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Review for Mountain View Los Altos High School Foundation, Los Altos, CA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

In my application for this grant, I asserted that drama is meant to be seen and heard. In Shakespeare’s day, people spoke of going to “hear” a play. One salient outcome of our play experience (seeing an exclusive production of My Manana Comes at The Marin Theatre Company) was that students got to “hear” other cultural perspectives dramatized with passion. Students were moved to understand immigrant experience in the U.S., not as a dry subject to be studied in a textbook, but as a living, breathing experience. Many of the students expressed a newfound respect for people working in the U.S. for long periods of time, far from families, in an effort to provide financial stability for those family members back in their home country (the dramatic situation of two of the main characters in the play).

The actors from the play stayed after the production to complete a Q&A with my students. We were the only audience for this special student matinee performance. The students learned how the actors learned about their own cultural biases in rehearsing and performing in the play. One of my more affluent students remarked that it felt strange to hear a character talk about taking a girlfriend to Applebee’s as a special date night – that this was a sincere statement, not something meant as a joke. He indicated it gave him concrete understanding of how financial situations make people see things differently. Some other students in the group were shocked he didn’t realize this and we had a meaningful exchange about our differences.

In terms of formal, academic, measurable outcomes, the payoff will come during this spring semester, when we have our cultural relativism unit. At that time, as indicated on my application for the grant, a summative assessment will ask students to write a synthesis essay that analyzes how cultural relativism is treated in different works from different genres: (My Mañana Comes and Translations (drama), an article on Cultural Relativism by James Rachels (essay), and Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (novel). This cross-genre work will give students the kind of deep understanding that can only come from tackling a big subject by analyzing it through multiple lenses, utilizing multiple modalities. As we know from research, kinesthetic experiences (e.g., acting, speaking, attending performances) is at the top of the ladder when it comes to creating meaningful retention and deep (vs. shallow) learning.

This grant enabled me to take my classroom out into the real world and attach deep, visceral feelings to otherwise academic and abstract concepts we are exploring in our World Literature curriculum for 10th grade students. On behalf of my students, I am very grateful.

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