Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
A group persona is a character created by a group of students. Usually, this character is based on a person who appears in the reading that the group has examined, but the character can also be based on a person who appears in a painting or photo. In any case, the persona created by the group is reflective of a value system and a set of historical circumstances that the group has studied together.
During a "tea party," each class member acts out the persona created in his or her group, and then, while still in character, all the class members mingle and meet the other personae. They can then compare their experiences in a creative, free-form way.
Teachers should begin by dividing the class into groups of four or five and giving each group a different text to study. The text can be an essay, a poem, a chapter from a novel, or any articulation of an individual's cultural experience. It's important, however, to choose texts that give students a strong impression of both an individual author and his or her cultural milieu. That way, students can better understand how an individual can be part of a community while working to change it. (Students should be reminded that acting a part only provides an imaginative glimpse of another's life; this exercise should lead students to develop further questions about the character's cultural milieu.)
Once students have read their texts, they should note the qualities of the text's author and explore how these qualities either support or subvert the author's cultural norms. They should try to imagine the way the author might behave in his or her daily life. In order to crystallize these impressions, teachers should ask each group to summarize what their author is trying to say. Then, each group can write a paragraph or poem in the voice of the author they have imagined, expressing the author's concerns about a particular cultural issue.
Finally, the teacher should ask each student to assume the identity of the author his or her group has studied. The teacher should then reorganize the class into new groups, each containing one student from each of the previous groups so that the "authors" can interact with one another. While acting out these identities, students mingle with their classmates in a "tea party" situation: They can introduce themselves, in character, to members of the group and try to find common interests. It may be useful for the teacher to act as "host" in this situation, introducing students to one another or suggesting topics of conversation. Teachers should then lead a class discussion in which students reflect on their experiences. (If teachers want students to articulate their impressions of this exercise in written form, they can ask students to write a thank-you note in the voice of the persona he or she has assumed. The student might reflect on how his or her persona would have reacted to the various characters he or she met, noting which other "tea party" guest -- or character -- he or she most enjoyed meeting.)
By creating a persona, or character, students learn to humanize and relate to the people whose cultural experiences they're studying. They recognize how cultural and historical circumstances impact personal lives. But students also recognize how all communities are made up of numerous individuals, individuals like themselves, who have the power to change cultural practices. When students mingle and meet other personae, they recognize how much individuals from different communities have in common.