In Language Arts, we're exploring the question, "Who are you—what makes you you?"

This block in language arts class, students explored the question, “Who are you—what makes you you?” We read a series of literary texts about people in the process of becoming—constructing themselves into something new or being shaped by the people or circumstances around them. Students then thought about how they themselves are constructed as people, and they created self-narrative maps, in which they had to represent some aspect of who they are through a creative combination of words and images and then present that map to their classmates.

We started by reading Ovid’s “Pygmalion,” an ancient Roman story about a man who sculpts a woman out of ivory and then falls in love with his own construction. We followed this with George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, a very different take on Ovid’s story, about a common flower girl who is transformed into a “lady” when a phonetics professor teaches her how to speak like one. Lastly, we watched clips of the musical film My Fair Lady, based on the Shaw play, and talked about film as a form, how it’s both similar to and different from theater. These texts are all about the socially constructed self, specifically with respect to class and to spoken language—a topic that tied directly to our discussions last block about race and gender and whether those things are socially constructed or inherent/biological.

For the past two weeks, students have had to take what they’ve learned about “construction of the self” in literary characters, through our analytical discussions and written assignments, and apply those ideas to a more creative project of self-reflection. They worked independently to brainstorm, create their map, reflect on it, and plan an oral presentation for the class. We started by discussing how when we refer to "who we are," we usually talk about things around us (the negative space)—what we do, what things we like, what we notice, the places where we spend our time. We even did a visual activity that artists use, in which we drew a shape and then manipulated the paper in a few ways in order to perceive the negative space around our drawn shape as having its own shape, and one that’s complementary to the positive shape. Students spent a weekend journaling every day but only talking about things outside of themselves (things they saw, heard, touched, smelled); when they reflected analytically on these journal entries, they saw patterns in what they noticed, and we discussed how the world around us (the negative space) is in many ways constructed by us through our unique perspective.

With the only constraint being to use both words and images to represent some aspect of who they are, students came up with some wonderfully creative map pieces! One student’s project was made of miniature wire sculptures hanging from string, which each showed something she enjoys or finds beautiful, and these were interspersed with narration on hanging slips of paper. Another student used the school’s 3D printer to map his “Peaks of Pique” (his words!), tracking his curiosity about various topics at different moments in his life and how this was influenced by where in the world he was living at the time. Students shared their maps with classmates through oral presentations, which allowed them to practice their public speaking skills—and to get to know their classmates a little better!

--Sydney Cochran