Getting students of any age and educational level to read can be difficult. Even when students are allowed a hand in their reading assignments, unless that reading is done in class or carefully encouraged, it seems to more often be the case that students do not read, or if they do, it is done grudgingly. To problematize this further, even getting students to write about what they read can seem like a Herculean task.
What I propose is a fanfiction project done in class with low-stakes/high-interest texts. These can be books assigned by the curriculum, but I suspect that it works best when done with books, graphic novels, video games, movies, etc. with which the students engage outside of the classroom. I think an instructor would be surprised at the levels of knowledge the students have regarding the material with which they spend their free time. This assignment would be very open and an instructor would be encouraged to allow whatever the student suggests provided that it is limited to appropriate material for their age, maturity, and perhaps it may be best to try and avoid controversial materials.
The level of sophistication would be dependent on the student. For example a second grader may write about a scene she makes up for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, while a seventh grader can write one page about the thoughts going through the mind of his Call of Duty character as he begins a match, and incoming Freshman at a university can turn in an alternate ending to Divergent running at 6-800 words.
The theory behind this assignment is not necessarily meant to get students to engage in deep and extended critical thought, though this could certainly happen. Instead, it is an opportunity for these students to engage in an extended discourse with the text and the world that it represents. Are their character’s choices somehow consistent with the motivations of the characters from the source material? Are their character’s dialogues similar to the dialogue created by the author? This has an opportunity to move beyond wish fulfillment, which tends to be the sad fate of much of fanficiton, to a point that allows the writer to interact with the text and accept limitations while pushing the boundaries of material with which they have already, or do engage.
Along those same lines, this is an opportunity to share interests with fellow classmates. While three different students may write about Harry Potter, they will likely come up with different materials. This assignment would allow and encourage students to justify their writing choices in a way that lends validity to their borrowed subjects while giving them practice with defending ideas as well as conceding points and accepting other points of view.
As the instructor works with the students during this assignment, the instructor has the opportunity to ask the student questions about their source material and draw the student into having a stake in the assignment. That’s much of what this assignment is about; getting students to involve themselves in a text and place a stake in those characters and that world.