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English 10 Culture Research Projects: A New Approach

Posted by TNCS on Feb 7, 2017

When our students struggle with content, TNCS teachers reflect on the nature of the problem and develop scaffolding that supports students’ needs for additional structure in the learning process. After my experience with the English 10 culture research project last year, I realized that students needed a more gradual introduction to the topic and research skills.

I theorized that students would be more confident approaching the project if they had more experience engaging with an unfamiliar culture and an opportunity to practice the basic research skills first. To that end, I looked for a work that would allow me to introduce a culture and offer students an opportunity to explore it through targeted research. After reading and discarding many options – “too long”, “too many unknown words”, “too little action” – I discovered one that was just right: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis gave me everything I was looking for, and more! Set in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, there were ample opportunities for research. But also, with this novel, I could introduce students to a new genre, the memoir, and an unusual and engaging format, the graphic novel.

Set in 1979 Iran, the novel follows the life of a girl, Marjane, for whom everything changes after the Islamic Revolution. Her modern-minded parents, her bilingual, secular education, and her community are turned upside down by the sudden establishment of a strict Islamic government. She and her peers are forced to follow religious observances such as wearing a veil with no understanding of their significance. As a graphic novel, similar to a long-form comic book, students found comprehension of the plot relatively easy, allowing my instructional focus to be on research skills. Each student was assigned an aspect of Iranian culture; for example, religion, values, government, family or social structure, and practiced using specific strategies to paraphrase and summarize source material.

Throughout the study of Persepolis, English 10 students were engaged by the characters’ struggle to survive under an Islamic regime. They were outraged by the oppressive acts and violence of the Islamic regime, surprised by the history of the region in the early to mid twentieth century that preceded the revolution, proud of Marjane’s acts of resistance, and sympathetic to her parents’ desire to protect her and provide her a “normal” childhood. Class discussions frequently focused on connections between the novel and current global events.

As the unit drew to a close, I became more and more confident that this year’s third quarter research project would be a better learning experience for my students. After all, instead of starting at square-one, they are already familiar with the aspects of culture, finding and evaluating sources, using assistive technology for reading and comprehension support, following specific steps to paraphrase and summarize information, and utilizing NoodleTools, an online research tool for producing and organizing note cards. Yes, the future’s looking bright in English 10!

by Deb Butterworth

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