I’ve recently launched a nonfiction reading and writing unit. This is a great text to get students thinking about point of view, purpose, audience. This advertisement is a great opportunity for students to enact their critical literacy skills.
I began by asking 6h grade students to think about words, phrases, and symbols that come to mind associated with Indian and Native American. Students wrote their ideas on sticky notes and put them on a chart tablet under a column labeled “before.” It was eye-opening for all of us to view this column. It contained ideas such as tomahawk, cowboys and Indians, Jeep Cherokee, bows and arrows, and The Cleveland Indians. Students also shared that many of the summer camps they attend use “Indian names” for their cabins, student groups, and the camp itself.
I asked, “What can we notice about this column?” Several students offered that the column stereotyped Native Americans because the ideas reflected are limited ways of thinking about culture. We discussed why. “Why are these the words, symbols, and images that we think of? The room became silent. Finally, one student spoke and stated, “We don’t really know a lot about Native Americans, so these are the things we cling to.” Students began to nod their heads in agreement. Another student murmured, “It’s really unfair.” Students were able to use their critical literacy skills to deconstruct widely held ideas and think about the affects of such narrow conceptions. Conversations then turned toward the names of professional sports teams. Students labeled such naming “offensive” and “inconsiderate“.
We watched the advertisement Proud To Be by the NCAI (National Congress of American Indians). The images are striking; the music is powerful; its message unforgettable. Students couldn’t wait to talk about the ad. But first, I gave them new sticky notes and once again, asked them to jot down words, phrases, and symbols that come to mind associated with Indian and Native American. They added these notes to the “after” column on the chart tablet. Then, we stood back and marveled at the contrast between the two columns.
Back at their seats, students discussed Proud to Be. I asked them to consider purpose and audience. They used a graphic organizer to capture their thinking and to provide evidence that supports their ideas. Students determined that the purpose of the ad was not only to persuade people that The Redskins, the name of Washington’s football team, is offensive, but also to persuade people to see beyond the stereotypical images of Native Americans produced by schools, texts, and media.
Students carried their understanding of purpose and audience into their digital bin work with other advertisements and commercials. As a result, students learned that texts aren’t neutral; They are in fact, angled. A heightened awareness of purpose and audience makes students stronger, critical readers of all texts.