Stereotype Threat: Challenging Stereotypes in Life and Literature

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SWBAT discuss how stereotypes influence female behavior in life and in literature.

Big Idea

Stereotypes lead to self-fulfilling prophecies among women in life and in literature.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

How should we study and teach Shakespeare's plays? From the earliest days of my career, this question has echoed in my mind. Yet despite my drama certification, I allowed myself to be influenced by prevailing pedagogy and for years eschewed what I knew in my heart, soul, and mind: Plays are meant to be performed. This is how actors study a play, by blocking and close oral reading of lines.

Not until I studied with the Folger Shakespeare library did I return to my roots. Thus, this unit showcases my pedagogical philosophy that performance pedagogy represents best practices for teaching Shakespeare in ELA classrooms. 

Day 7 of The Taming of the Shrew

  • Discussing labels and stereotypes in Shrew from Act 1.2
  • Listening to All Things Considered on NPR, "How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science"
  • Fish Bowl Discussion
  • Reporting on the Discussion
  • Thinking about Shrew

About the lesson:

I chose to teach this lesson because stereotype threat as a self-fulfilling prophecy informs my reading and understanding of The Taming of the Shrew. By the end of the unit, I want my students to see Kate as a woman greatly influenced by her environment, an environment the audience sees in a limited context. 

By introducing stereotype threat to students and by having them discuss it, they are moving toward an understanding of Kathryn that is antithetical to many readings of the text, which often argue that Shakespeare wrote a sexist play in penning Shrew. This is the conclusion I had of the play prior to studying it under the tutelage of some eminent scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Since, I have come to see Kate as a masked woman, one who embodies stereotype threat, one who can only be herself when she leaves the environment that both stereotypes her and threatens her true identity. 

A note on the text: I use the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of The Taming of the Shrew; consequently, all textual references correspond to that text. It's available online as a digital edition (free) from the Folger Shakespeare Library. 



About Those Character Labels in Act 1.2

10 minutes

To begin the lesson, I reviewed the definition of stereotype.

A student offered: "A category." Another offered, "A label." 

Next I invited students to revisit the Act 1.2 tasks, looking at the section in which students label the characters. I gave students time to share and revise their initial responses. They gave the following responses:

Bianca: "The spoiled rich girl," and "a brat," "the girl all the boys want." 

Baptista: "The father." They couldn't get past that label.

Tranio: "Nerd." 

I told students they'll be listening to an NPR presentation about stereotyping in math and science and how that stereotyping affects women in those professions. 

How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science

20 minutes

Begin playing the NPR program "How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science." 

I told student they will need to take notes as they listen to the program and that they will need to consider the following questions, which I pose as listening cues rather than as questions to answer directly. 

  • 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?

Since the questions are in the order in which the program addresses them, it's possible to have students answer them, but I worry that this will lead to a contrived follow-up discussion. 

I played the program w/out pausing, but pausing is an option as it gives students time to take more thorough notes. 

Fishbowl Discussion of the NPR Program

20 minutes

After listening to the NPR episode, I explained fishbowl discussion, which is designed to engage students in listening and speaking:

  • Four students sit in the inner circle. These students will discuss the topic or question at hand. It's important to discuss rather than "take turns." The discussion should be natural and organic, but it's okay if someone takes the role of leader. Also, some roles in discussion include agreeing with a comment, extending on a comment, making a connection to the comment, politely disagreeing with a comment, asking questions to one another to clarify ideas and to draw others into the discussion.
  • Four students stand or sit behind the inner circle. These students record the discussion with one student assigned to each of the students in the inner circle. 
  • The students remaining in the class listen and take notes, too, as they will be invited into the discussion later. 
  • During the discussion, only the students in the inner circle may speak. No other students may speak, and it's important that the teacher also avoid speaking as this risks outside interference.
  • Teachers should limit the time for discussion, especially in the early use of fishbowl, so students are left w/ more to say and so that there isn't much time lapse before others have a chance to talk. 

Many students volunteered, and our first group of talkers was comprised only of boys who were most interested in talking about their own perceptions of girls than about the NPR Program. This upset many of the girls who could barely contain themselves until the next round. 

For the second round, we had three girls and one boy. This group, as the video shows, did address some of the ideas in the NPR program, but they also connected stereotyping to their own experiences and spent some time talking about how the high schools in our town get stereotyped:

After their discussion, we listened to the reports: 

It's interesting to think about what the recorders actually record and what they leave out. This gives much insight into students' active listening. 

Stereotype Threat in "The Taming of the Shrew"

10 minutes

Since I did not hear as much about how stereotyping in math and science influence women's decisions to leave and/or avoid those occupations, I spent some time reviewing the program, beginning with stereotype threat:

Stereotype threat happens when a woman is labeled and that stereotype leads to her behaving in such a way that the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that affects her professional and/or personal life. 

Next, I asked students to think about how we stereotype boys and girls in school and then what happens:

  • We often say boys don't like reading, so if you are a boy, do you behave as though you don't like reading?
  • We often say girls aren't good in math, so if you are a girl, do you ever behave in such a way that you live up to that "girls aren't good in math" stereotype?
  • We often say girls are good at writing, so if you are a girl, do you behave as though you write well? 
  • If you are a boy, do you believe the stereotype that "boys don't like English," so they don't do well in English?

Posing these questions resulted in much nodding of heads, and whispers of "yes," and other nonverbal cues that suggest students really were beginning to get the idea by the end of the period. 

Finally, I asked students to think about how stereotypes could possibly account for both Kate's and Bianca's behavior in The Taming of the Shrew. I reminded them that we have already begun to see some changes in Bianca and in other characters for those who have read past Act 2. This will be the point of discussion in tomorrow's lesson.