Rationale: Stories and Storytellers
" (Scheherazade) fashions her universe not through physical force, as does the king, but through imagination and reflection." -- Reading Lolita in Tehran, p.19
Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran is a source of inspiration and hope for many who are interested in teaching and discussing literature, especially as it pertains to the social and political power of women. Personally, this is one of those books I end up reading at least once every year. In my most recent reading, I was struck by the prevalence of powerful storytellers, those who shape reality into the texts that Nafisi studies with her students, as well as the stories of Iranian men and women told through the novel itself. In order to appreciate the power and influence of stories, Nafisi narrates her own experience (and that of some of her students) as a university professor in revolutionary Iran, and connects these experiences to texts as diverse as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to the classic folktale A Thousand and One Nights. In the same vein, I have centred this unit around storytelling and storytellers, with the hope that students will gain an appreciation for the inherent power given to those who write and tell stories, and how readers can disrupt or challenge that power through critical questions and knowledge of literary techniques and conventions. As well, students will be empowered to tell their own stories, sharing and connecting to the stories of others, and using language to make sense of their experiences. In her article "Critical Questions: Whose Questions?", Anne Simpson articulates some key ideas about critical literacy that have influenced the development of this unit. She acknowledges that stories are "not reflections of reality, but are selective versions of it, told from a particular view" and also that "authors write for particular audiences and assume that audiences have specific cultural knowledge and values" (Simpson, 119). These ideas are reflected in the Ontario curriculum documents for English, which highlight the importance of developing "effective readers", able to think " clearly, creatively, and critically about the ideas and information encountered in texts in order to understand, analyse, and absorb them and to recognize their relevance in other contexts" (Ontario Ministry of Education, 15). In addition to recognizing and analysing the social and cultural values inherent in a literary work, students will be empowered to pose critical questions, and add their own "disruptions" or comments to established texts.
In accordance with the expectations for the Grade Nine Academic curriculum, this unit will make use of a variety of "teacher and student selected texts" from diverse cultural perspectives and traditions (Ontario Ministry of Education, 45). Students will gain background knowledge to be able to compare these different narratives in context, and identify the purpose and intended audience for particular stories. The main focus of study will be William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride, but will also draw on traditional folk and fairy tales from a wide range of cultural perspectives, as well as related poetry, images, and video. By Grade Nine, students should have some of the necessary vocabulary to interpret and compare these texts, as well as cultural and social references to help make sense of the materials studied. Through the novel and related materials, students will become familiar with archetypes and literary conventions, symbols, types of narrative voice, conflict, as well as terms related to media literacy. They will also gain experience writing for different audiences, and using examples from text to make literary arguments. All of these are crucial skills for students to master before moving on to Grade Ten. The curriculum also calls for students to be able to identify storytelling techniques specific to different mediums,...
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