New Harry Potter course shows how creativity soars when students are engaged in their classes.
By Rachel Withington
Here at Clemson, classes run the gamut from calculus to Shakespeare. Check in any backpack and you’re sure to find textbooks ranging from philosophy to genetics to Spanish. But if you happen to stumble upon a Harry Potter book, chances are, you’ve found one of Professor Michelle Martin’s students.
Martin is teaching the new Clemson English course “Becoming Harry Potter.” The idea for the course developed organically through conversations among Clemson honors students. Interest in an English course that examined the widely popular Harry Potter collection was certainly present.
“The course came about because the set of books was such a phenomenon,” Martin said. No surprise, the new class filled by the second day of registration. Because of the overwhelming interest, Martin opened a second section, which garnered a similar response.
The class is mainly discussion-based, but during the semester, students morph into teachers as they lead their peers in group-taught lessons and discussions relating to the texts.
Their most recent assignment was a research-based project relating to Harry Potter. Projects ranged from dissecting a passage from a Chinese version of the book to examining the genetics of “pure-bloods” and “mud-bloods” in the story. The diversity and scope of the projects reflect the interest and enthusiasm of each student. A few students even formed their own wizard band to perform original songs for their classmates.
But the class certainly isn’t all witchcraft and wizardry. As Martin put it, the course is “the academic study of children’s literature by way of Harry Potter.” Assigned reading alternates between Harry Potter novels and other texts that contribute to J.K. Rowling’s series and the genre as a whole. Some of these contributing texts include quintessential school stories like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, folktales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella, contemporary fantasy stories like Coraline and classics like Alice in Wonderland.
Because of the fun nature of the reading material, students are truly absorbed in their work. Martin says that it’s not uncommon for a heated debate to arise during in-class discussion about the texts.
One of the main features of the course is that it “gives students a better sense of what the genre of children’s literature studied at the college level looks like through the study of fantasy works,” Martin said. The class is also unique in that it provides a forum for students who grew up with Harry Potter.
“This generation of students was the same age as Harry when the books were coming out. So, essentially, I’m teaching Harry Potter’s peers — that’s been fun,” she said.
While “Becoming Harry Potter” is currently offered only as a Calhoun Honors Seminar, next spring Martin hopes to reintroduce the class as an English course that will be open to anyone who loves Harry Potter.