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Nervously, with the angst only new teachers understand, I remember adorning my classroom walls with depictions of all the revered classics I enjoyed... The Secret Garden, Tuck Everlasting, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and so on in the weeks prior to my first year as a middle school literacy teacher. I was so anxious to share my knowledge and love of literature! Though most of my students paid attention, and even some caught onto my enthusiasm, it took a while for me to realize that quite simply, I was getting it wrong. The same students that would glaze over during these text discussions would jump back to their Harry Potter, The Lightening Thief, Series of Misfortunate Events, or as one student bluntly put it, "real reading" whenever they could. It was an eye opening experience. In retrospect, I failed to prioritize students' reading interests. My focus should have been nurturing a love of reading, not just a love for particular texts I cherished.

I realized I would have to meet my students halfway and incorporate what they were reading outside of the classroom within our classroom. However, curriculum restrictions at my school prevented such flexibility. The reading curriculum was comprised of a thematically organized literature anthology and a series of novels. The novel selections were historical and/or realistic fiction. Contemporary pieces were notably absent. This dynamic aligns with research noting that students' out-of-school literacy experiences (such as the popular culture texts they care about) are often undervalued in the adolescent reading classroom (Bowmer & Curwood, 2016; Guthrie, 2008). Consequently, students commonly feel that assigned texts are irrelevant to their interests and experiences (Gibson, 2010; Hull & Schwartz, 2001).

Hybrid curriculums, which merge popular culture and canonical texts, are under-utilized in curriculum designs; this article intends to shed light on this topic (Bowmer & Curwood, 2016). As a researcher, I explored the 'what happens' when a reading unit prioritizes texts and related experiences that are meaningful to students. I created a unit infusing popular culture and traditional texts of a genre that is prevalent in middle grade readers' leisure reading experiences: Gothic literature (Del Nero, 2017; Jackson, Coats, & McGillis, 2008). In creating this unit, I sought to use relevant texts in order to increase students' academic reading engagement (Guthrie, 2008; Ivey & Johnston, 2013; Jago, 2011; Tatum, 2014).

The Gothic is a fictional genre categorized by mystery, horror, and often, the supernatural. It involves exploring the societal 'other' or 'thing' existing on the liminal borderlands that both fascinates and horrifies. Although this 'other' or 'monster' is initially repressed, it ultimately manifests in some mode that permanently changes the text's reality (Del Nero, 2017; Punter, 2016). Quintessential Gothic characters typically have physical distinctions (such as the monster in the classic text, Frankenstein) or mental distinctions, such as the ability to communicate with ghosts (the narrator in the popular culture text, Down a Dark Hall). Regardless, Gothic characters share the status of the societal 'other' (Del Nero, 2018).

This article explores students' responses to popular culture and traditional Gothic texts in a unit I designed. I begin by examining literature on engaged reading practices for early adolescents, the role of popular culture in the reading classroom, and finally the Gothic genre's prevalence in youth culture. This section is followed by information on the school site, participants, as well as the unit design and implementation. I then describe the insights I gleaned from closely observing the unit implementation, conducting student interviews, and examining artifacts. The unit's emphasis on prioritizing textual relevancy helped participants engage more meaningfully with the unit texts. This engagement paved the way for student-centered discussions that increased classroom rapport.

Engaged Reading Practices

As Guthrie (2004) and Pitcher, Albright, DeLaney, Walker, Seunarinesingh, Mogge, Headley, Ridgeway, Peck, Hunt, and Dunston (2007) noted, the closer reading curriculum aligns with the interests of students, the more likely students will experience engagement. Nurturing reading engagement requires valuing what students like to read. Unfortunately, research notes a 'mismatch' between what students want to read and what they are actually reading in the classroom (Lapp & Fisher, 2009; Lenters 2006; Pitcher et al, 2007, Wilhelm & Smith, 2016). Cambria and Guthrie (2010) noted that "students do not become dedicated to reading unless it is important to them... Students' first reason for being a dedicated reader is that the texts are relevant to them" (p. 25). Such personal text experiences promote reading engagement (Cambria & Guthrie, 2010). Likewise, Brophy (2008) discussed how students derive pleasure, joy, wisdom, and self-satisfaction when texts align with their interests.

Reading engagement is also nurtured (or stifled) in the types of reading-related activities implemented in the classroom (Eppley, 2015; Hinchman & Moore, 2013). Research suggests that crafting questions and tasks centered on students' experiences of texts nurtures engaged reading (Beers & Probst, 2013; Becnel & Moeller, 2015; Tatum, 2014). However, research also illustrates that many academic reading tasks focus on text-dependent thinking that does not capitalize on readers' prior knowledge, experiences, or interests (Beers & Probst, 2013; Eppley, 2015; Hinchman & Moore, 2013).

Upon reflection of this dynamic, I sought to craft questions and activities within the Gothic unit that allowed students to engage "with and through texts" (Burnett & Merchant, 2015, p. 273). I wanted to give students the opportunity to consider the intersection of the Gothic texts with their lives and with each other (Francois, 2013; Hinchman & Moore, 2013; Jago, 2011; Wilhelm & Smith, 2016). When students experience engagement with texts, they naturally want to share their responses (Guthrie, 2008). This sharing leads to students' constructing new understandings together, which has positive implications for classroom rapport (Beers & Probst, 2013; Connell, 2008; Pike, 2003). Using high interest texts extends and further develops students' reading repertoires (Pitcher, Albright, & DeLaney, 2007). Texts that reside in early adolescents' popular culture are a means of tapping into relevant content to promote reading engagement.

The Role of Popular Culture in Reading Curriculums

Educators must take into account what students are reading independently and the conversations they are having about these texts (Alvermann, Hagood, Heron-Hruby, Williams, & Yoon; 2007). One major facet comprising the umbrella category of 'out-of-school literacies' is popular culture texts. These texts are commercialized, have wide appeal, and appear across multiple modes, such as print, comics, illustrations, video games, and movies (Alvermann et al., 2007). Popular culture resources are "often appropriated by young people for pleasure, identification, and a sense of personal power; these technologies help them circumvent the limits on learning and meaning" (Mahiri, 2001, p. 382).

Unfortunately, units that incorporate students' out-of-school literacy experiences, such as popular culture texts, are rare (Hagood, Alvermann, & Heron-Hruby 2010; Jago, 2011; Williams, 2007; Wilhelm & Smith, 2015). Another issue is that educators sometimes dismiss popular culture texts as inferior, or at best are ambivalent about its role in the adolescent reading classroom (Gibson, 2010; Hagood et al., 2010, Hopper, 2006). Gibson (2010) championed teachers redefining standards for what counts as 'good' literature and abandoning reliance on traditionally defined 'school texts.'

Texts that examine the potential of students' out-of- school literacy experiences harness "the largely unrecognized power of leisure reading in engaging adolescents and enhance their reading skills" (Gibson, 2010, p. 567). Using texts that reside in students' interests shows them that their literacy preferences and identities are respected in the classroom (Gibson, 2010; Hagood et al., 2010). By merging popular culture, contemporary, and traditional Gothic texts within a unit, I aimed to encourage this connectivity.

The Gothic Genre in Youth Culture

Borgia (2014) noted that "in the millennium United States, bestseller fiction has taken a Gothic turn" (p. 1). The Gothic genre allures audiences of all ages, but particularly middle grade readers, evident in the explosive popularity of series fiction such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. As is the case with many fictional pieces, these novels contain Gothic characteristics, but also fall under other genres, such as fantasy and science fiction (Del Nero, 2017). In fact, as Boerman-Cornell, Klanderman, and Schut note, "It would be no exaggeration to say that the popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series changed the adolescent publishing world, the culture of reading, and the lives of countless young readers worldwide" (p. 425).

Prior to unit implementation, I suspected that part of the appeal to adolescents is that like the developmental stage, the Gothic is a genre of 'in between-ness' (Del Nero, 2017). Characters exist between borderlands, whether it is actual ghosts lingering between the real and afterlife, or someone on the outskirts of society due to a physical and/or mental distinction. This liminal state of Gothic characters resonates with adolescents because they too are caught between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, and as a result, may also feel like the societal 'other' (Del Nero, 2017). This genre was selected due to its potential to resonate with young adults despite their varied backgrounds, differences, and experiences.

School Site and Participants

I implemented this unit in a seventh grade reading classroom in Hillside Middle School (all names are pseudonyms), a suburban public school in New Jersey. I served as a middle school literacy instructor at Hillside prior to the unit implementation. Mrs. Carson, (the teacher participant) was my colleague with twenty years of teaching experience. I selected eight students (four boys and four girls) to focus my observations and reflections. These students were selected based on their willingness to participate in interviews, as well as variation with regard to reading interests (as identified prior to unit commencement), gender, and ethnicity.

Unit Implementation

The text. I designed the Gothic reading unit in consultation with the teacher participant, Mrs. Carson. Mrs. Carson reviewed drafts of the unit; her feedback was incorporated into the final plan so that it aligned with her teaching style and students' instructional needs.

I purposefully incorporated a mix of popular culture, contemporary, and traditional Gothic texts in the unit to align students' academic and leisure reading (Hagood et al., 2010; Marsh, 2005; Pitcher et al., 2007). In the spirit of Bowmer & Curwood's (2016) research regarding the importance of infusing popular culture text amongst canonical literature, I utilized a hybrid curriculum to show respect towards students' out-of-school literacies. Additionally, given the diverse range of interests and backgrounds of the participants, students self-selected the final Gothic text to further increase agency and relevancy within the unit.

Film clips (ranging from silent film adaptations to current depictions) of the more dated texts (such as Frankenstein and Dracula) were an additional layer of popular culture. These media texts were used to increase relevancy, comprehension and to include less traditional literacies (Burnett & Merchant, 2015).

The context. In keeping with Mrs. Carson's pedagogical methods, some texts (particularly more challenging ones such as Frankenstein) were read in an interactive read aloud format. Less challenging texts were read in literature circle groups, pairs, and independently. Regarding reading related queries, Beer and Probst (2013) candidly noted that "asking questions for which you already know the answer is inauthentic, yet that's the type of questioning that goes on in most classrooms" (p. 29). The authors insist that this questioning impedes text engagement. Likewise, I sought to minimize single sanctioned question in discussion prompts and written responses (Hinchman & Moore, 2013). For example, instead of asking students to answer straightforward comprehension questions, I crafted open-ended journal prompts that honored multiple answers and perspectives. Additionally, I built ample discussion time into the unit plans (Beer & Probst, 2013; Hinchman & Moore, 2013; Wilhelm & Smith, 2016). This dynamic encouraged students to contribute to one another's newfound understandings, as well as construct new perspectives collectively (Ivey & Johnston, 2013). Table 3 details some of these tasks.

Reflective materials. In order to reflect on students' perspectives on the Gothic unit, I collected various materials. Participants engaged in pre, during, and post unit interviews. I designed the protocols using Weiss's (1994) guidelines on capturing students' evolving responses. I also collected artifact such as artwork, journal entries, and projects. Finally, I conducted observations each day of the unit implementation. I took the stance of participant observer; Mrs. Carson was fully responsible for daily unit instruction (Finders, 1997). Students were not aware that I designed the unit; this was done to ensure participant candidness during interviews.


Reading Relevancy and Engagement

The text. The unit commenced with excerpts from the popular culture texts Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight, providing an introduction to Gothic tropes. Many of the participants discussed how starting with texts from their world made the unit feel immediately relevant. As Anna noted during an interview, "I thought it was a smart idea. No teacher has ever done that before, so we had more to relate to. It caught my attention right away because I knew about those books." Likewise, Eliza reflected, "I think starting [the unit] with books we knew was a good idea because we made a connection right away. Before, we were just thrown into a new genre."

Relevance and connectivity cultivated interest in the Gothic unit for many of the participants. As was evident in participants' pre-unit interviews, all of them read or watched at least one of these texts prior to the unit. Thus, it seems that they were invested in the unit because it used texts from their world. As Diana stated in an interview, "It didn't even matter if everyone liked the books or not. Everyone's heard of them and knows at least something about them, so we all had something to share."

As the unit progressed, some of the participants also expressed appreciation for the issues presented in popular culture texts, (such as loss of cell phone usage in Down a Dark Hall) because such moments resonated with their experiences. Eliza, in an interview, stated: "You can understand these concepts. In the other books [academic texts] there were no cell phones or something like that. People can relate to a kid who has a cell phone, the Internet, and all that stuff." Likewise, Ray asserted: "When you're interested [in textual content], it keeps you into your learning and makes you want to learn more. I'm taking stuff out of the literature that I'll hold onto."

Mrs. Carson specifically commented on this dynamic in an interview: "This unit has both ends of the spectrum [classic and popular culture texts] and is designed to illustrate the parallels between the two. Rather than being a divisive force, it's bringing them together." Likewise, Diana shared: "I read those kinds of books on my own anyway. To be able to read that in-class, it's like joining together school work and what I do for fun. It's nice to have the opportunity to bring those two cultures together."

However, outside of this unit all of the participants expressed that such experiences are infrequent. During his post-unit interview, Kurt contrasted the relevancy of the Gothic unit texts with the two novels he read the previous year, I, Juan de Pareja and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Both texts are classic, historical fiction. Kurt stated, "It's hard to connect with [these] distant characters." It is possible that participants' lack of connectivity influenced their typical academic text engagement. In an interview, Matt reflected: "I get the pieces [academic texts] and everything. I do good on the tests, there's just not a connection. There's nothing personal about it." Likewise, Eliza stated, "When I don't relate, I'll remember it [the text] long enough for the test, but after that, I won't." Retaining textual information just long enough for assessments was something that many participants discussed.

The context. All eight participants forged meaningful connections between the Gothic unit texts and popular culture 'texts' they embraced outside of the classroom. These connections likely occurred due to the prevalence of the genre in students' out-of-school literacy experiences and Mrs. Carson's facilitation of these connections during in-class discussions. To varying degrees, all of the participants discussed appreciating these opportunities. As Ray reflected:
It's really good to have these talks because everyone knows about
something different. Some people bring up a [Gothic] T.V. show, movie,
or video game. So, everyone has a chance to share and then we can pick
out the Gothic attributes. It's good to have those student-initiated

Ray detailed how student-led discussions provided the class with opportunities to share and construct additional understandings of the Gothic unit texts.

Mrs. Carson facilitated this environment by allowing for student-led discussions and in demonstrating respect and interest for students' out-of-school literacy/popular culture connections (Guthrie, 2008). During interviews, four participants specifically remarked on Mrs. Carson's willingness to allow student-directed conversations on the intersection of the Gothic with their lives. In an interview, Emily noted, "She [Mrs. Carson] let our pop culture discussions go the way we wanted it to go. It wasn't predetermined." Consider the following student-led conversational vignette that occurred after Mrs. Carson finished reading the "Tell-Tale Heart," and the class's unanimous acknowledgement that it had a "creepy vibe" to it:
Anna: You can picture the scary music that would go along with this
Victor: I think it's creepier when people combine happy music with
something gory, say if like Friday the 13th had happy music. That would
be scary!
Ray: Yeah, because you don't expect it.
Anna: Oooh! The music in Halloween is so creepy!
Ray: Which one? The newest one?
Anna: Yeah.
Third Student: Music can definitely make things scarier.
Kurt: The music changes and adds to the effect, like in Harry Potter
and the Half Blood Prince.
[Conversation about "creepy" Gothic 'texts' continues].

This excerpt illustrates the variety of popular culture connections the participants constructed where a conversation about the mood of an academic Gothic text was connected to the mood of Gothic movies. These meaningful connections occurred in an organic, student-directed discussion.

Taken together, connectivity and relevance throughout the Gothic unit may have increased students' confidence and therefore, engagement in academic material. During interviews, six participants discussed how immediately knowing something about the Gothic unit gave them confidence. In an interview, Anna stated, "I like how I already had knowledge about it [the Gothic]. It's not like I'm stepping into something I don't know anything about. So, I felt like, 'Ok, I'm going to get this.'" Additionally, these participants discussed how pairing contemporary texts with more dated ones increased their ability to recognize the relevance of more challenging and dated texts. During their interviews, Matt and Ray discussed how they enjoyed seeing how Gothic characters, such as vampires, evolve over time from something that is feared (such as the vampire portrayed in Dracula) to something that is intriguing and alluring (such as Edward, in the Twilight series). As Ray reflected in his post-unit interview, "We got to see Gothic from all different time periods. Instead of just reading old Euro-ethnic texts, we also read the popular culture pieces. It helped me understand Dracula more."

Likewise, Kurt shared that he would "remember all the great plots of the stories because they [the texts] actually sparked excitement in my mind." Matt detailed a similar reflection: "I definitely paid attention a lot more to the stories than I usually do. They [the texts] kept me thinking so I didn't just drift off into my own mind the way I usually do. It's nice to enjoy what you're learning." Without an expanded definition of what counts as appropriate 'academic' texts these would not be considered. Such an insular view on curriculum decisions can have negative implications for students. Emily's response to the Gothic unit highlights this tension.

Tensions with the Gothic Unit: Emily's Story

Unlike the rest of the participants (who indicated how beginning with popular culture texts increased their excitement about subsequent texts), Emily expressed disappointment that the unit was not entirely comprised of popular culture/contemporary pieces:
When we were talking about modern things in the beginning, I was like
'This is going to be fun, this will be different; for once I won't be
ripping my hair out because we're going to read current things.' I
think I got let down when I realized we were still going to read some

In contrast with the other participants, beginning with popular culture texts disappointed, rather than excited Emily's response to some of the later classic texts. When I asked Emily to expand on these sentiments in a later interview, she stated that her difficulty relating to all classic texts centered on her inability to forge connections between the dated texts and her life:
The vocabulary, the characters' experiences, the problems, everything
in the classic texts doesn't suck me in like modern texts do. I feel
like an outsider looking in. There's nothing I can relate to, so it
makes me not want to have anything to do with them.

Emily described how classic pieces hindered her engagement because to her, they lacked connectivity and relevance.

Emily was bothered by this dynamic. During an interview, she relayed how she discussed the issue with two of her friends and believed that her major obstacle was that in attempting to relate to classic pieces, she conceptualized them "in a more modern setting." Unfortunately, visualizing these classic texts in this manner was not supported by textual details, which ultimately resulted in Emily's frustration: "I did this with Dracula. I kept thinking, 'Why are they just writing things down? Why can't they just pick up the phone?' Then, I get frustrated when I remember that they don't have phones."

This tension sheds light on Emily's difficulty in engaging with the classic, canonical texts that dominate academic reading curriculums, and perhaps illuminate other students' difficulty as well. Within the classroom context, Emily's complex sentiments regarding classic texts were undetectable. However, within the personal context of interviews, Emily illustrated that she was aware and bothered by this disconnect. This knowledge suggests that other students (who may appear indifferent about academic reading) might share similar sentiments and undergo more inner turmoil than their classroom personas illustrate.

Aside from experiencing enjoyment of the popular culture texts, Emily also indicated a change in how she felt towards her classroom peers: "We all shared personal things. It's [the unit] broken a lot of barriers I've had with people in class," she reflected during an interview. An increase in classroom rapport is something all of the participants remarked on.

A Learning Community

Ivey & Johnston (2013) note that when students participate in discussions on texts they find engaging, meaningful talk and listening can "lead to a sense of relatedness and of feeling appreciated and understood by others" (p. 271). Akin to this dynamic, Mrs. Carson capitalized on the enthusiasm that arose from using relevant texts by utilizing them as a vehicle for student-centered discussions. This discussion dynamic enhanced participants' textual understandings, and also acted as a catalyst for them to collectively construct new ones (Connell, 2008; Pike, 2003). The activities incorporated participants' many out-of-school literacies, so students got to know one another beyond their reading student personas. The class learned of Anna's love of gore, Eliza's passion for horror anime, Michael's affinity for zombies, and Ray's love of Gothic classic and contemporary film. These are only a few of the many understandings this class realized about its constituents.

Ray reflected on this dynamic in his post-unit interview:
Everybody was so into the [Gothic] texts that everyone was contributing
all of their different experiences, stories, and everything that
enriched this class. It was a different experience because everybody
was so much more into it [the texts] than they usually are.

As Ray noted, the shared experience reading Gothic texts served as the springboard for engaged and reflective whole class discussions (Beers & Probst, 2013).

Matt candidly reflected in his post-unit interview, "It's easy to discuss something you have a lot to say about." Likewise, Ray stated in his post-unit interview that the lengthy conversations that took place during the unit illustrated that students had many ideas to share as a result of this engagement: "It means we're really into the learning." This reader-text dynamic, in conjunction with the pedagogical strategies Mrs. Carson utilized, resulted in discussions that the participants recounted as pleasurable and meaningful.

Throughout the unit, Mrs. Carson also modeled her connection between the unit texts and the Gothic as it permeates popular culture. For example, while discussing Down a Dark Hall, she told the students that one of the scenes reminded her of another popular culture Gothic text, Gone. Not only did Mrs. Carson allow such conversations to take place, she also demonstrated respect and interest for students' connections in her discussion commentaries.

Consider the following conversation that occurred after Mrs. Carson's acknowledgement that the Gothic short story they were about to read ("Lavender") is considered an urban legend:
Ray: Oh! Like Slenderman.
Mrs. Carson: Who's Slenderman?
Ray: It's an urban legend videogame where someone's in the woods
preying on people. It's really creepy and fun to play in the dark.
Second Student: Yeah, no one accepts Slender, so he wreaks havoc on
Mrs. Carson: Oooh! You guys might want to jot down some of these ideas
in your journals! This [Gothic] theme comes up later!

This vignette illustrates Mrs. Carson's inquiry about a 'text' that resided in Ray's out of school literacy experiences that she was unfamiliar with. Additionally, she gave this connection merit by suggesting that students write down these ideas for future use.

In reflecting on this discussion in his post-unit interview, Ray shared that Mrs. Carson showed "she's really open-minded to whatever we like to share. It just helps us work better." Ray believed that such openness increased the rapport between teacher and student. Likewise, Victor, who was quiet in class, reflected on these discussions in his post-unit interview:
Our conversations included everything! We talked about the [unit]
books, but not all the time. We included every aspect [of the Gothic]
like movies, videogames, poems... people came up with a lot of
different ideas. They just shared a lot about themselves. I learned
about what most kids like to watch and read.

This commentary reveals that even though Victor did not frequently verbalize his thoughts in class, listening to his peers' commentaries not only aided him in understanding how widespread the genre is, but also how interest in the genre was shared.

Mrs. Carson discussed how the unit's qualities altered the typical classroom dynamic: "With the Gothic [unit] I can talk about what's 'out there' in reference to the Gothic as a peer and fellow reader rather than a teacher because we're using stuff in the classroom that's 'out there' right now." This relationship blurred the boundaries between teachers and students in encouraging active participation. Correspondingly, all eight participants discussed how the student-centered discussion dynamic categorizing the Gothic unit was unique. Emily noted: "In this unit, we got to talk to each other a lot about the Gothic stuff in our lives. That doesn't usually happen." Emily's sentiment aligns with the literature detailing how students' out-of-school literacy experiences are not readily capitalized upon in the reading classroom (Hagood et al., 2010; Williams, 2007).

Moreover, Eliza believed that not only are such relevant connection between in and out-of-school literacy practices not usually encouraged within the classroom context, such comments often resulted in student penalization. "If stuff like Slenderman was brought up in any other class, they [the teachers] would be like, 'Lunch detention for you!'" she shared in her post-unit interview. This reflection aligns with the literature stating that inclusion of students' out-of-school literacies are often devalued, or even dismissed (Gibson, 2010; Hopper, 2006).

Unit Limitations

In reflecting on the unit design post-implementation, I see areas for improvement. First, additional multimodal texts (such as digital texts, videogames, etc.) were not included in the original unit design. The absence of these texts does not accurately align with students' out-of-school literacy practices and would warrant meaningful additions. Additionally, (with the exception of the self-selected text) I designed the unit and texts prior to meeting the students. In retrospect, I now see the benefit of selecting the unit texts after getting to know the students in order to provide increased alignment and relevancy. Ways to accomplish such goals within curriculum designs (often constructed well in advance of meeting students) represents a much needed area of research.

Finally, analysis of early adolescents' out-of-school literacy practices reveals complex and varied relationships with many genres and text types. This unit implementation reflected a means to create a bridge between school and leisure reading practices, with the goal of increasing reading engagement (Guthrie, 2008). However, it reflects only one out of many possibilities. For example, units focusing on other under-represented genres (such as science fiction, fantasy, and comedy) are fruitful areas for future research as a way to understand and honor adolescents' complex and varied textual interests.

Final Impressions and Implications

At the end of his post-unit interview, I asked Ray what he would say to people in charge of making curriculum decisions at Hillside after participating in the Gothic unit if he was given that opportunity. Here is his response:
I'd tell them to look at what we like to read, or ask us what types of
things we're reading and bring that into school. Let the students
express themselves with different mediums and their different interests
as much as possible 'cause that gets them more into the literature.
They should just introduce diverse genres as large, free-form units
like we did with this Gothic unit and let students really drive the
discussions. Let students' interests take over and let them bring them
into class.

Ray's reflection holds implications for literacy instructors. Paying attention to the types of texts that resonate with readers and looking for ways to incorporate these texts within the classroom validates students' reading identities. Such strategies may involve paying attention to Internet bestseller lists for particular grade levels (such as on Amazon) as well as surveying and/or interviewing students about their texts interests.

Ray also details appreciation for how students' interests naturally took over within the context of this unit. However, this decision was purposeful within the unit design. Students must be afforded time to explore their connections and discuss the intersection of texts with their lives in order to maximize reading engagement. This dynamic is further encouraged when instructors craft questions and related activities that support complex text interpretations over text-dependent queries.

Finally, the outcome of this implementation supports the research noting that there is no inherent benefit in restricting young peoples' reading curricula to solely classic, canonical texts (Gibson, 2010; Hopper, 2006). In fact, this article highlights that a lack of text diversification hinders students' reading engagement. During interviews, many of the participants were critical of Hillside's reading curriculum in lacking such variation, which aligns with early adolescent reading research (Gibson, 2010; Hagood et al., 2010; Hopper, 2006).

Collectively, the students' perspectives highlight the importance of utilizing students' out-of-school literacies, such as popular culture texts, within academic curriculums. Such diversification validates students' literacy practices as experienced socially outside the classroom as legitimate within the classroom. At the unit's conclusion, the classroom's literal and figurative 'walls' looked quite different from my own many years ago. They were illustrative of the class's collective literacy interests as a learning community. Students' good reads were no longer relegated to the outskirts of free time, but rather an integral part of their collective time in the classroom.


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The College of New Jersey
Table 1 Student Participants

Name     Ethnicity           Favorite Genre

Anna     Columbian/Haitian   Fantasy
Diana    Iranian             Realistic Fiction
Eliza    Chinese             Horror
Emily    Caucasian           Realistic Fiction
Kurt     Chinese             Fantasy
Matt     Caucasian           Informational Texts
Ray      Caucasian           Realistic Fiction
Victor   Indian              Science Fiction

Table 2 Gothic Unit Texts (* denotes excerpts read)

Traditional & Contemporary Texts
Asbjornsen, P. (1987). The midnight mass of the dead. In San Souci's
Short and Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales. New York: Doubleday, pp.
Etchemendy, N. (1996). Cat in glass. In Oates, J.C. (Ed.) American
Gothic Tales. New York: Penguin Group, pp. 486-499.
McKissack, P. (1992). The woman in the snow. In The Dark-Thirty:
Southern Tales of the Supernatural. New York, N.Y: Random House.
Poe, E.A. (1843). The tell-tale heart. The Pioneer 1(1).
Reinstedt, R. (1987). The ghostly little girl. In San Souci's Short and
Shivery: Thirty Chilling tales. New York: Doubleday, pp. 48-53.
* Shelley, M (1818). Frankenstein. New York: Simon & Brown.
Scott. M. (2002). The girl in the lavender dress. In Applebee, A.,
Bermudez, A., Blau, S., Caplan. R., Elbow, P., Hynds, J., Langer, J., &
Marshall, J (Eds.) The Language of Literature. Boston: McDougal
Littell, pp. 951-953.
* Stoker, Bram. (1897). Dracula. Westminster: Archibald Constable &
Popular Culture Texts
* Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press.
Duncan, L. (2011). Down a Dark Hall. New York: Hachette Book Group.
* Meyers, S. (2005). Twilight New York, N.Y: Little Brown & Co.
* Rowling, J.K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New
York; Scholastic Press.
Various media clips

Table 3 Example Unit Activities

Task                    Example

Open-ended journal      "Do you think the monster in Frankenstein is
prompts                 evil? Defend your position with evidence.
Pop culture connection  Use YouTube to access video clips of vampire
                        films. How has the image of evolved?
Original texts          Think of the Gothic tropes you find meaningful,
                        create an original Gothic piece illuminating
                        those traits (may be a choice medium such as
                        poem or short story)
Design challenge        Using a choice medium design an interpretation
                        of scene(s) in Down a Dark Hall
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Author:del Nero, Jennifer
Publication:Reading Improvement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2019

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