This unit revolves around the National Book Award winning memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming1, by Jacqueline Woodson. Supplementary texts include fiction and nonfiction poetry, picture books and articles by and about Woodson and the topics alluded to in her memoir, including brief biographies of figures from the Civil Rights Movement such as Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin and artists that influenced her and that connect to the time period. The unit explores analysis of visual art pieces such as photographs from the era (1960s and 1970s) and works depicting black youth as well as the settings she writes about (Ohio; Greenville, South Carolina; and Brooklyn). Music that Jacqueline Woodson mentions in her memoir can be listened to and responded to. Artwork and music that reflect the black social movements of the period has been selected for students to view and react to. Students learn how to analyze visual art in a manner that is appropriate to middle school. In addition to responding to the various texts, students will have an opportunity to engage in creative writing. To engage in the theme of identity, students can write their own brief memoirs in verse, as well as creating works of art.
This unit was designed for seventh grade students at a small, highly diverse middle school, where most of the teachers including myself are white, but could easily be taught to a grade higher or lower. Our school is diverse socioeconomically, ethnically, and culturally. In the current seventh grade, 5% of the students are Asian American; 5% of the students are Latinx; 30% of the students are African American and 46% are Caucasian. In terms of ability there is a bimodal distribution of abilities and a noted achievement gap with the White and Asian American students earning significantly higher grades and test scores than many of the Brown-skinned students. The school is zoned by neighborhood with some children who live outside the area admitted when there is room, which frequently occurs in the middle grades. There is also a transient sub-group of the children or parents who come to the area for graduate studies at a local Ivy league university.