Born roughly eighteen years and thousands of miles apart two women encounter the same thing, love. It is neither age nor location that differentiates these two people, but their perspective on relationships. Heloise (1100/1101-1163/1164) and Li Qingzhao (1804?-1151?) are two women born into societies that are rapidly transforming during the twelfth century. Li Qingzhao uses poetry and Heloise letters to reflect their feelings. Their husbands play an integral role in these women's lives. The purpose of the unit will be to assist ninth grade world history students in synthesizing and evaluating information about European and Chinese culture, and the role of women in these cultures using the historical characters Heloise, Li Qingzhao and their famed lovers.
As a first year teacher in New Haven, CT I have encountered many challenges. Some people would consider my background a challenge. I am the product of a middle-class upbringing in a two-parent home in rural Vermont. It was not until I was eighteen, when I went away to college, did I encounter anyone unlike myself. At 21, I began to fully immerse myself in the New Haven Public School system and interact with people in a multicultural environment. The lack of diversity in my education, coupled with the multitude of ethnicities amongst my students has compelled me to create a unit that garners students' attention for cultures unlike their own, yet assist the students in creating the ability to make a personal connection to the new cultures.
The demographics of Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, CT, where I teach ninth grade World Civilizations, is heterogeneously composed of student's ethnicities and academic abilities. Career High School is a magnet school that attracts students from both urban and suburban settings. According to the Strategic School Profile, Career High's student body is 53.2% Black, 25.1% Hispanic, and 17.5% White, and 4.2% Asian. The students in my two World Civilization classes reflect the school's demographics. Coincidentally, my student's academic abilities are just as diverse as their ethnicities.
My World Civilization students struggle academically in a few specific areas. My students have difficulty reading for information. Too often, my students will read anything from a few paragraphs to a few pages and find it difficult to relay verbally and/or in writing the contents of their reading. In my classroom the students have been presented with readings from their textbook and primary source documents such as poems and short stories. Frequently, I will have to rephrase their readings, offer synonyms for certain vocabulary words, and draw connections to past lessons and present day situations. I believe the group and individual reading of the letters, as well as the letter writing using the "voice" of the historical characters, as well their own will help improve the students' comprehension of the material.
This unit will help my students develop the ability to focus on a variety of tasks for an 82-minute block schedule. The long periods pose a hurdle for many thirteen and fourteen year old students who have not encountered this form of scheduling in their middle schools. The longer class periods allow students to delve into great depth with the unit material, but the unit must compose the classroom activities in a manner where the students will transition between whole group, small group, and individual instruction in order to maintain maximum attention from the students. The unit can also be applicable to schools with shorter class periods by dividing the discussion and activity materials into smaller amounts.
In my unit I intend to address the issues of engaging students in a meaningful, interesting manner that strengthens their comprehension skills and heightens their appreciation for cultures unlike their own. The focus of this unit is on the investigation of the role of two women in their relationships through the use of narratives. Too often history texts give a few paragraphs to the role of women, while chapter upon chapter focus on the triumphs of men. One reason why women may be relegated to a minority position in textbooks is the absence of knowledge about particular women in certain time periods. That is why, with this unit, the students will analyze the material found on these women. As historians and students, they may not know everything about Heloise and Li Qingzhao, but the students will, through the planned activities be able to synthesize and evaluate the given material.
The two women, Heloise of Abelard and Li Qingzhao, will be the focus for the unit, as well as their husbands, Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and Zhao Mingcheng (1081-1129). The women's backgrounds will offer the students a Western and non-Western approach to the cultures of these women. The memoir and poems of Li Qingzhao, along with Heloise's love letters will provide the students with a unique perspective on the political, social, and economic situations these women were immersed in and the nature of their personal relationships with their husbands.
Incorporating the women's poems and letters, as resources, will allow students to make a personal connection to the women and their husbands who lived hundreds of years ago in cultures unlike their own. I hope to assist the students in better understanding these historical couples through the classroom activities of letter, memoir, and poem analysis. In the end, one goal I hope the students' achieve is making a personal connection to these women's lives and culture. The goal will be accomplished through the students use of comparing and contrasting the women's' lives to each other and themselves. The students will use class and small group discussions, graphic organizers, and letter writing in the "voices" of the historical figures. The letter writing will help students better understand the perspectives of each women, thus understanding the culture in which the women and students live as well as foster the student's relationships in their own personal lives.