This curriculum may be used as a year-long supplement, enrichment or stand-alone curriculum exploration of identity. The essential identity questions and enduring understandings lend themselves to identity concepts often found in young adult text and English language arts curriculum. This unit may be used concurrently with both 7
grades and tied to a culminating year end event in which all 7/8 grade English Language Arts students are expected to be a contributing member in a “starring” role, showcasing some aspect of their identity exploration. The goal of the culminating experience is inclusion of all students portraying their best presentation or statement about identity, whatever type of culminating experience is chosen by the teacher and students, it should provide an opportunity for students to present their best self.
Having tangential relations to the respective core books of the New Haven Curriculum is important for two reasons. First, it allows students to do a side by side comparison of texts—the short stories and the core book. Highlighting texts in this manner makes connections for those who may have initially deemed the core books irrelevant to their world. Or for those who connected with the core book, it presents a chance to deepen their understanding of an aspect of identity due to a more kindred experience with the respective short story’s character’s characteristics, concerns, history, or challenges. The curriculum provides students with an opportunity to discover the universality of identity and its development. The student realizes that though the respective character traverses along different paths, they all contribute to their own identity’s development. Hence, the student is awarded the treasure of an enduring understanding of an aspect of identity by discovering thematic similarities between the differing texts.
A second important aspect of using this approach is the brevity of the short story text. For a subset of students who are chronically absent from class, the brevity of the text allows for an in school manipulation of text focused around concepts presented in the core text. Student absence whether due to behavioral, familial, or counseling sessions is often unsettling and sometimes causes students to either individually disengage or disrupt an engaged class experience. Whatever the reason, the short text allows the previously absent student to “jump into” identity discussions from concepts gleamed from the short story text to a whole class discussion after a relatively short catch up time period.
Many of the short stories intentionally include controversial events or are high arcs stories. This was a conscious choice. Students in this age group love drama and providing character drama ensures dialogue and discussion about the stories, if the students believe that their voice or responses to the text will be valued. Students are able to address implications of events as they relate to characters more freely than if they were discussing their own concept of identity.
Much of the focus for this unit is on whole class and small heterogeneous group discussion. Intrinsic in this strategy is the assumption that students know how to have such discussions. If it has not been previously established in the teacher’s classroom, it is incumbent on the teacher to provide students with the requisite skills necessary to achieve and maintain a safe and supportive classroom environment. Students need to know how to “respectfully disagree” with one another, present alternative viewpoints, and collaborate. Specific strategies may include: developing norms for conversations as an introduction to the Socratic seminar, using fishbowls—small groups modeling the desired, as well as the undesired discussion behaviors, collaborative conversations—where students work together to develop and present a response to a discussion prompt to a smaller group, or providing scaffolding, such as: argument frames, i.e., “My partner believes that _____. However, I disagree with that opinion/statement because _______,” when students are paired based on their respective different viewpoints.
One way to increase student exposure to literature of identity would be to house both print and audio books of short stories in the In-School Suspension office (ISS). Having both print and audio present in the ISS office allows students continued access to the ideas and concepts explored in class as well additional resources that would be available in collections of short stories.
The fact that ISS is not staffed by a certified teacher is not a detriment to student exposure to literature about identity. Generally, the adults accessible to students during the school day are great resources for students (and teachers) because these student sounding boards proffer perspectives not considered by the student. Reading or listening to the audio short stories during time spent in ISS may allow students to focus on the behaviors of fictional characters and generate conversations with the adult sounding boards. Many times such adults provide students with “knowledge” that some of the concepts are not just concepts or stories from a book but real life experiences for the individual or people of their respective lives.
Student self-reflection is used within the curriculum as a means for self-assessment. Students will be expected to maintain a reading response/writing notebook. Expressions within the reading/literacy notebooks should reflect the student’s different learning styles as well as offering a place to share and respond to readings, teacher selected prompts, reflections on the concept of identity, Cornell notes, “lifted line” responses, brainstorming, creative writing, drawing, charts, vocabulary, K-W-L charts, and interviews.
While the teacher wants this to be a safe place to record and play with thinking, it must be acknowledged that the teacher is a mandated reporter and it is the intent to have the contents shared with the author, author’s peers and the teacher. Hence, it is important that if student has any concerns that the teacher may report any notebook contents, the student should indicate that any “controversial subjects/reporting” should be labeled as fictional accounts. Additionally, if a student wishes to restrict access to contents of their respective notebooks from peers, the student may do so by highlighting in the right hand corner of the affected page(s) “Do Not Share.”