How do our cultural identities affect the way we experience the world? 5th grade PBL unit

For context, I teach in a suburban school district that is very culturally diverse. Our school does a great job of naming the diversity but not celebrating it. This unit aims to provide space for students to dig into their own identities and to consider those of their peers. The bolded parts are BIE’s project design elements.

Driving question: How do our cultural identities affect the way we experience the world?

Unit details: Students will read and write to understand themselves and others around them. Initially, they will begin the work by reflecting on themselves and the characters in their literature circle books. Eventually, an emphasis will be placed on cross-cultural dialogue as students develop projects collaboratively to understand one another’s “culture” (defining culture broadly will also be important work, here).

The video below is helpful for expanding students’ notions of culture. I’ve used it before and students respond to it well, seamlessly integrating the ideas from it into their thinking.

Literature circle groups will read one of the following: Inside out and Back Again by Thannah Lai, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, or Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.

Key knowledge, understanding, & success skills: Students will…

  • use information in a fictional story to make inferences about the character(s)
  • develop and adjust working definitions of “culture”
  • interview community members and peers as a form of “research”
  • identify the most important information to include in a profile of another person
  • use reading strategies to comprehend appropriate texts

Sustained inquiry: What makes this a strong question is that it is open-ended, personal, and contextual. Therefore, the inquiry will be sustained as long as the student is interested (and, hopefully, this unit’s work will be integrated into who they are, resulting in a lifetime of sustained inquiry around the topic!) Additionally, I’ll provide many opportunities for students to develop and reflect on sub-questions posted somewhere in the room or online as we work through the unit.

Authenticity: This project is authentic because it uses the real lived experiences of individuals (the students and other people in the community) to make sense of ourselves. This is a “REAL” problem, especially in the current national climate.

Student voice & choice: Attempts will be made to let students guide the form of their final product. I’ll provide mentors and models, but what I prefer to do (rather than give templates and examples of products) is to give a set of guidelines like “the product must demonstrate four key components of your culture,” that way students can develop products that highlight their strengths. Of course there will always be students who need coaching and more structure/support — that’s our job anyway!

Reflection: Students will keep a daily reflection journal. I will provide some of the prompts, some days I’ll provide a prompt as a suggestion, and other days I’ll encourage them to simply share what’s on their mind. Some questions will be about the topic, some about the process, some about the product.

Critique & revision: As students develop products in the unit, we’ll use gallery walks, think-pair-share, and other collaborative learning structures to provide “warm and cool” feedback. An important part of the reflection, too, is how students integrate that feedback.

Public product: Finally, students will develop a product that demonstrates what they learned about another person‘s culture, as explained and defined by that person. For this reason, critique and revision will be CRITICAL so that the student is in constant contact with the person whose culture they are representing. This way students avoid misrepresenting or appropriating another child’s culture — the “subject” will always have a role in the project about him/herself. This will foster intercultural dialogue.

This “Bingo” board can help them in their discussion.

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