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The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn Lesson Plans

This section includes summaries of the lessons featured in the video programs. The lessons explore the literature through a critical pedagogy approach.

Lesson Plan 1: Session 7: Critical Pedagogy: Octavia Butler
Using critical pedagogy, Cathie Wright-Lewis encourages students to connect current events with fiction. In this lesson, Wright-Lewis provides perspective on Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower by asking students to make connections between newspaper articles and issues Butler raises in the book.

Lesson Plan 2: Session 7: Critical Pedagogy: Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Sandra Childs uses critical pedagogy to help students understand Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s Thousand Pieces of Gold. The class discusses the Chinese practice of footbinding and then explores how contemporary American women suffer to make themselves conform to society’s standards of beauty. Divided into groups, the students read first-person accounts by women addressing the pressure to conform.

Lesson Plan 1

Overview
Using critical pedagogy, Cathie Wright-Lewis encourages students to connect current events with fiction. In this lesson, Wright-Lewis provides perspective on Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower by asking students to make connections between newspaper articles and issues Butler raises in the book. Drawing on these texts, students then project how the world might change and how they can shape that change. Finally, Wright-Lewis encourages students to involve themselves politically by writing letters that call for social justice.

Preparation
To prepare for the lesson, view The Expanding Canon video program 7, Part I. Online, review the Session 7 theory overview, strategies, information about the authors and literature, resources, and the downloadable print guide. Read Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Materials

  • board and/or chart paper
  • a screen or monitor on which to show a clip from the video program 3, Part I, either on a vhs tape or from the Web (optional)
  • newspapers or collections of newspaper articles (which the teacher may provide or ask students to provide)
  • copies of Parable of the Sower

Standards
Standards for the English Language Arts

Summary
Teachers may want to show students the interview with Octavia E. Butler from The Expanding Canon video program 7, Part 1.

1. Cathie Wright-Lewis begins her lesson with a discussion about Chapter 11 of Parable of the Sower with the whole class. Wright-Lewis asks questions such as:

  • What are some of Lauren’s concerns?
  • What is the nature of the community environment? Why is it so dangerous?
  • What is the cause of these problems?

2. Students read a passage from Chapter 11 in Parable of the Sower. Wright-Lewis leads a discussion about the treatment of religion in the text, and encourages students to write down key points that come up in discussion. The discussion focuses on students’ concerns, but Wright-Lewis makes sure that students consider:

  • Lauren’s need to change God’s name and to create her own concept of God
  • Her new concept of God
  • Her age/maturity and her commitment to shaping her own destiny
  • The positive changes Lauren is trying to make in the community
  • Hyperempathy

3. The students divide into six groups that focus on a single assigned news area: social news, political news, economic news, environmental news, spiritual news and, science/technological news. Wright-Lewis explains that students eventually will pool information from all the groups. Each class group receives a chart and writes their group’s name (e.g., “Environmental News”) on the top.

4. Each group compiles recent newspaper articles that describe current events in their news area. Students list news items on their charts, along with any ideas they may have about the trends they’re tracking. Some of the questions that Wright-Lewis asks the class to consider include:

  • Are all the stories about your news area in one section of the newspaper? Are there tangential issues that you also need to track?
  • Can you describe any trends that are emerging?
  • How might these trends lead to the situation described in Parable of the Sower?

5. The groups share their findings with the class.

6. Students write a report using evidence from newspaper articles to demonstrate how contemporary American society might become like the society in Parable of the Sower. They consider some of the following questions:

  • What do you think should happen right now, or within the next 20 years, to change the course of history so we don’t end up with problems like those in the book?
  • To whom should we write?
  • What should we say to that person?

7. Wright-Lewis asks students to take action for positive change by writing a letter to a politician based on the predictions they have made.

8. After students have begun to draft their letters, Wright-Lewis asks them to share portions with the class. Students finish these letters as a homework assignment.

Lesson Plan 2

Author: Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Title of work: Thousand Pieces of Gold

Overview
Sandra Childs uses critical pedagogy to help students understand Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s Thousand Pieces of Gold. The class discusses the Chinese practice of footbinding and then explores how contemporary American women suffer to make themselves conform to society’s standards of beauty. Divided into groups, the students read first-person accounts by women addressing the pressure to conform. In a simulated tea party, each student takes on the persona of the article’s author/narrator. The activity prompts students to contemplate and write about the political effects of cultural practices. The author Ruthanne Lum McCunn visits the classroom, discusses the historical basis of the novel, and answers students’ questions.

Preparation
To prepare for the lesson, view The Expanding Canon video program 7, Part II. Online, review the Session 7 theory overview, strategies, information about the authors and literature, resources, and the downloadable print guide. Read Thousand Pieces of Gold and related articles — some texts available in the print guide.

Materials
Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • board and/or chart paper
  • yellow sticky notepaper
  • screen or monitor on which to show a clip featuring Ruthanne Lum McCunn from the The Expanding Canon video program 7, Part II (optional)
  • copies of Thousand Pieces of Gold
  • copies of the following stories/ articles: “Tar Baby” by Joseph Khalilah, “A Woman’s Silent Journey” by Erika Miller, “My Body Sucks” by Alexis Young, “Finding My Eye-dentity” by Olivia Chung, “Bubbe Got Back” by Ophira Edut, and “My Jewish Nose” by Lisa Jervis. Some texts available in the print guide.

Standards
Standards for the English Language Arts

Summary
In advance of the lesson, Sandra Childs asks students to read Thousand Pieces of Gold.

1. Childs begins the lesson by asking students to summarize the novel, asking questions such as:

  • Why was it controversial for Lalu to work in the fields?
  • Why did they bind her feet?

2. Childs then describes the process of foot binding to her students. She gives each student a yellow sticky note. While she reads from The Splendid Slippers, students write their thoughts on the yellow notepaper. Childs emphasizes the importance of listening to the voices of the women in that culture who are saying “Stop.” She suggests to students that, rather than judging a culture, “You can actually empower and listen to the voices in that culture that are critiquing it, rather than doing it from an outside perspective. That’s one of the ways you can wrestle with these issues.”

3. After students share the thoughts they’ve written down, Childs asks them to place their sticky notes on the floor. She points out that each note is about the size of a bound foot. She then prompts students to discuss:

  • What other things did Lalu have to do to be considered beautiful?
  • Why are these things fashionable?

4. To explore connections between the politics of beauty in Lalu’s era and contemporary America, Childs asks students to list things people do to make themselves beautiful. She prompts them to find broad, cross-cultural patterns by asking:

  • Why do we find these things attractive?
  • Why is this necessary?
  • Why do people participate in this?

5. Each student shares one item from his/her list.

6. Childs divides the class into groups and gives each group a piece of writing to analyze: “Tar Baby,” “A Woman’s Silent Journey,” “My Body Sucks,” “Finding My Eye-dentity,” “Bubbe Got Back,” and “My Jewish Nose.” Each group writes a paragraph in the voice of the narrator.

7. In a simulated tea party, students take on the personae of the authors/narrators of the pieces they analyzed, mingling to hear others’ stories. Childs asks students:

  • What do these women have in common?
  • What do their stories tell us about the politics of beauty?

8. Author Ruthanne Lum McCunn visits the class, discusses the historical research she conducted to write the novel, and answers students’ questions. (Teachers may want to show students a clip featuring Lum McCunn from The Expanding Canon video program 7, Part II.)

Series Directory

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Credits

Produced by Thirteen/WNET. 2003.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-676-6