The activities in this unit incorporate a variety of academic strategies. One of the elements most necessary to make this unit successful will be to allow students to make meaningful connections between the material we study and their own experiences with gender. Therefore, discussions throughout this unit will often begin with students making a text-to-self connection or sharing a memory from their childhood. By engaging with classroom material in this way, students will inevitably recognize experiences and perspectives that are common, regardless of gender identity. This will serve not only to enhance student engagement, but also to contribute to a sense of safety and community in the classroom.
Because this unit is founded on concepts that may be controversial among high school students, constructive discussions and debates will serve as frequent opportunities for students to reconcile what they have learned in the past with what they are learning now. In some instances, students will respond to an open-ended prompt that addresses gender in some way. For example, students might respond to the question, Why are there fewer female students than male students in our school? In these cases, students will respond with their own ideas and opinions, which will form the basis for an in-depth classroom discussion. At other times, students will be asked to examine a perspective that may not be their own and defend that position with valid reasoning. In these “forced debates,” students often develop a more empathetic attitude toward other perspectives.
The work that students produce during this unit will take a variety of forms. Although an independently written argumentative paper will be the final demonstration of students’ learning, they will also have opportunities to collaboratively create projects such as podcasts and multimedia presentations. Each of these assignments will allow students some choice over what they create, in order to allow each student to work to their strengths.
Providing my students with some freedom over the texts they use in their responses has been an effective means of generating responses that are insightful and authentic. Although the core texts for this unit, The Color Purple and A Raisin in the Sun, are intended to be read by all students, a variety of supplemental texts will also be incorporated throughout. Students will have access to poetry, novels, nonfiction articles, and speeches that are all connected by the same central idea, and each text may appeal to a different set of students. Providing students with a wide variety of texts also allows for the teacher to set up literary discussion circles throughout the unit, in which students may be grouped homogeneously or heterogeneously, depending on what activity best suits the class. For significant tasks throughout the unit, students may be prompted to cull evidence from a number of texts of their choosing that they feel most comfortable discussing.
Over the course of their exploration, students will have opportunities to work collaboratively and independently. I have found it useful to begin units with full-class instruction before transitioning to small-group and independent learning. This model allows students to engage in a learning environment that is predictable but also varied, and that addresses the diverse needs of individual learners. At the end of each segment, students work either individually or collaboratively to demonstrate their learning through a project, as mentioned above.