“I Even Encountered Myself”: Exploring Identity Development in Literature During the Middle School Years

Author: Erin Bloom

School/Organization:

Wagner Middle School

Year: 2012

Seminar: "But Mostly I Lie A Lot" - The African American Short Story in the 21st Century

Grade Level: 5-8

Keywords: Identity, Literature, short stories

School Subject(s): English, Literature

From its inception, the concept of middle school in the United States has carried with it connotations of emotional and personal crisis. Along with the physical and cognitive changes that occur during adolescence, the issues of social pressures, self-consciousness and the anxiety of the future weigh heavily upon adolescent minds. During adolescent years, the exploration of racial, ethnic, and gender identity also increases. Unfortunately, in the United States, the purported racial stereotypes of minority students, especially of Latino and African American males, have been proven to negatively impact academic success. At this crucial point in identity development, adolescents are barraged with a host of cultural scripts that often originate in the realm of stereotype, and in turn, affect their self-perception.

In order to combat this phenomenon, educators must create a pedagogical environment in which students are presented with texts that tackle these difficult issues in a meaningful way. Literature serves as an effective tool for students to utilize in their effort to evolve and grasp themselves, as well the ever-shifting world around them. Through the exploration of relevant texts, students can develop a broader sense of themselves and their personal relationship with literature.

“I Even Encountered Myself” provides educators with a means of integrating significant literature in the middle school classroom in order to foster student exploration of relevant themes of race, gender, and ethnicity at a period in their development where examination of such is crucial. As this unit relates, when young people write, they reveal pieces of themselves that they may not have previously recognized. They develop as individuals, as scholars, and as citizens in a world in which it is easy for adolescents to become “lost in the shuffle.” Through the use of exploratory reading and related writing, students are able to develop their identities and connect them in the broader context of the world—in other words, through the reading of literature, students may “even encounter [themselves].”

Download Unit: ebloom-unit.pdf

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