Book by Catherine L. Belcher and Becky Herr Stephenson
Review by Amber Kargol
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Iowa State University

Imagination in the classroom has the power to enhance student learning at all levels and unlock doors to the world that otherwise would be closed.   Literary texts combined with popular culture can assist in unlocking these doors while teaching students skills to navigate, assess, and interact with the world around them.  This book highlights three teachers’ use of the Harry Potter series in their multicultural classrooms and connects themes from the series to open new doors for their students.  Using the lens of magic and imagination it creates a new framework to challenge the curricular restrictions in place due to the No Child Left Behind Act and provides examples of how successful teachers can be when given more choices in their classrooms.  One does not have to have read every Harry Potter book or have seen all the movies to fully engage in this book, but having some prior knowledge into this magical world will assist in fully grasping its concepts. 

The authors highlight characters from the series and relate their circumstances to our own showing how universal and relatable the text is for all students.  The theme of being different is used in Allegra’s special education classroom; the themes of newness, isolation and cultural miscues are used with Sandra’s Spanish-dominant second graders, and Andrew used the text to show his African-American Advanced Placement students that Harry Potter isn’t just for “white kids.”  All of these teachers used the students’ prior knowledge (whether in books, movies, or video games) to engage them in deeper discussions about the text as well as the relevance these lessons have outside of the classroom.  In sharing the teachers’ experiences with the Harry Potter series we see the importance of using popular culture and the media to engage students in experiential learning.

This book also defends the teaching profession and illustrates the need to give teachers more freedom in the classroom.  The need for test scores to be raised to meet the standards in place by the No Child Left Behind Act have greatly reduced the power teachers have over their curriculum.  In Allegra’s case, a scripted curriculum was put in place halfway through her Harry Potter readings.  It drastically reduced her students’ love of reading and created more disengagement with them.  Trusting teachers’ expertise, student-driven learning, universal access to technology, new media as learning tools, and authentic tasks as the central from of student and teacher assessment are the dreams set in place by the authors (p. 160-163).

As Academic Advisors we may or may not be teaching students in the classroom, but we teach students during our advising sessions.  This book illustrates the need to build rapport and engage students in relevant and culturally appropriate ways as well as question current educational policies and classroom practices.  Although highly interesting, this book has more relevance for K-12 educators than Academic Advisors.  

J.K. Rowling created a cultural phenomenon with Harry Potter that has inspired the creation of the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization which fights injustice as well as Wizard Rock, a musical genre which exists to question the status quo and bring positive changes to the world.   This book is a great example of what we would like to see teachers and students doing in the classroom and paints an idealistic picture for the future of education.

Teaching Harry Potter: The power of imagination in multicultural classrooms. (2013) Book by Catherine L. Belcher and Becky Herr Stephenson. Review by Amber Kargol. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 216. $28.00 (paperback). ISBN #: 978-1-137-32289-0
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