Inquiry Units to Promote Student Learning
We crafted our American Born Chinese Mini-Unit unit from a Backwards Design standpoint (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), first considering the Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings that we wanted students to be able to answer and describe after participating in the unit activities and assessments. To ensure that the unit’s Essential Questions intrinsically motivated students to engage in the unit, we designed them following Smith and Wilhelm’s (2006) Inquiry Units format, ideating different questions that are debated in the world, which we knew American Born Chinese could help students understand and address. In particular, we wanted to make sure we didn’t “water down” American Born Chinese, as we saw it as a tool that could prompt students to consider how different types of colonial discourse–such as stereotyping–impact identity formation. We also saw this text as a tool through which students could uncover ideologies by participating in aspects of postcolonial and psychological analysis (Appleman, 2015).
Contextual Activity and Assessment Structure
Given the small number of lessons we were designing, we decided to have students focus on one specific component of reading from these lenses. For instance, we decided to encourage students to put on a postcolonial lens to consider how the text comments on the ways stereotypes create images of “others.” Similarly, as the characters in the text grapple with being “othered,” we also wanted to design questions that asked students to apply a psychological lens to consider how stereotypes influence characters’ feelings about their identities. While we did not set out with a primary goal of designing a lesson that met Minnesota State Standards, we did want to include a variety of activities and assessments in our lesson that would allow students to “develop the conceptual understandings and abilities essential to address the question[s]” and create “meaningful response[s] to them” (Smith & Wilhelm, 2005, p.56). We designed these activities to ensure students were meeting standards related to reading, writing, speaking/viewing, and language. Our desire was to help students build those skills on our way to raising critical consciousness and engaging social issues through literature. We thought the unit would fit a little better in the second half of the school calendar because it would be helpful to build community in our classroom before engaging social issues like stereotypes and identity formation.
he American Born Chinese unit strives towards anti-racism through raising critical consciousness surrounding the representation of the Asian-American community in media over time. Because American Born Chinese uses satire and hyperbole to “uncover” stereotypes about Asian Americans perpetuated in popular culture, we wanted to give students a framework, questions about characterization, and a set of supplemental texts where the ideologies behind these stereotypes were more “covered” to help them see stereotyping as a form of colonial discourse that impacts the psyche of marginalized communities. In this sense, the lesson serves as an introduction to the principles of postcolonial and psychological analysis and, by asking students to read the text alongside texts like popular movies, demonstrates how they can apply the strategies they are using to read the word to reading the world (Appleman, 2015). Although the text is primarily in English, we include translated folk tales and legends from Asian culture and are also committed to making sure that English Learners are able to access our content with the scaffolds they need to be successful. Overall, we want to show students that when they are informed, they can both critique the existing social order around them and create powerful new versions of it through literature.
We include a number of reflection opportunities, both individually and in groups, for students to personally reflect on stereotypes, representation, and their own identity formation. We also designed activities that help the students read American Born Chinese and supplemental texts from lenses that help them generate knowledge of the way stereotypes are formed and function in society, as well as how authors are subverting and challenging these discourses. For example, the page analysis activity in the second lesson (critical media literacy) not only functions to help students see the parallel journeys of Jin and the Monkey King, but also to push them to “uncover” the ways that Jin and the Monkey King go through a process of being stereotyped and “othered,” adopting the ideologies of their oppressors, struggling with dual their identities, and ultimately rejecting the stereotypes to accept themselves. The supplemental text analysis activity in lesson four helps students see prominent (and often-times veiled) instances of stereotyping, while allowing them to consider how Yang uses the hyperbolic Chin-Kee character to directly address and subvert these stereotypes. We hope that the process of creating social justice comics also shows students that they can take the educational tools from our lesson to affect social change and work towards greater equity and freedom in the world. Exemplars of this teaching style in our own experience have included Mr. Baker-Raivo at Champlin Park, who engaged students with a lesson on critical lenses and stereotypes in the media, and Mr. Rad and Ms. Criss at St. Anthony, who engaged students in analyzing how representation shows up in advertisements and other media. In both these examples, the instructors chose to connect concepts, reading approaches, and traditional texts to more popular texts that students would experience in their worlds, which helped the students see why the content mattered, and therefore, was more likely to intrinsically motivate them to engage in classroom tasks (Stipek, 1998). It was clear from the fact that all three teachers were able to draw lines between students’ understandings of content and students’ understandings of their worlds that the teachers had designed these lessons as part of Inquiry Units (Smith & Wilhelm, 2005). The students were working to address large, essential questions that were not only debatabatable outside of the classroom but important to the discipline of literary study as well.
Lesson 4 Presentation
Appleman, D. (2015). Critical encounters in secondary English: Teaching literary theory to
adolescents [Kindle edition]. New York : Teachers College Press. Retrieved from Amazon.com.
Smith, M. W. & Wilhelm, J. D. (2006). Teaching so it matters: Where should we be going and
how can we get there? In Going with the flow: How to engage boys [and girls] in their literacy learning (pp.54-79). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Stipek, D (1998). In Motivation to learn: Integrating Theory and Practice. Allyn and Bacon.
Wiggins, G. P. (1993). Assessing student performance: Exploring the purpose and limits of
testing. San Francisco: Jossey-bass Publishers
Wiggins, G., and McTighe, J. & (2005). Understanding by design, second expanded edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.