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Teaching Characterization and Metacognition using African-American Short Stories

The ninth grade English curriculum centers on the short story, but very few readings are by or about African-Americans. A majority of my students are of African descent, and the lack of representation in the literature that we read perturbs them. My students lack metacognitive skills, and while I encourage metacognition within my classes, I never actually discuss the idea. This is an area for my improvement, and a unit on characterization is an appropriate tie-in. My goal is to have my students use metacognitive skills to analyze stereotypes and character.

I will achieve my goal with Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif.” When I read the story, I confronted my own tendency to use stereotypes to discern the values of a character. I read meaning into the text where there was none, and when prompted I realized my error. I would like to recreate the experience for my students and have them analyze their assumptions. Morrison removes any possibility of determining which character is white or black, and that will challenge my students who are used to having the answers given to them. After studying characterization, my students will consider the positive and negative effects that assumptions have on people.

Jessica L. Shupik
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