapunzel. What if Rapunzel felt abandoned and alone, as
though she was trapped in a tower.

The Three Silly Billies (Palantini, 2005)
The perils of characters from Three Billy Goats Gruff as they try to drive across
the bridge in a car.

Wolf Pie (Seabrooke, 2010)
What if the wolf and the three pigs became friends?

Alternate Perspective
If the Shoe Fits (Whipple and Beingessner, 2002)
In 33 poems, this book brings to life not only the voices of the characters in
Cinderella, but also the voices of some of the inanimate objects such as the glass
slipper. On a stage set by the story, we hear each player tell the tale from their point of

The True Story of the 3 Pigs (Scieszka, 1989)
The story of the 3 pigs from the wolf’s perspective.

Missing Scenes
Harriet Spies Again ( Ericson, 2002)
A companion to Harriet The Spy.

Peter and the Starcatchers (Barry, and Pearson, 2004)
New adventures on the high seas for Peter and his new friend Molly.

Return to the Hundred Acre Wood (Benedictus, 2009)
New adventures of Pooh and his friends.

Internet Fanfiction Sources

Blogging Software
21 classes:

How-to Post:
This video will show how to post assignments to the class blog.

How-to Comment:
This video will show where and how to post comments to blog postings.

On the first day of school, the students will be given an “Interest Survey” (see appendix). It will be used by the teacher to help him/her get to know the students’ interests and reading habits. However, since this unit will not be implemented until after the second marking period, the students’ interests could change based on other literature that they have been introduced to either in or outside of school. Therefore, one week prior to beginning this unit, the students will be given a blank copy of the same “Interest Survey” to fill-out again. The results will be used by the teacher to assist with groupings which will later be discussed. The teacher having previously discussed the issues of copyright with the students, will touch upon it briefly again. This unit will be implemented following the reading of The Polar Express which will be used by the whole class only to model fanfiction writing.

Day One (Monday)
On the first day, students will be introduced to the topic of fanfiction. Fanfiction will be explained as the act of writing and sharing new stories based on their favorite books, movies, anime, television shows and the like. For the purposes of this class the teacher will point out that fans read books and then create their own stories as “spin-offs” of the books they enjoyed. Following the discussion of what fanfiction is, the teacher will inform the students that they will be writing their own fanfiction piece after they have been introduced to all of the fanfiction genres. Once the students have a clear understanding of what fanfiction is and why they are learning about it, which is because they will be producing their own, students will be introduced to the first genre, “self-insert”. “Self-insert” is when the author writes himself or someone who closely resembles him into the story, usually through an avatar. The class will then work collaboratively as a whole to write a fanfiction piece based on the book The Polar Express (see appendix for sample fanfiction pieces written based upon the book The Polar Express). The teacher will allow the students to work together to create the fanfiction piece and will only provide some direction and feedback. While the students are working the teacher will take anecdotal notes of the students’ participation and work. For the purposes of the model, the students will create a character that resembles their teacher and insert this character into a section of the story. A copy of this fanfiction piece will be kept by the teacher for distribution on Day Five. After the first day’s fanfiction is written, the teacher will discuss again the issues of copyright with the class briefly.

Day Two (Tuesday)

The teacher will begin by reviewing the discussion of fanfiction and “self-insert” from the previous day. He/She will then introduce two more genres, “sequel” and “prequel”. A “sequel” is a continuation of the story that takes place after the timeline of the original story. A “prequel” is when an author writes a story that takes place prior to the timeline of the original story. Again, the students will work collaboratively to create a class “sequel” and “prequel” based on the book The Polar Express while the teacher makes anecdotal notes. The teacher will keep a copy of these two pieces to be distributed on Day Five.

Day Three (Wednesday)
The lesson will begin by students giving their understanding of what fanfiction is and the genres, “self-insert”, “sequel” and “prequel”. This will primarily be a discussion between the students. Again, the teacher will simply be there to help keep the discussion focused and provide direction and feedback when needed and take anecdotal notes. Next, they will be introduced to the genres, “alternate universe” and “alternate realities”. “Alternate universe” is when a major character or story event is changed, (e.g. an author may write a story about The Polar Express but instead of having the boy receive the first gift, another child is chosen). Characters from one story entering into another story or world would be considered as part of an “alternate realities” story (e.g., Star Wars characters appearing in the world of Harry Potter). Again, the class will work collaboratively to create to an “alternate universe” and “alternate reality” fanfiction and the teacher will keep a copy of the work for Day Five.

Day Four (Thursday)

Students will review the two genres from the day before being “alternate universe” and “alternate realities”. Then they will be introduced to the last two fanfiction genres on this day, “alternate perspective” and “missing scenes”. “Alternative perspective” refers to the fanfiction writer telling the story from a different perspective, which can include an opinion about a character, an event or the entire story. For example, an author may write a story about The Polar Express but tell the story from the perspective of the little sister. “Missing scenes” are scenes or events not actually in the original literature, but would stay true to the facts and characters in the original story. For example, an author might write a story based on the book Tale of Desperaux and add a scene between Desperaux and the princess. In that piece, the characters and scenes would be the same as the author portrayed them in the real story. Nothing would be changed by the fanfiction author. The author would simply add a section that could fit right into the story. Again, the class will work collaboratively to create an “alternate perspective” and “missing scenes” fanfiction while the teacher makes anecdotal notes. The teacher will keep a copy of the work for Day Five.

Days One to Four (Monday-Thursday)
It is important to note here that after the class has taken part in the whole lesson, which involves being introduced to a new genre and working collaboratively to create a class fanfiction piece, the teacher will meet with students in small groups. In a class of twenty students, the teacher will make four groups of five students based on their responses on the “Interest Survey”. The teacher will try to group students who have similar favorite books or genres. This time will be used to discuss books they have listed on their survey that they have read and liked. During these sessions, the teacher will ask that students begin to think about which books they are considering for their fanfiction writing piece and with whom they are considering to work. It will be made clear that the students must choose a book they have read or a book they are able to read in a weekend since the project will start the following Monday. It is also important to note that if a student wishes to work individually to create their fanfiction piece, they can or they may work with others. However, when it comes to drafting their ideas they will be working and take part in discussions in groups. Ultimately, they will only write their final piece individually. The rest of the unit will be a collaborative effort. While each group of students is meeting with the teacher, the other students will be asked to log onto and read some rated-K fanfiction pieces written about books they have read. Since there is the possibility that the administration may not agree to students logging onto due to the mature content, the teacher should have an alternative. The teacher can print out fanfiction pieces from based on books the students have read in the class or mentioned on the “Interest Survey”.

Day Five (Friday)
On the fifth day, the teacher will start by having the students review their understanding of “alternate perspective” and “missing scenes”. Then the teacher will begin by explaining the other significant part of this unit, which is feedback. When authors create fanfiction, not only is it possible for them to write both individually and collaboratively, but when they post to the Internet sites or blogs, they are able to receive feedback, learn from constructive criticism, review and improve their writing and learn how to give useful feedback. Therefore, it is important for students to learn how to give positive feedback when critiquing another’s work. The teacher will then use one of the samples the students created as a class, to model how to provide meaningful feedback. They will be taught to start with a positive comment. Students may want to comment on the portions of the writing that interested them or stood out to them. Commenting on the originality and consistency of the canon, [canon here meaning the originality of the piece] is also important. Students will also need to learn how to provide suggestions for improvement in the areas of storyline, plot, narrative structure, writing style, spelling, grammar and so on. After the students have been provided with the information on giving positive feedback, they will be asked to break-up into their groups and be given copies of the models of fanfiction pieces which they created this week. Based on what they have just previously discussed regarding feedback, students will be asked to choose one of the six remaining samples and work collaboratively to create a sample feedback. At this point, the teacher will walk around from group to group providing direction that may be needed by the students and make anecdotal notes. At the end of the fifth day, students will be asked to decide on the book they would like to use and the people they would like to work with.

Day Six (Monday)
The teacher will begin by explaining that when writing fanfiction, there are two types of audiences that students can write for; a classroom audience and a public audience. Since this is their first time writing fanfiction, the class will be writing for a classroom audience using a blogging system. Their work will only be viewed by students in this class. They will also be advised that another important decision when writing fanfiction in the classroom is to use a teacher-selected book or a student-selected book. For this assignment, the books will be student- selected but must be teacher approved. One reason we advocate for allowing a book to be student selected is, since this activity is called fanfiction we want the students to work with a book of which they are fans. The second reason is that all of the students are not at the same reading level. By allowing students to choose their book, advanced learners can choose a book above the assigned books for the grade level, while struggling readers can choose a book considered below the grade level. The nice thing about this activity is that it does not need to be made obvious to the rest of the class whether the students are using an easier or harder text, it’s simply a book the students chose, because again, it is a book they are a fan of.

After this brief explanation, the students will be given a storyboard for which they can either draw or write words to map out their fanfiction piece (see appendix for sample storyboard). Students will work collaboratively in the groups that have been formed based on the books they are using to create two or three sketches using the storyboard. It is important to note here that in every classroom you have students with different learning abilities. Therefore, your early finishers are required to complete three sketches, while students who may need more time can complete two. When doing their sketches, students will need to decide if they want to create all of their sketches around the same genre or if they would like to create their sketches around two or three different genres. The students will be given most of the period to work on their sketches.

For homework, the students will be asked to give a brief summary in narrative form of the two or three sketch ideas that they came up with for their storyboard and to post it to the blogging site for feedback from the teacher and their peer partners to be further discussed on Day Seven (see appendix for optional Homework Rubric). By having the students post their ideas to the blogging website, it will provide them with an opportunity to “muck around” and become familiar with the blogging site and how to post on it. Given that many students may finish their sketches early, they can begin to explore the blogging site in class and practice posting. Since some students may have difficulty with access, they will be permitted to complete their homework before or after school in their classroom or in the technology lab. The teacher will also make accommodations with the public library for students to work there as well. It is important to note here that the students should try to figure out how to operate the blogging site themselves, but if they do run into any real trouble that afternoon or evening, they can e-mail their classmates or teacher for trouble shooting help. The teacher’s e-mail address is made public on the school’s website. Again, this should only be after they have exhausted all attempts on their own. In addition to having the teacher’s e-mail, the students will be provided with a link to two how-to videos created by the teacher on how to post to the blog and comment on others’ posts. Again, this should be provided only after the students have “mucked around” in class and have tried to figure it out themselves. (see the links in the Supplementary Resources Section)

Day Seven (Tuesday)
At this point, the students’ sketches should be done and narratives posted to the blogging website. The students will then present their sketch ideas to the class (see appendix for optional Oral Presentation Rubric). The reason for having the students present orally is that having a “live” discussion about their sketch ideas can be beneficial to both the student creating the sketch and those who will ultimately read the narrative version on the blogging site. This will allow the viewers to ask questions and the presenter to clearly explain their sketches since they may have some difficulty putting their ideas into a short narrative. Most of the class period will be used for brief presentations by each of the students or groups of students. After the presentations have concluded, the teacher will review how to provide meaningful feedback briefly with the class. The students will then be assigned a peer editor to work with by the teacher, preferably not someone in their original group or collaborator for their fanfiction piece. The peers should have a similar writing ability. Again, since there are different reading and writing ability levels in the class, we want the students who are providing the feedback to be able to read the pieces with little or no difficulty and be able to provide meaningful feedback. We also want those writing the pieces to receive appropriate feedback for their writing level.

For homework, the students will practice what they have learned about providing meaningful feedback. They will be required to go onto the blogging site and comment on the sketches of the peer to which they have been assigned. They must provide positive comments along with some constructive feedback on the sketches. Finally, they should state their preference of the sketches provided. The teacher will also comment on each student’s blog to provide feedback and model for the students how to provide meaningful feedback. If they run into any difficulty trying to post comments, they can refer to the how-to video or call on classmates for help.

Days Eight and Nine (Wednesday & Thursday)
Days eight and nine will be used for the students to create their fanfiction pieces. Whether working in groups or individually, students will be encouraged to collaborate while writing and seek feedback from not only the teacher, but other students as well. While the students are working on composing their fanfiction pieces, the teacher will move around the room to monitor student work, make anecdotal notations, and be available to assist with any questions that the students may have.

Day Ten (Friday)
On the final day, the first half of the class period will be dedicated to having the students read fanfiction pieces from two other classmates or groups. The first fanfiction piece they will read will be that of the peer editor they were assigned to. The teacher will also assign another classmate’s blog for the student to read. There are three main reasons for having the teacher assign both blogs which the students will read. The first is that we want the students to be able to give appropriate feedback based on their reading and writing level. The second reason is that we want to ensure that each student or groups of students are receiving the same amount of feedback. We do not want everyone in the class commenting on one blog and another student receiving no feedback at all. Finally, by assigning blogs to certain students we can expose students to a book or genre they wouldn’t normally read. A student may be interested in historical fiction but may not read science fiction. After reading their peer’s fanfiction writing piece they may be inclined to want to read the actual book.

The second portion of the class will be used for the students to take the feedback which they have received and work on improving their piece. Students may wish to use more time than allotted to improve their piece and so they will be permitted to work on it after school and over the weekend. The final pieces should be published on the blogging site at the start of the following week. The unit will be assessed using the Overall Rubric (see appendix).

  • Anecdotal Notations: Day 1 – 5
  • Storyboard: Day 6 - Rubric Included
  • Homework: Day 6 – Summary of Storyboards; Blog Post
  • Oral Presentation: Day 7 – Rubric Included
  • Homework: Day 7 – Comment on Partner’s Summary; Blog Post
  • Anecdotal Notations: Day 8 & 9
  • Final Blog Post: Day 10 or 11 – Project Rubric Included

  • Rubrics:
Overall Project/Unit
Homework (optional)
Oral Presentation (optional)
Self Evaluation Rubric For Student Expectations

  • Storyboard
  • Interest Survey
  • Fanfiction Sample: The Polar Express Genre: Missing Scenes
  • Fanfiction Sample: The Polar Express Genre: Missing Scenes



















Distinguished 14-15 Proficient 10–13 Aprentice 7-9 Novice 0-6



Homework Rubric
Summary of sketches uses good descriptive vocab.
Summary of sketches uses some descriptive vocab.
Summary of sketches-minimal
descriptive vocab

Summary of sketches uses no descriptive vocab.
Blog posts are very thorough
Blog posts are thorough with main pts. covered
Blog posts are

Blog posts lack detail: “Good Job” is not acceptable
Homework posted to blog on time
Homework posted to blog on time
Homework posted to blog during next school day
Homework posted to blog during class time
Blog post & feedback-ethical, respectful responses
post&feedback-ethical, respectful responses

Blog post & feedback: some review needed
Blog post & feedback: needs work


Oral Presentation Rubric
Constant Eye Contact
Constant Eye Contact
Little Eye Contact
Very Little Or No Eye Contact
Great “Classroom” Voice
Loud, Clear, Slow

Good “Classroom” Voice
Loud, Clear, Slow

“Classroom” Voice

“Classroom” Voice

Explanation of the story included 5 W’s
Explanation of the story included 5 W’s
Explanation of the story is unclear
Explanation of story-sketchy & difficult to understand




















Draw your sketches here.
Write your notes here.

Draw your sketches here.
Write your notes here.

Draw your sketches here.
Write your notes here.



Interest Survey
This survey is to get you thinking and to give me an idea about your reading habits.

1. List the last three books which you have read outside of school.

2. What are the top three favorite books you have ever read?
List the title and author (if known) starting with your most favorite.

3.Why did you like these books?

4. What three books did you not enjoy?

5. Why didn’t you like them?

6. Who is your favorite author and why?

7. Do you find it easy or hard to read books? Explain your answer.

8. Do you visit the local library? Why or why not?

9. If yes, what do you do when you are at the library?

10. How do you decide what books to choose?

11. Circle whether you like (L), are indifferent (I), or dislike (D) the following genres:

Science Fiction

12. Which genre(s) do you typically read the most?


Genre: Missing Scene
Title: Homeless aka The Ghost of the Polar Express
Author: Sarita1
(English - Poetry/Tragedy - Published: 02-24-06)

He sat all alone in the park,
On that cold December night,
Shivering in the dark.
The frost sat collecting in his hair,
So he put on his cap,
His only defense against the cold night air.
For many a night, he had slept here,
With nothing to drink but a cheap cup of Joe,
Having been without a home for many a year.
Now, sitting in the snow, he was ill,
The sickness exhausting his body,
When he heard the train's call, loud and shrill.
When it came into sight,
He realized that this train was a larger one,
Different from the one that passed by every other night.
With new ambition, he gathered up his belongings,
And trudged feebly over to the dark outline of the train,
Determined not to remain alone in his sufferings.
He wanted to go, even if no one knew,
To a place where others dwelt,
To a place that was new.
So, he left the park and climbed aboard the train's roof to take his rest,
And there he would forever remain,
As the Ghost of the Polar Express.


Genre: Alternate Reality
Title:The Cullen Express
Author: The-Twilight-n00b
(English - Family/Friendship-Published: 11-29-08)

Okay, obviously nobody else thought of this, so I'm taking the opportunity and being creative. This is is Edward's POV, the brunette girl he meets on the train is obviously Bella, and the know-it-all kid I decided could be Eric. Oh well. Reviews are like tips at a cafe', they aren't necessary but they sure are nice!

On Christmas Eve, many years ago…
I lay quiet in my bed.
I did not rustle the sheets.
I breathed slowly and silently.
I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear.
The ringing bells of Santa's sleigh.

"All right. All right, Alice, you had your water." Carlisle spoke to my sister, trying to be quiet so he wouldn't wake anybody. "Now let's get you upstairs and into bed."
"But… But… But, I have to… He said Santa would have to fly faster than light… to get to every house in one night. And to hold everyone's presents… his sled would be bigger than an ocean liner!" squealed Alice. So many questions came out of her, but so few were answered – most were forgotten.
"Your brother said that? He was just kidding you. He knows there's a Santa."
"He said he wasn't sure. He wasn't sure if Santa was for real."
"Of course Santa's real. He's as real as Christmas itself. But he won't come until you're sound asleep, young lady. Sweet dreams. Santa will be here before you know it. So go to sleep."
Alice's bedroom light flipped off, and I could hear footsteps becoming fainter as they sauntered down the stairs. I crawled out from under the covers to face my bookshelf, and pulled out a fat encyclopedia from the bottom shelf. I quickly flipped through the pages until I found North Pole somewhere in the middle of the book. I read the description aloud, but barely a whisper. "Stark, barren. Devoid of life." I heard footsteps suddenly coming toward my room and I quickly made do with the book, sliding it away, and balled up under the covers of my bed, my back facing toward the door. A tiny beam of light leaked through the door as it creaked open. Esme and Carlisle stood in the doorway.
"He's gotta be asleep by now."
"He used to stay awake all night waiting for Santa."
"I think those days are just about over."
"That would be sad if that were true."
"Yea, an end of the magic."
"Merry Christmas, sweetheart." Esme whispered.
"See, he's out like a light. An express train wouldn't wake him up now."
The door closed silently, leaving me by myself in the cold and dark room. I thought about the previous conversations, but one sentence stayed in my line of focus. I mouthed the words. "End of the magic"? I closed my eyes and fought restlessness, but something more than restlessness was keeping me awake. I suddenly felt the house jostle, not like an earthquake, like something big and powerful were passing along outside. My whole room was alive now, things were falling out of their cases, lamps and baseballs were falling onto the floor. I bounded out from under the sheets, slid into my robe, hastily put on my slippers and ran downstairs. I swung open the door and stepped into the cold. Lights were flashing by me at speeds unknown, but they soon began to slow down. Everything stopped, and the steam surrounding the object started to clear up. I ran down the pathway and skidded to a halt.
What in the world was a train doing in front of my house? Where was Alice? Carlisle? Esme? Surely enough they could hear it too, couldn't they?
"All aboard!" a faint voice called from behind the steam. Was he talking to me? I cautiously stepped closer toward the man. "All aboard!" he cried again. I soon got within close range and stared at the conductor, astonished.
"Well? You coming?"
I hesitated before speaking. "Where?"
"Why to the North Pole, of course. This is the Polar Express!" he shouted and gazed at the beautifully crafted locomotive. The North Pole? He must be talking crazy.
"The North Pole?"
"I see. Hold this please." He said as he handed me a lantern.
"Is this you?" he asked as he showed me a clipboard, "Yeah." I replied.
"Well it says here… no photo with a department store Santa, no letter to Santa. And you made your sister put out the milk and cookies. Sounds to me like this is your crucial year, so if I were you, I would think about climbing onboard…" he spoke in a gravelly tone. "Come on, come on, I've got a schedule to keep." I said nothing but instead shook my head no. "Suit yourself." he replied. He turned and waved the lantern to obviously start the train up again. An extremely loud whistle sounded and the train sluggishly moved forward.
I thought back on everything he said, and after two-and-a-half seconds of arguing with myself, I quickly seized the opportunity and ran onto the train, just as it started to pick up speed.
"Ahem." coughed someone from behind me. I turned slowly to find the conductor standing tall next to a sliding door. I hesitantly stepped up toward him as he held the door open for me and slipped inside the coach. Other kids and some teenagers were running back and forth to other seats, singing and shouting. I eventually found an empty bench and sat down, staring out of the window and sticking my fingers through the hole in my robe's pocket, remembering how I tore it when I pulled it off of my bed post while trying to rush outside. I looked over at the bench next to me to see a girl about my age staring back. Her brunette hair hung down over her shoulders and her chocolate brown eyes kindly gazed at me. She flashed a smile, and I was about to smile back until I was interrupted.
"Hey. Hey, you. Yea, you. Do you know what kind of train this is?" a kid in the seat in front of me questioned hardly. His semi-long, black hair shook as he studied my face.
"Uh…" was all I could manage.
"Train. Do you know what kind of train this is? Well, do you?"
"Of course," the girl in the seat across softly stated. "It's a magic train." She gazed at me and smiled again. "We're going to the North Pole."
"I know it's a magic train. Actually it's a Baldwin… S-class steam locomotive… built in… at the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It weighs… pounds and…" I barely paid attention to him; I didn't care much at all what he was saying. "Are we really going to the North Pole?" I asked the girl next to me, but I was interrupted once more.
"Hey look! Herpolsheimers! Herpolsheimers!" All of the kids ran to the window to gaze at the fascinating department store. A little display of Santa Claus placing gifts under a tree had been set up in the window. "Wow, look at all those presents! I want all of them!" cried the know-it-all kid. "It's so Christmasy and cozy and beautiful!" whispered the brunette girl who stood beside me.
"Tickets! Tickets please! Tickets!" The conductor sauntered down the aisle while clacking a hole-puncher in his hand. He approached my seat. "Ticket, please." I shook my head. I never got a ticket, what; does he expect one to just appear in my hands? "Try your pocket!" he exclaimed. I reached into my pocket, but felt nothing except for the hole in it. "Try your other pocket." he mumbled. I reached into my other pocket and froze. I slowly pulled out an astounding gold ticket that shimmered in the light, no matter which way I turned it. I hesitantly handed him the ticket and he plucked it from my fingers, punching dozens of holes in it and showering me in a golden snowfall. He handed it back. "Thank you, sir. Hey, watch out, there." He shouted at some other kid in front. "Thank you, sir. That is a public-address microphone, it is not a toy." He once again shouted.
I gazed at my ticket and noticed the B-E that he punched onto it.

What could that possibly mean…?

In this paper we will discuss the necessary evolution of the classroom from one of teaching to an environment of learning and we will demonstrate the use of fanfiction as a vehicle to implement these practices essential to change. First and foremost, the learning must come from practice as students connect their everyday online social practices, practices that take place out of school, to the learning process in school. Brown and Adler (2008) are very profound in their observation, "We now need a new approach to learning-one characterized by a demand-pull rather than the traditional supply-push mode of building up an inventory of knowledge in students' heads.” We feel that this statement on it's own gives such a clear message defining what we are looking to do as educators who support new literacies and embrace web 2.0 tools. Demand-pull learning as defined by Brown and Adler, “shifts the focus to enabling participation in flows of action, where the focus is both on ‘learning to be’ through enculturation into a practice as well as on collateral learning.” In this way, both teachers and students have a voice and an approach that is engaging. Learning exists within a realm that students can relate to and become fully immersed in.
The New Direction of the Classroom: Learning Versus Teaching
At the time when many of today’s seasoned teachers went to school, they attended classes referred to as “Reading”, “Writing” or “Language Arts.” Lankshear & Knobel (2006) explain that the term literacy was not used in the formal educational setting then, but was used more widely merely to define whether a person was literate or illiterate. Reading and writing were considered a crucial part of having the ability to receive information and communicate with printed texts, such as newspapers, books, and the like.
In today’s world however, as Gee postulates, digital technologies have changed the dynamics and direction of the way in which learning needs to take place in our schools. Take note that we are pointing to learning versus teaching. As Gee (2007) presents the concept of learning in relation to affinity spaces, he points to the fact that different people discover different information in a different order. Furthermore, as he relates the skills of good video game play to learning and 21st century pedagogical practices, he identifies the Active Critical Learning Principle: “All aspects of the learning environment (including the ways in which the semiotic domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning (2007, p. 221). However, when we, as educators, think of the term ‘literacy’, we need to go beyond just reading and writing and think in terms of using reading and writing in a critical way to understand and act in the world around us. When we teach ‘literacy’, we need to think about reading and writing from a critical social and cultural perspective. We don’t want our students to be able to just read and write. We want them to be able to think critically about the world in which they live and play an active part in it as well.
As Gee analyzes learning within our schools, he identifies pedagogical practices, for the most part, as promoting learning in isolation. For example, expecting students to memorize scientific facts or spelling words for a test without linking the information to real world experiences does nothing to cultivate learning. Memorizing is not learning, does not result in retention, and certainly does not develop into any useful skill, although it can be argued that memorization strengthens memory recall skills when linked to specific strategies such as mnemonics. Gee’s work embraces the view that learning must be developed through the use of tools, environments, and cultural practices that are familiar and meaningful to the participants. He professes, “Human learning is not just a matter of what goes on inside people’s heads but is fully embedded in (situated within) a material, social, and cultural world” (2007, p. 9). In terms of this material, social, and cultural world, Jenkins postulates, our world has shifted from one of a spectator culture to that of a participatory culture. Through online practices and the easy access of web 2.0 tools, the public now has the forum at their disposal to reach large groups of people, thus enlightening and affecting change. We live in a world, more to the point, our youth live in a world where they are globally connected 24/7, and where the public has the ability to take media into their own hands by experimenting, responding, and collaborating. “The internet has [also] fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs” (Brown & Adler, 2008). Hurricane Katrina and the current BP oil crisis provide excellent examples of occurrences whereby media, as a publically controlled domain, has been able to portray aspects of these events in real time and in thousands of contexts, making it possible for others to form opinions, submit commentaries and updates and rise to action. Our participatory culture clearly results in a collective intelligence that stimulates participants to become proactive. “We are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media, toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 11). It is within this participatory culture, that gathering places, affinity spaces, exist and are situated around specific interests, social affiliations, viewpoints and so forth. For example, anime, flickr, video gaming, and fanfiction each constitute an affinity space where common identities emerge. Affinity spaces can exist long-term based on their point of affiliation but they can also be short-term as they arise in connection to an issue or affiliation that has a finite life. The Kerry presidential election or parents with children in the same class might form a short-term affinity group. As the election finishes or the children move on to another grade, the affinity group no longer has relevance, thus participants move on to interact with new affinity spaces.
As educators, we must provide mentorship in the classroom, enabling students to build a bridge from the fundamentals of literacy to the skill set necessary to fully participate in our digital world. With that said, Jenkins et. al. (2006) posit “[y]outh must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new.” (p. 19) It is important to teach reading and writing skills because they are needed to engage with ‘new literacies’, but “new literacy” skills easily can be taught in conjunction with important, traditional reading and writing skills (i.e., the ability to read, write and comprehend text can be taught through Fanfiction and blogging; the ability to research news stories, listen and critically respond to them and write and record essays can be taught through the use of podcasting; the ability to communicate persuasively can be taught through video making and so on). A new literacy such as Fanfiction, for example, could be used to enhance the way we teach certain skills we want our students to attain. Fanfiction typically also creates a more meaningful learning experience for our students. ‘New literacies’ are important because students engage with them for hours on end, yet not when they are in school. Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan (2006) state that “[c]hildren learn these [new literacy] skills as part of their lives, like language, which they learn without realizing they are learning it.” (p.8) We as teachers should be developing and enhancing these skills that students are teaching themselves because these are skills they will need later in life and will surround them on a daily basis.
Fanfiction and its Implications in the Classroom
Rebecca Black (2005) explains that Fanfiction well and truly preceded the Internet. As a matter of fact, many children and adults were producing works similar to that of Fanfiction and submitting them for publication to personal fan magazines known as “zines” for years before the internet became a publicly available service. Fanfiction describes the act in which fans write and share new stories based on favorite books, movies, anime, television shows and the like. It also includes the final results, too: the fan-produced narrative itself.
When authors write a Fanfiction piece there are several “genres” they can choose from. Chris Shamburg discusses these genres in his book English Language Arts: Units for Grades 9-12. The first example mentioned is “missing scenes”. “Missing scenes” are not actually in the original literature but would stay true to the facts and characters in the original story. For example, an author might write a story based on the book Tale of Desperaux and add a scene between Desperaux and the princess. In that scene, the characters and scenes would be the same as what the author portrayed them in the real story. Nothing would be changed by the Fanfiction author. The author would simply add a section that could fall right into the story. “Alternative perspective” refers to the Fanfiction writer telling the story from a different perspective, which can include an opinion about a character, an event or the entire story. When a major character or story event is changed, it is considered to be an “alternate universe” story. For example, an author may write a story about The Polar Express but tell the story from the perspective of the little sister. Characters from one story entering into another story or world would be considered as part of an “alternate realities” story (e.g., Star Wars characters appearing in the world of Harry Potter). “Sequels” are a continuation of the story that takes place after the timeline of the original story. A “prequel” is when an author writes a story that takes place prior to the timeline of the original story. Finally, a “self-insert” is when the author writes himself or someone who closely resembles himself into the story, usually through an avatar (e.g., I could write a character into the story of Curious George that resembles me. She might be a shy hard-working teacher who loves sports, especially the New York Giants and Yankees, and loves her students). These various genres actually require a quite sophisticated understanding of story structures, characters, plots and so on. Some of the most popular Fanfictions today are written about the books Harry Potter and Twilight. Harry Potter currently has 457,511 Fanfiction pieces written and Twilight has 147,354. Someone of these pieces can run the length of multiple chapters and over 100,000 words. That is not to say that we will necessarily be writing pieces on Harry Potter or Twilight or pieces that are over 100,000 words, but it just shows that when students are interested they will write and they will write a great deal.
Clearly, in producing and responding to Fanfiction, students can enhance their writing skills and improve their technical and Internet skills as well (Herzing 2005). When posting stories on internet sites such as or using a Web-based blog or wiki established by the teacher, students are afforded many valuable learning opportunities. Knobel & Wilber (2009) argue that “[t]he Internet makes room for all kinds of interests and affinities, and more and more online services are making it possible for people to leave comments, review posted work, and respond to others’ opinions in truly participatory ways.” (p. 21) By working in this participatory fashion on either Web-based blogging sites, wikis or internet sites such as, students are learning skills that they would not otherwise learn by working independently. Not only is it possible for them to write both individually and collaboratively, but they are able to receive feedback, learn from constructive criticism, review and improve their writing, and learn how to give useful feedback. Feedback can range from simple to complex suggestions about storylines, plots, narrative structure, writing style, spelling and grammar. (Knobel & Wilber 2009) For example, authors can officially look for advice from beta-readers. Beta-readers are the Fanfiction name for proofreaders. Reviewers can also act as informal beta-readers. Black (2005) describes how these official or unofficial beta-readers may “recast(s) several paragraphs of the story to model effective use of conjunctions, subordinate clauses, and sentence transition. However, it is significant to note that, in rewording the passages, the reviewer does not single out and criticize individual grammatical or spelling errors, but instead offers a more holistic critique aimed at helping the author better convey her meaning.” (p. 126) Reviewers may also comment on grammar and story structure that may hinder their comprehension of the text. Reviewers will almost always follow with a positive comment and request more writing from the author. Negative commenting, known as flaming, is strongly discouraged within Fanfiction.
Typically, in many classroom settings students are given an assignment where they are expected to work independently and are assessed on their individual work. A teacher may give one round of feedback while students are working on an assignment and then the assignment is submitted for a final grade. After the students are given a final grade, the class moves onto the next topic. Students don’t generally give feedback to each other until the final presentation of assignment work, if at all. By teaching in this manner, students are not being offered a chance for peer-to-peer learning or to learn in a meaningful way and they often can lose interest in the assignment. If students cannot relate to and make meaning from the assignment they are given, then the situation is not conducive to learning. Fanfiction writing and reviewing enables students to focus on their own ‘fanships’ and existing knowledge about some narrative world (e.g., Harry Potter). is currently blocked by our school’s internet filter blocking system. I believe it would be such a valuable tool for our students to draw on. Some of the issues raised by Shamburg (2008) concerning Fanfic include accessing adult material. However, these perceived dangers can be minimized by registering to the site and teaching the students to be aware of the Fanfiction writings labeled for mature content. To be sure, the benefits of using to encourage all of our students to become serious and seriously good writers far outweigh the concerns of encountering mature content, especially if we teach them appropriate navigation on this site.
In conclusion, although more research is necessary regarding the methods to facilitate purposeful integration of digital literacies in the classroom, We feel strongly that the need is evident. Working in collaboration is a learned skill; one that schools must incorporate if they are going to lead students to a more meaningful experience through deeper learning. That is to say, we have an obligation and a duty to identify and guide our students to the 21st century skills necessary to go on to successful participation in the workforce, and more specifically, in life. Some of these skills, presented and analyzed throughout this paper, include risk taking, rethinking of the concepts and issues as situations warrant, interpersonal skills, and ethics that have dramatically changed with technology. Fanfiction, as presented in this paper, is but one of many avenues for educators to consider as they heed the call to action for swift and dramatic change in praxis. We will fail our students if we fail to make these changes. Our students have the right to an education that provides opportunities to develop 21st century skills that enable them to become successful producers rather than consumers of learning.


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