“Engaging youth in writing for social change is necessary because it helps youth locate their own power, participate in democracy, and write for authentic audiences (Bender-Slack, 2010).”20
With this being an election year, I think it very important for my students to have a very soft start to understanding their own personal beliefs. Given that this is a language arts course, I think it is an easy bridge from traditional language arts to considering the political implications by exploring the point of view and the voice of different writers as well as the student’s own voice in writing. My main target is to have students consider the artist’s experience to determine what their point of view is and how this shapes their voice. To do so, I want my students to examine the perspective of women who write from various perspectives while considering the connection between the author’s point of view and the author’s voice. The essential question I’ll be posing to my students in my unit is how can writing be used as a tool to empower people? How have artists used their words to bring about change in their communities? Why is important for people to tell their own story?
To do this, I want to start with a video by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about “The Power of the Single Story.” In this Ted Talk, Adichie speaks about her own experiences growing up in Nigeria and reading British writers. She says how this experience shaped her own writing as well as the impact experiencing Nigerian works had on her own writing.21 I think this will allow my students to have a very soft entry into self directed writing. After watching, students would generate a short list of topics based on Adichie’s TED talk and then complete an initial expressive writing assignment. From there, students would be asked to take the piece home and come in with a revised version of the assignment at the second stage: (1) mature expressive, (2) transactional, or (3) poetic.
Having reviewed the importance of crafting their own story, students will then be asked to read Frederick Douglas’ biography and his work, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” as homework. In response, they will draft a self-directed writing which they will share in class. In class, students will use their self-directed writing to stimulate discussion in small groups before a larger group conversation. An important question that students will need to answer is “What is Frederick Douglas’ purpose of writing this speech?”
Teacher will discuss that many things impact people and inspire them to create art. Teacher will ask the students about Breonna Taylor. After sharing a brief explanation of who Breonna Taylor is, students will be asked to read an article on Breonna Taylor, “For Breonna Taylor: Annapolis July 4th Mural Protests Police Violence against Black People.” Students will be directed to complete a close reading of the article while also keeping the question in mind “Why was the mural created? What do the creators hope people will understand after viewing the mural”
When students have completed the assignment, each group will present their ideas to class. Students will then be asked to generate a list of ideas of ideas / concepts that are important to them. Initially, the list will be generated individually before being shared with the class. Students should add to their own lists during class discussions as this list will be used throughout the unit.
After generating the list, students will be asked to create art that they feel represents something that is important to them. In creating their art, students will be asked to consider their message, the intended audience, and the type of art they wish to create. When students complete their art, students will be asked to give their work a title. Once work is completed, students will have the opportunity to have a gallery walk and to look through and see what each other created. During the gallery walk, students will be asked to choose different pieces belonging to their classmates and answer the question: What message is your classmate trying to share with you about the topic?
After the gallery walk, teacher will review responses and return the responses to the creators of the art. After reading their classmates responses, students will be asked to respond. Did your classmates understand your message? What do you feel you could add to this or take away in order to make the message stronger? This reflection will be completed as a homework assignment.
After completing the work on Douglas, students will examine how voice and point of view specifically interact in the work of Toni Morrison. In Morrison’s, “Reticaif”, my students will read about two girls, one black and one white, who are dealing with racism in children’s home. Morrison chooses never to reveal the specific race of either Twyla, the narrator, or Roberta, her pal, only making it clear that one is white and one is black. In doing so, Morrison is challenging racial identities and forcing the reader to determine how different people truly are and what guidelines we are using to do this.
Prior to reading her story, my students will experience some of Morrison’s own words on why she entered writing in the interview “Toni Morrison Talks About Her Motivation For Writing.” Morrison speaks about how the writing scene was dominated by African Americans males, and that the African American female voice wasn’t included.22 My students will hear why it was important for Toni Morrison as a woman to have her voice as a part of the conversation. In reflecting on Morrison’s work, students will consider their thoughts on Morrisons work using a form of initial expressive writing that focuses on writing for themselves rather than for their teacher.
While reading the story, students will look for character details using a graphic organizer that will ask them to: (1) identify significant character actions, (2) identify a character trait this demonstrates, and (3) explain how this action explains the character trait. After completing the chart, students will be asked to draw physical representations of the two characters. Then they will share them with each other. Students will then do some initial expressive writing regarding which race each character is and what is Morrison arguing by making it unclear which race each girl is.
After reading the story, the students will go back to that initial expressive writing and proceed to develop a response at the next level. Options will include a more expressive approach (letter to Morrison), a transactional approach (typical written response), or a poetic option (a new interview between Morrison and themself).
Having already seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak, the students will then read her short story, “Olikoye”. Prior to reading the story, students will be asked to reading Adichie’s biography. As part of the prereading process, students will use the biography and review the video “The Power of a Single Story” to determine what they think might be important to Adichie and why.
In this story, Adichie tells the tale of a young woman giving birth at a hospital in Nigeria who is going to name her child after the minister of health who brought vaccinations to her village. In reading Adichie’s work, it is very clear that she believes in vaccinations. While reading, students will be asked to keep their thoughts about Adichie in mind. Students will again be given the chance to perform an initial expressive writing task responding to Adichie’s work.
During a second reading, students will determine the theme of the story using a graphic organizer. The four-column organizer will ask them to locate conflicts, determine solutions, decide what lesson the characters learned, and write a theme based on their understanding of what the character(s) learned.
After completing the initial expressive writing, my students will then examine a bit about the vaccination debate. They will read an article from ProCon.org on the appropriateness of vaccinating kids and will complete a simple pro / con graphic organizer. Then, students will be provided with the opportunity to watch two TED Talks on the subject of vaccinations providing both sides of the issue, “Why I Changed My Mind on Vaccinations” and “Why Parents Fear Vaccines.”
Using Adichie’s story, the videos, and statistics from the ProCon article, students will draw their own conclusions about the importance of vaccinations. In doing so, they will need to create a response that explains whether or not they feel vaccinations should be required by going through the first and the second stage of self directed writing.
From Nigeria, we will travel to South Africa and read the work of Nadine Gordimer. In Gordimer’s “Once Upon a Time,” a white family living in South Africa puts barbed wire around their home to protect themselves from ‘undesirables’ only for their young son to get caught in the wire. Prior to reading the story, students will be asked to read Gordimer’s biography for homework. The students will then be asked to watch the Nadine Gordimer videos “In Conversation – Nadine Gordimer” and “Nadine on Racism.” While viewing the students will be asked to answer the questions: (1) What was her experience with black people when she was younger? (2) How did this change? (3) What caused the change? After watching the video and answering the questions, the students will share their responses in small groups. After a brief class discussion on their responses, students will be directed to Nadine Gordimer’s discussion on propaganda.
The goal of this part of the lesson is for students to have a working definition of propaganda to use in order to analyze Nadine Gordimer’s writing. In her interview, “In Conversation – Nadine Gordimer,” Gordimer speaks of the need of the writer to avoid propaganda.23 Using the definitions provided by the Mind over Media curriculum, students will be given several definitions of propaganda and will craft a definition as a group before being asked to keep or adapt their group definition for individual use. 24
Once students have their definition of propaganda, students will be asked to read Gordimer’s “Once Upon a Time” looking to determine what the author’s point of view is. To determine the author’s point of view, the students will consider what the theme of the text and what the author’s opinion is on the subject. If modeling is needed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Olikoye can be used to demonstrate identifying point of view. Once they complete the reading, the students will be asked to look at their definition of propaganda and consider whether or not they determine Gordimer’s story “Once Upon a Time” is representative of their definition. Students will be go through the self directed writing process of writing and initial expressive stage before developing a second response utilizing one of the three modes of self directed writing.
Next, students will work on Sandra Ciseneros’ “Woman Hollering Creek,” which tells the story of a woman escaping domestic violence after living her entire life shaped by the media’s portrayal of romance. Prior to the start of the reading, students will be asked to participate in the “Take a Stand!” activity described in the Relationship Violence lesson found in the Girls Only Toolkit.25 The students will be asked to walk to different sides of the room (left or right) based on the statements read regarding gender and relationships. After completing the activity, students will be asked to reflect in the manner they deem appropriate with initial expressive writing. After giving the students an opportunity to share their writing in small groups, the class will write a definition of what they determine a healthy relationship would look like. For homework, students will be asked to read Sandra Cisneros biography, determine what they think Cisneros’ view of relationships might be, and determine how this view of relationships would impact the story.
Using this definition and Cisneros’ biography, the students will read the story “Woman Hollering Creek.” While reading the story, the students will use their definition to determine whether or not Cleofilas is in a healthy relationship with her husband. Students will look for specific examples of interactions between Cleofilas and her husband. After gathering evidence, the students will determine if Cleofilas has a healthy relationship by their definitions. Also, students will examine Cleofilas’ view of relationships based on her experiences with love in television programs. After the students use examples from the story of Cleofilas’ view of relationships, students will then determine if they think that Cleofilas believes that she has a healthy relationship by her own definition.
Using the initial expressive writing and their responses to the text, students will then be asked to develop a response that answers the questions: what do I feel should a healthy relationship will look like. This should be a self directed prompt that goes through at least the initial expressive writing stage as well as the second stage.
In wrapping up the unit, the students will be asked to read an excerpt from the novel Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Prior to reading, the students will watch a video from CBS This Morning where Gayle King interviews Jason Reynolds. While reading, students will be asked to keep the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie video in mind. Reynolds, like Adichie, makes several statements about not seeing himself in the stories he was asked to read in school.26 Students will be asked to do some initial reflective writing answering the question: how are Adichie’s and Reynolds’s views of literature similar and different?
For homework, students will be asked to review Jason Reynolds’ 2018 Printz Honor Acceptance speech. While reading, students will be asked to respond by writing a poetic piece where they write a short interview between themselves and Jason Reynolds on their mutual thoughts on writing.
In class, students will read a short excerpt from Jason Reynolds’ novel Long Way Down. Prior to reading the excerpt, students will have the opportunity to examine the arguments regarding gun control. While reading the pro / con article on gun control, students will choose a side of the gun control debate. Then, they will do a second reading where they identify three main points from their side of the argument as well as one point from the opposing view they want to argue against. Afterwards, they will develop an initial response to the question: where do you stand on gun control?
While reading the story, students will be asked to consider the interview, the speech, and their research to determine what Jason Reynolds’ belief on gun control might be. After reading the excerpt, they will write a brief response that answers two questions. In the first part, the students will be asked to identify Reynolds’ beliefs on gun control and give evidence from what they read to explain that. In the second part, students will be explaining if Jason Reynolds would agree with their argument earlier regarding gun control.
After completing this, students will have an opportunity to develop their initial expressive writing response on gun control further with the writing mode of their choice.
As a culminating activity, students are to gather examples of their writing to create a portfolio that demonstrates two things. The first element that should be included is an example of each form of self-directed writing: (1) expressive, (2) transactional, and (3) poetic. For each piece, they should be including the initial expressive piece. The second critical element is a final piece of writing using the self-directed style of their choice that answers the question: what is something that I want to see changed? This can be based on writing they have done in class or it can be a brand-new piece of writing.