Students Explore How Different Cultures Portray Strength
“We learned about why we need to think critically about messages from the media, specifically messages that reinforce gender stereotypes. Having them make comic strips put them in the role of a creator instead of just a consumer, and gave them a voice to express what they felt were the most important qualities of a strong hero.”
Our school-wide concept this year is power. During Term One, students in Independence Level 2 studied the concepts of power and strength through the lens of arts & culture, unpacking this term inquiry throughout each of their content areas: “How does a culture portray and perpetuate its ideas of strength through the media?”
Students worked with their Lead Advisor, Yii Wen Chuah, to examine popular children's movies, comics, books, and advertisements, exploring how strength is portrayed in different forms of media. They watched Superman: Last Son of Krypton, read Where the Wild Things Are, and sang “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. They studied popular media from East Asian culture, reading The Monkey King and watching My Neighbor Totoro. They compared the East Asian characters to American characters and explored how strength was portrayed differently in the two cultures.
“I wanted the students to learn that different cultures may have similar and different ideals of strength. This is one way I can make the project inclusive for students from different backgrounds and cultures, as well as teach them about taking others' perspectives,” said Yii Wen.
The students also uncovered how ideals of strength differ according to gender. Looking at gender stereotypes, they discussed how men/boys and women/girls are portrayed differently in the media.
At the start of the term, students were given various words (ex: doctor, writer, science, reading, jewelry) and were asked to stick the words on either the poster labeled “Boys and Men” or the one labeled “Girls and Women.” After spending a week learning about gender stereotypes by watching and discussing the “Like a Girl” Always commercial, a Great Big Story video about male hula dancers, and a news clip about Britain banning gender stereotypes, they repeated the activity, tracking how their thought process had changed. During weekly one-on-one student meetings, Yii Wen was able to keep track of changes in the way her students were discussing gender stereotypes. “It was great to hear them reflect on their ideas week after week,” she said. “During parent-teacher-student conferences, some parents told me their child was discussing gender stereotypes at home. They now have the ability to discuss this issue, and they will keep that ability with them.”
Towards the end of the term, the students attended a workshop led by children’s author Ian Lendler. They learned how to craft a story, create a character, write dialogue, and use images to create a comic strip. Lendler introduced the problem-solution narrative structure.
The workshop launched the final Studio Project, in which students were tasked with effectively using narration, pictures, and dialogue in their own eight-panel comic strips.
“We learned about why we need to think critically about messages from the media, specifically messages that reinforce gender stereotypes. Having them make comic strips put them in the role of a creator instead of just a consumer, and gave them a voice to express what they felt were the most important qualities of a strong hero,” Yii Wen explained.
During Art, students worked with Janet, the Art & Inner Wellness Specialist, to craft a 3D version of the character they created in their comic strip. During Inner Wellness class, students choreographed a dance to “Fight Song” (which they also analyzed during Studio Time). During English Language Arts, students wrote a story about a time when they or someone they knew showed strength. At the Exhibition, the group showcased their term projects and performed their dance for families and community members.