To some, the mysterious jungle of the teenage mind is made up of scary and distorted passageways that many adults refuse to explore. Along the same lines, society views teenagers as threatening because of their resistance to conform and their relentless effort to test the boundaries and question authority as methods of making sense of their surroundings. Interacting with my students, I can confirm that adolescents have certain qualities that set them apart from adults. They question why the world is constructed in the manner that it is. Adolescents argue, they love controversy and this curiosity towards the unknown and the desire they express to debate topics can be organized and developed in the classroom environment. For this reason, it is crucial that teachers harbor the gifts and talents that their students possess by encouraging them to question, evaluate and reflect upon the text and the world. I have attempted to incorporate lessons in this unit which will generate meaningful discussion on gender that students can question, debate and apply to their daily lives.
School is an uncertain time for any adolescent comprised of a series of highs and lows. A typical high school student is very preoccupied with the moment because the moment is manageable. They can not imagine anything beyond the moment so their interactions and experiences are highly influenced by external factors which play a dominant role in the formation of identity. Also, many high school students are superficial with their immediate outlook on the world. They make rash judgments of themselves and those around them. These quick judgments or labels are an outcome of the level of uncertainty, inconsistency, and instability adolescents are experiencing during this time period. Labels are necessary in language as well as daily communication but if abused and misinterpreted can be offensive and damaging. For example the words: girl, curvaceous, tall, blond are all words that describe a person. Each descriptive word contributes to a label that describes the person as a whole. However, when these labels are linked to associations that make assumptions about the individual without concrete knowledge prejudices are formed that may categorize the individual falsely. I would like my students to recognize the difference between using labels to describe someone and defining someone by the label that describes them. Also, negative connotations bombard girls during adolescence with "isms, such as sexism, capitalism, and lookism, which is the evaluation of a person solely on the basis of appearance (Pipher 23)." In an existence with so many uncertainties, any change in routine or a sign of defeat can trigger a crisis. Also, the emotional inconsistencies that adolescents endure reflect in their erratic cycle of high and low behavior. At the same time, the media tends to capitalize on these feelings of inadequacy and use it to market a product by distorting images of reality. I would like the students to practice using the same critical eye that they evaluate the literature with and apply it to the media as well.
My reasoning for including a psychological perspective of adolescence, in particular female adolescence is because literature lends itself to multiple interpretations or perspectives. During analysis, students incorporate their personal experience or their baggage that they carry with them from prior knowledge and apply it to the text. Also, literature in itself is made up of various stories and histories so an individual might better understand the text if they understand the writer and the context in which the writer expresses themselves. I carry this philosophy into the classroom as I tend to view each student from a psychological perspective as a whole and not just what I see in front of me on any particular day. In addition, much of the research I have used to create this unit has been written by psychological sources who have earned doctorate degrees in psychology specializing in adolescent identity formation, primarily Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., John Santrock Ph.D. Erik Erikson, Ph.D., and Mary Pipher, Ph.D.
I have noticed that high school students are reluctant to evaluate and make predictions about their futures because their method of thinking and processing is centralized in the present. Also, high school is a constant for many adolescents; especially for upperclassmen as they move towards the end of their high school career. For this reason, graduation is often traumatic for many adolescents as they transition into adulthood and onto a different stage of their lives. It is important as an educator to realize that this stage is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Also, I have discovered that by directing my lessons towards topics that adolescents are encountering such as a journal prompts, a coming of age thematic novel or a poem demonstrating conflict results in productive class discussion, expression through writing and peer support that others are experiencing the same difficulties. In twelfth grade students continue to practice the skills they have learned throughout their high school career. I emphasize the writing process as well as strengthening writing skills and reading ability through written and verbal communication. I have my students practice the writing process regularly through multiple drafts, pre-writing activities, peer editing and publication. Journals are used frequently because they are informal, meaning they are not evaluated traditionally with a letter grade but evaluated with feedback in the form of narratives and a check system and they maintain the writing process over the course of the school year documented with dates. Students enjoy reviewing their journal writing and reflecting or monitoring their progress periodically. Because the journal is considered informal is it safer for the students to express themselves openly as opposed to in a formal paper that places pressure on the student to perform to a specific standard that may be intimidating.
I chose a topic concerning gender for three main reasons: as a woman I am affected by gender in my daily interactions, as an Language Arts teacher there are many themes related to gender present in the literature, and as an educator there are numerous lessons that the students can learn from the female experience that are in turn applicable to the human experience. I will consider my essential questions both my own and those that I pose to the students from a literary analytical point of view. This unit can certainly be applied to any Language Arts, History and/or Social Science curriculum by supplementing the information with appropriate content material that adheres to the subject area standards. For example, if taught in a history classroom, a teacher might emphasize the historical context of the time period and the events that affected the experience. Also, in a social science classroom the teacher might introduce the psychological perspective or sociological perspective by providing research and studies that discuss gender topics. Along the same lines, it is my belief that the literature will give the students a voice to connect to their own struggle with identity formation.
Before the unit begins students must have certain skills and a degree of prior knowledge to participate in the unit lessons. Students must participate in discussion with an open mind. That does not mean that all of the students must agree but that they must hear each other and respond in a respectful manner that does not offend or criticize others. Also, students must be willing to read and respond to the texts both through writing assignments and class discussions. Students must also have an understanding of certain terms that will be discussed in the unit: stereotype, gender, discrimination, prejudice, culture, norms, roles, bias, sexism and identity. I don't want to merely define these terms for the students, but allow the students to be active participants in the search for knowledge. In other words, I will guide the students to reach the meaning of each term.