Young Adult Literature about the Middle East: A Cultural Response Perspective
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Incorporating literature from diverse cultures and with diverse points of view means more than adding new books to the reading list. Exposing students to literature from and about the Middle East requires particular sensitivity, as students may approach the text with incorrect, often negative, prejudices. This lesson supports the use of multicultural literature through modification of traditional literature circle roles using a cultural response perspective. Students read and share their responses and research in collaborative groups. At the end of the lesson, they write a letter about their book's main character as if he or she has just moved to their school and community.
This lesson plan adapted from classroom ideas in Middle Ground: Exploring Selected Literature from and about the Middle East by Sheryl L. Finkle and Tamara J. Lilly.
From Theory to Practice
In Middle Ground: Exploring Selected Literature from and about the Middle East, Sheryl Finkle and Tamara Lily offer a framework for incorporating multicutural texts in the literature classroom. They note the importance of exposing learners to a broad range of texts, explaining the need to "dispel cultural myths and give students opportunities to view issues from the perspectives of different individuals and groups" (29""30). They suggest that when introducing texts that represent cultures or world views that are significantly different from the students' backgrounds, there is a need to change the instructional approach.
They assert that reader response and New Criticism are insufficient and instead support a cultural studies approach in which students "build cultural insight through sharing different views in class or conducting research . . . and experience reading as a dialectic process where they work from initial raw connections and uncritical stances to make connections to other readings that may make them uncomfortable, creating critical interpretations" (31).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- Pre-Reading Chart
- Recommended Titles for Literature Circles Based on the Middle East
- “The Worst of Two Choices or The Forsaken Olive Trees” by Najwa Qa’war Farah
- Computers with Internet connection
- Literature Circle Roles Handout
- Response Chart for Literature Circles
- Sample Responses for Literature Circles
- The Middle East: Beginning Resources for Research
- Student Self-Assessment
- Welcome Letter Assignment
- Welcome Letter Evaluation
- Character Trading Cards
- Letter Generator
- Teachers and students should have a working knowledge of Literature Circles. See Web Resources for additional background information.
- Make copies of necessary handouts.
- Read “The Worst of Two Choices or The Forsaken Olive Trees” and prepare for modeling the literature circle roles in the introductory session. See Sample Responses for Literature Circles for guidance in getting started.
- Work with school and/or local librarians/media specialists to obtain collections of literature from the Recommended Book List.
- Bookmark The Middle East: Beginning Resources for Research on computers students will be using for research in Session Two (and other sessions).
- Arrange for access to computers with Internet access for appropriate sessions.
- Determine the schedule for literature circle work. Consider factors such as availability of books and reading time, group composition, and length/difficulty of books as you decide a final date for books to be completed and various meetings/checkpoints along the way.
- Test the Character Trading Cards and Letter Generator interactives on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-ins installed. You can download the plug-ins from the Technical Support page.
- generate background knowledge about the Middle East, using self-questioning, Internet research, and imaginative thinking.
- read and respond to a young adult novel about the Middle East using a cultural studies approach.
- contribute to student-directed small group discussions about the book they are reading.
- create a document for a specific audience that synthesizes their new learning and perspectives.
- Begin the session by asking students to think and write about what they already know about the people, history, cultures, and countries of the Middle East.
- Distribute the Pre-Reading Chart and ask students to write down several observations in the first three columns. Remind students that they can be honest in their responses, but need to be respectful and mature.
- Circulate the room and check for when students are ready to move on.
- When students are ready, ask them to pair up and share some of their observations from the first three columns.
- Facilitate a class discussion by having each pair share one item or observation from each column.
- After the discussion, have the students complete the last column by asking them to wonder what it would be like if their family moved to a country in the Middle East. Encourage them to wonder about what would be both different and similar in terms of culture, religion, customs, and so forth. They should also wonder about how they would adapt, change, and grow in the process.
- Have them set this sheet aside for review and reference later in the lesson.
- Introduce the reading activity by distributing the Literature Circle Roles Handout and lead a discussion of it, gauging the necessary level of depth depending on students’ existing level of familiarity with literature circles as an instructional activity.
- Inform students that in the next session, they will apply these roles to a short story to get them ready for their independent reading of a Young Adult novel with a main character from the Middle East.
- Distribute copies of the short story “The Worst of Two Choices or The Forsaken Olive Trees” (a story about a family split between Israel and Palestine) and explain to students that you will be using it to begin your exploration of literature from the Middle East and to model the roles for upcoming literature circles.
- Ask students to get out their Literature Circle Roles Handout and briefly review the roles and questions.
- Lead a think-aloud modeling session by reading the first few paragraphs of the story aloud and considering ways that each of the roles might respond to the text so far. See the Sample Responses for Literature Circles and use an overhead of the Response Chart for Literature Circles to model student expectations further.
- As you get further in to the story, move from showing students what to do to asking them what they would do in each of the roles.
- Finish the story and discuss any questions students might have.
- Review the work from the previous session, including the discussion of “The Worst of Two Choices or The Forsaken Olive Trees” and the tasks outlined on the Literature Circle Roles Handout.
- Have copies of each of the books you selected from the Recommended Book List available and give students time to browse the different texts.
- Using a method appropriate for your classroom and group of students, have students choose the work they will read. Depending on your method, you may need to split the session here to allow for record-keeping, negotiation, and sorting groups.
- If the session is able to continue immediately after choosing the books, direct students to The Middle East: Beginning Resources for Research to begin some preliminary research on the country associated with their book. This research is intended to be informal and is aimed at simply giving students a level of familiarity with what they are about to read.
- Students may wish to jot down new learning or questions on their Pre-Reading Charts.
- Begin the session by distributing books and giving each student a copy of their Response Chart for Literature Circles. Remind students of the modeling you did in Session Two and ask them to apply that modeling to the work they do.
- Give students the majority of the session to begin reading their books. Circulate the room to monitor student progress and answer questions students have as they respond. Remind students to use print or Internet resources and search engines to answer questions or clarify their understanding of unfamiliar concepts.
- Near the end of class, have students meet to determine how much they need to have read for the next session. Be sure each student understands that he or she is responsible for an in-depth focus on his or her role, and that some roles may require more work than others as the sessions go on.
- On days when students meet, they should share their responses from their Response Chart for Literature Circles.
- As students meet, circulate the room to provide feedback and support, guiding students in their discussions and helping them determine next steps when necessary.
- At the end of each session (or after students have completed their discussion), have students determine what they will read for the next session and if students will keep the same roles or switch for the next reading.
- Collect their Response Charts for Literature Circles and provide timely feedback to guide students in preparation for their next meeting.
- After students complete their books, discuss with students the culminating projects for the lesson.
- Explain that the first step will be for each group to work together to create a Character Trading Card for the book’s main character, both for general review and in preparation for the second project. Students should be reminded to focus on the information they learned through reading and responding with the Response Chart for Literature Circles and the role(s) they filled as they read.
- When students complete the Character Trading Card, have them print enough copies for each member of their group.
- Shuffle groups so literature circles are no longer intact. Create groups composed of students who have read each of the different books.
- Ask them to share their Character Trading Card and discuss their character and the changes and challenges they each went through.
- Reconvene the literature circle groups and share with them the Welcome Letter Assignment and its evaluation rubric.
- Discuss the expectations for the assignment and have groups work together on their letter, using the Letter Generator or a word processor.
- When students are finished, have students print their letters.
- Have a student volunteer from each group read the letter their group wrote.
- Ask students to comment on each others’ letters, noting similarities and differences in the approaches they took and the suggestions they made.
- Return students’ Pre-Reading Chart and have them re-read the “I Wonder” section they wrote at the beginning of the lesson.
- Ask them to reflect on what they have learned from their own reading and from what other students have shared by writing a brief paragraph about how their understanding has changed.
If you would like to provide students more guidance in their responses to the various young adult novels, consider using Habibi as a whole-class text before shifting the assignment to literature circles. Lesson plan ideas that support such an approach can be found in Middle Ground: Exploring Selected Literature from and about the Middle East by Sheryl L. Finkle and Tamara J. Lilly.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- As students work in their groups, circulate through the room, observing their work and taking anecdotal notes. Listen for indications that students have completed the assignments and are engaging positively with the reading and the project. Note evidence of strong intrapersonal behavior and collaborative achievement.
- Look for details that indicate comprehension of the reading in students’ written response as well as in conferences and interviews. Additionally, look for evidence of analytical thinking that relates strongly to the original reading.
- Review Student Self-Assessment and compare students’ own perceptions to their accomplishments as evidenced in your observations, anecdotal notes, and students’ written responses. Reinforce student self-assessment that match other available evidence. Respond to students further, working with them to improve their reading and collaborative strategies based on the collected information.
- Use the Welcome Letter Evaluation to provide feedback to groups on their written product.
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