Understanding and embracing one’s cultural, racial, and gender identity is one of the most difficult tasks facing adolescents today. Our students are maneuvering between the identity they acquire from their parents, their cultural background, and their own identity that they are trying to embrace and understand. In addition, our students are trying to figure out if their chosen identities, or given identities, are accepted by others, particularly by their peers. They are experimenting with what is accepted and expected of them in the school environment. A variety of emotions and changes, both physical and social, are also taking place in the lives of adolescents. In many cases, they are not ready or equipped to deal with these changes appropriately. Our classrooms need to be one place where students should be able to feel confident and comfortable with this transformation.
As teachers, it is our obligation to support our students and help them understand and embrace these changes by reading literature that focuses on identities. Reading and discussing such literature will help students to discover, accept, and embrace their own identities and the identities of others. One’s identity is often developed or formed from a combination of both internal and external experiences and expectations. Through the discussion of different readings, students will be able to identify types of situations they have dealt with or they have imposed on others.
The overexposure to positive and seemingly “normal” white identities in media and in books does not include the lives of many students in our school population, especially African American and Latino students: they need to see and celebrate images of themselves in which they are not portrayed as inferior to the white culture. It is critical that we select literature that speaks to minority students, not merely images that reinforce white privilege.
This unit will give students an opportunity to explore, understand, explain, and comment on their identities as well as the identities of others. To support the understanding of the very complex definitions and concepts of identities, teachers will expose students to multicultural children’s literature, which covers the topic of identities. Through reading, writing, and discussing such literature, students will have conversations and address difficult topics related to the expression or development of students’ identities. The majority of this identity study will be based on the discussion of texts.
My intent in this unit is to help my students discover and understand the value of embracing one’s identity by linking events in the stories to their own lives. In addition, I hope to help my students see that identity is constantly changing through environment, and internal and external experiences shape it. It is also important for my students to understand that they can identify themselves through many lenses. It is also critical for my students to know the formation of identities; some aspects of their identity are given to them, for example their names or their families. Other aspects of identity are acquired or imposed and may change through experiences and societal expectations. While learning about the topic of identity, students will address and discuss social issues, which are important to them. At the same time, they will also be able to increase their ability to read and connect to diverse children’s literature, which will align to the Connecticut’s Common Core standards for language arts, and social emotional/behavioral expectations content areas.
In addition, this unit will support one of the important parts of Conte’s community lesson: CREW. As an expansion of CREW, this unit will support the character development of students holistically. While addressing the academic requirements in this class, the unit will also address and support the social, emotional, behavioral, and ethical contents of the curriculum during circle time.