Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stereotypes, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and "The Taming of the Shrew" [Lesson Plan]

Can the stereotypes we attach to groups and individuals lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that influence behavior?
English engraving of the peoples of the world. via Wikipedia Commons

Ever since I studied The Taming of the Shrew at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2008, I've read Shakespeare's troublesome play as a character study, particularly of Kate. While many see the play as sexist and demeaning of women, I read it as social and familial commentary about the way a woman reacts to her home and cultural environment.

Finding a NPR episode of "All Things Considered" reinforces my reading. "How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science" describes the way "stereotype threat" has such an impact of female scientists that their job dissatisfaction leads them to leave their profession.

Consequently, I decided to use the NPR text during my class's study of The Taming of the Shrew. 

Lesson Procedure:

1. First, I led the class in a discussion of labels we can attach to the primary characters:

  • Kate the curst
  • Bianca the spoiled favorite child
  • Baptista the frustrated father
  • etc. 
2. Next, I introduced the concept of stereotype threat: 
  • Stereotype threat occurs when one feels at risk and ultimately conforms to negative behaviors and expectations associated with a given stereotype. 
3. Prior to playing the program, which is less than ten minutes, I suggested students take notes as they would be participating in a fishbowl discussion afterwards. I then played the program. That said, if I were to teach the lesson again, I'd pause the program periodically and give students time to take notes. I gave students some questions to consider as they listened:

  • What percentage of what happens to us do we not remember and why is this important?
  • What stereotypes about male/female speech have the researchers challenged?
  • What did the researchers learn about men's and women's speech?
  • What did the researchers learn about women in math and science professions in relation to talking to their male and female colleagues?
  • What is stereotype threat?
  • What did the researchers learn about stereotype threat and human behavior, particularly among men and women?
  • Why is psychology important in thinking about stereotype threat?
  • How does stereotype threat create a vicious cycle?
  • How can this information inform our reading of The Taming of the Shrew?

4. After listening, I explained fishbowl discussion to the class and asked for volunteers. Students eagerly volunteered:
What interests me most about the student discussion is their comments about stereotypes associated with their lives. While I would like to have heard more comments about the play, I learned more about my students' perceptions of cultural stereotypes in our community, and that's priceless. 

As a concluding thought, I asked students to think about how we label characters in The Taming of the Shrew and how those stereotypes influence the characters' behavior. This is the big idea I want students to consider both in literature and in life. 

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