Zines and Education: Lit Review

Below are some thoughts about some of the articles I reviewed on using zines in the classroom. Check out my attempt at synthesizing this information to create lesson plans in support of my Elections and Protest online exhibition at Barnard.

Bott, Christie. “Zines—the Ultimate Creative Writing Project,” English Journal, 92, no. 2 (2002): 27-33.

Christie Bott’s engaging and energetic article on using zines in the classroom is unique in that Bott, unlike many of the other authors I’ve explored, is not a recovering riot grrrl or budding feminist. Bott is a veteran teacher with over 30 years classroom experience who, after discovering zines through a novel by Ellen Wittlinger, took a chance and included zines in her syllabus for the first time. Bott summarizes the steps she took to introduce zines to her students through a series of lessons, and the successes and challenges she met along the way. According to Bott, using zines to teach has been one of the “funnest’ things [she] has done,” and plans to expand her zine project to a full year endeavor in the future. This article is most valuable as an enthusiastic and persuasive story of one adventurous teacher and her work to keep the classroom interesting and engaging for her students by being open to new genres and new modes of learning.

Cruikshank, Wendy. “Fairy Tale ‘Zines.” Instructor. 111.6 (March 2002): 60-3.

This short piece on using self-published magazines as an assessment tool in the elementary classroom was one of the few resources I found which approached an actual lesson or unit plan. Cruikshank’s lesson plan is inter-disciplinary because it challenges students to demonstrate their understanding of plot and point of view as well as their prior knowledge of the conventions of magazine writing, layout and style. While Cruikshank is not concerned with the sort of zines in Barnard’s collection, her lesson plan for introducing self-publishing to very young students is an excellent model on which to build any media literacy lesson.

Daly, Brenda O. “Taking whiteness personally: Learning to teach testimonial reading and writing in the college literature classroom..” Pedagogy. 5.2 (Spring 2005): 213-246.

This comprehensive article on the teaching of race and cultural diversity in a college literature classroom is not specifically focused on zines or zine culture. Instead, Daly discusses how zines can be used an alternative form of assessment when asking students to reflect on highly personal or emotionally-charged material. The main focus of the article is on how Daly struggled to get her students to acknowledge and discuss cultural and racial bias in their own lives by assigning and discussing testimonial literature and challenging her students to write their own personal stories of their experiences. This work helped students to analyze and understand Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. At the end of their study of the novel, students were given two assessment choices; they could either write a testimonial exploring the construction of their own racial biases or they could create a zine exploring the power of media in the construction of racial bias. Twenty-two of twenty-six students chose to write the testimonial, while only four chose to create a zine. When comparing the two assessments, Daly noted that students creating zines tended to “advocate action more frequently” and “made fewer personal disclosures.” Daly’s article is a powerful discussion of a difficult teaching topic, and her work to offer assessment alternatives to her students is sensitive to the needs of different modalities of learning. It is a valuable resource for teachers of diversity, racially-charged literature, and those looking to experiment with zines as formal assessment tools.

Gongdon, Kristin G. and Doug Blandy. “Zinesters in the Classroom: Using Zines to Teach about Postmodernism and the Communication of Ideas.” Art Education. 56.3 (May 2003): 44-52

Gongdon and Blandy, professors of art at two different institutions, write about their experience using zines in college classrooms. Their work, “…found that creating and distributing zines is a successful peadagogical strategy for encouraging students to participate in postmodern discourse (44)” because reading and creating zines challenges students to take risks and express themselves intuitively. Gongdon and Blandy briefly discuss the history of zines, and then focus their discussion on the wide variety of content-area skills that can be taught using zines, including art and literature. Because zines are often created using a pastiche of materials and styles, Gongdon and Blandy believe they make an excellent primary source for approaching post-modernism and appropriation with students. They end their analysis with a summary of how one might approach critiquing and grading zines in a fair manner. Gongdon and Blandy include image scans from zines illustrating their argument. The article is persuasive if not flush with details. The reader is led to understand that zines are excellent tools for teaching, but one would need to look elsewhere for concrete instructions on how to use them in the classroom.

Wan, Amy J. “Not Just for Kids Anymore: Using Zines in the Classroom,” Radical Teacher, 55 (1999).

Wan’s article, like many of the others covered in this literature review, begins with a definition of zines and a review of their history. But Wan brings a political discussion of the power of zines to this instructive and illuminating article. Wan’s thesis is that because zines are produced outside the mainstream, they, “…[bring] the power of the media and the printed word into the hands of someone who may not be able to or may not want to work with traditional media channels.” Zines are an ideal tool for empowering students to speak their minds freely. Wan advocates strongly for their inclusion in any democratic classroom, without being specific about how to use them. She does, however, offer ideas on how to obtain zines and a bibliography of outstanding zine titles for use in the classroom.

Williamson, Judith. “Engaging Resistant Writers Through Zines in the Classroom.” The Zine and E-Zine Resource Guide. 1994. Ed. Chip Rowe. 23 Jul 2008.

In this presentation, reprinted on several websites from a talk given to the 1994 College Composition and Communication Conference Annual Convention in Nashville, TN, Judith Williamson discusses how she discovered zines through her teenaged son and decided to figure out how these engaging publications could be used in the classroom. Williamson argues that zines engage resistant readers because they are controversial, spark conversations about power and censorship, and provide an outlet for resistance and self-expression. Williamson’s talk summarizes her work investigating the power of zines through conversations and discussions with teachers and students a like. She provides a useful bibliography and encourages other educators to take a look at zines and decide for themselves how they might use them. This talk is powerful because Williamson is not a zinester; she is an older woman outside what at the time was a powerful marker of youth culture. Here she is advocating that rather than fear or oppress student creativity, teachers instead embrace the positive outcomes of teaching with zines.

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