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Teaching Tips from 'Harry Potter'

When I was at primary school, I liked Harry Potter. I wasn't really crazy about it like some of my classmates were, but I liked it. My sister and I used to act out what we thought should happen (not all the books had been released at this point) and we got parts of it startlingly correct. I've got lots of happy memories of playing in the bedroom or in the garden.

Now I'm a teacher, I am beginning to appreciate the series more and more as I see my pupils encouraged to read the books having enjoyed the films so much. We recently dressed up for World Book Day and (aside from myself - a proud Hufflepuff) there were plenty of Harrys and Hermiones.

But aside from being a great story for adults and children, the series can also give teachers some great tips. I recently sent a Harry Potter clip to a teacher friend to cheer her up, declaring that it was classic active learning!

(Active learning is one of those buzzwords that educationalists love. And it's a great teaching method. It basically means to learn by doing, not seeing or listening. The active learning lessons I've taught have been the most successful, and the most fun! They are the lessons the children talk about on Friday when we are reviewing our week.)

The clip was from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and is about one of my favourite characters - Professor Lupin:

In this scene, Prof. Lupin is teaching his class about a boggart and instead of asking them to get their textbooks out, he puts his class in the deep end and gets them face-to-face with a boggart. There would be no forgetting that lesson, and it gives them a great opportunity to practise what they are being taught. They learn by doing - classic active learning!
If I was evaluating that lesson, however, I would just say Lupin should have demonstrated it himself but I understand why he didn't! Those of you who don't, read the book!

You could compare this to another scene, when Prof. Snape is teaching the same class:

It's clear that Snape prefers the old-school-textbook approach which just doesn't have the same impact on the students. I'm not saying he should have introduced a werewolf to the class, but he could at least have actually taught about werewolves before demanding an essay on them. Tut tut!

And then, in the 5th book, Defence Against the Dark Arts is taught by Professor Umbridge, one of the most foul characters in the history of fiction. Her method of teaching, approved by the Ministry, is to hold back the class so they are not learning anything useful. I worry about this in my class as there is a huge range of abilities and I am constantly trying to think of ways to challenge all my pupils. In the book, they overcome Umbridge's incapability by rebelling and teaching each other, but in the real world there is rarely an opportunity for that - and we don't really want our class rebelling do we? So we have to keep our pupils challenged!

I could go into further detail about how Lockheart thinks of himself more than the pupils, or how McGonnagal is firm but fair, but this post is already long enough. I think the subject is definitely worth exploring more, however, and if I ever went into studying again I would seriously think about making this a focus of a research project or dissertation.


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