Jenn Biglin (BA '20, BEd ’22) found a way to use pop culture in her professional semester III project and the result was not only a hit with her students, but she emerged as one of the recipients of the Wigham Family Professional Inquiry Project Award.

Biglin, who graduated with her Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Education in English and English Language Arts Education in the Spring of 2022, came up with the idea at the end of her second practicum.

Vocabulary Self Collection strategy

“I had noticed that when I integrated popular television shows or popular aspects of pop culture into my lessons, engagement was much higher,” she says. “The classes became more alive. I mentioned this to one of my professors (Dr. Robert LeBlanc), and he sent me resources to start my research.”

After discovering that the school where she was doing her practicum had a focus on enhancing students’ vocabulary, Biglin wanted to assist with that goal.

It then hit me that I could use pop culture in the ways of music, television, and movies to help with vocabulary and give them the opportunity to steer learning in their way.”

Her project focuses on a strategy called Vocabulary Self Collection in which students generate their word lists from a predetermined source. “For my practicum, we focused primarily on excerpts from television and movies.”

Learning new words using movies, music, books and television

For the project, students were asked to name their favourite movies, music genres, books and TV shows, and each week Biglin would choose one that the majority of the class mentioned. The movie and TV choices were limited to those for which scripts were available online or released for public use. During the lessons, students would skim the script, watch the video clip while following along with the script, then choose two or three words for which they didn’t know the definition or were unsure of the meaning. Next, they would use a context clue to derive the definition, then use a dictionary to compare definitions, and, finally, write a sentence using the word.

Though she presently has a temporary assignment teaching physical education in the United Kingdom, Biglin envisions being able to use the project in her own English classroom one day. “Not only do I think it gives autonomy to the students, but it adds a presence of ‘youth-ness’ to the classroom. I think it will teach kids to be conscious of the words used in their favourite pop culture items and that they do not need to feel insecure when they do not know a word because they will have the tools to find what it means from context, if need be.”

Biglin’s mother is a teacher, and that, along with the encouragement she has received from other teachers, helped shape her own desire to teach. She is hoping to teach Grades 8-9, but regardless of the level at which she teaches, she says, “I hope that my enthusiasm and love for this career are showcased through my teaching and that students see school as a positive place.”

Writer: Dave Sulz | Photo courtesy of Jenn Biglin

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