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Teacher Grants: TeachNet Power to Learn

Individuality vs. Conformity

This unit is centered on the reading of Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. Students participate in numerous activities designed to spark their awareness of literature's ability to transcend the page and apply to one's own life experiences. By incorporating technology into this unit, students are exposed to resources relevant to them.

Subject Area
Language Arts

Grade Levels
6 - 8


Through participation in a variety of learning activities, students arrive at a better understanding of the novel and its themes as a result of the relationship established between the reader and the text. Integration of mediums such as video and music reinforce the idea that issues discussed in an English Language Arts class can be translated to other aspects of their lives, thus instilling a passion and appreciation for literature that they will carry with them.

Internet Used
The Internet plays an integral role in this unit, as the myriad resources available permit the teacher to supplement the literature with real-life connections. Students view a music video, an interview with an artist, as well as television commercials, all of which work to reinforce the concepts of individuality and the importance of staying true to oneself. All learning activities are accompanied by group discussions through which students apply the plot and themes of Stargirl to the audio, video, or reading acquired via the Internet. Additionally, the Internet is a vital component within our classroom, as it has assisted in the modification of the unit for a Spanish-speaking student.

Standards Addressed
Students relate new information to prior knowledge and experience; interpret and analyze information; and use a wide variety of strategies for selecting, organizing, and categorizing information. They compare and synthesize information from different sources; read and view texts and performances from a wide range of authors, subjects, and genres; and assess the quality of texts and presentations. Students express ideas and concerns clearly and respectfully in conversations and group discussions; listen attentively to others and build on others' ideas in conversations with peers and adults; and use verbal and nonverbal skills to improve communication.

Aside from the traditional tests and quizzes given to assess reading comprehension, the unit concludes with the completion of a Student Manual. Each student contributes one entry to the manual. The entries are assessed on the basis of how thoroughly developed they are, thereby demonstrating student understanding of the themes that arose throughout their reading. Since the protagonist of the novel struggles to adjust to a new school, students are evaluated on the basis of how helpful and informative their manual entries would be to an incoming student. Furthermore, each entry is reviewed for the inclusion of the concepts of individuality and conformity.

Students Involved
The unit was designed for an average-skills middle-school Language Arts class. The time frame for this unit is approximately five weeks.

Teacher Tips
Be creative. Connections between the text and students' lives are everywhere. Include students in the planning process and ask them to bring in websites, movies, songs, video games, texts, etc. that relate directly to Stargirl and its themes.

Overall Value
This unit engages students in in-depth discussions about topics relevant to their own lives, particularly the adjustment to middle school. During a time in which they are struggling to make friends, keep up with school work, and discover who they are, students enjoy partaking in a unit that blurs the boundaries between education and social development. Teachers will want to adapt this for their classes because it incorporates technology in a manner that is easily accessible, yet highly effective.

Tracy Butler &
Claire Casaccio

Tracey Butler is a veteran sixth grade language arts teacher at Arlington Middle School. She loves being a part of the educational process. As a child she dreamed of being a teacher and to support that dream, her parents built and furnished a schoolroom for her in the garage. Although her students are no longer dolls and teddy bears, she still arrives at the classroom with the same enthusiasm and passion. She has dedicated her life to helping students realize their dreams. Her commitment is evident in the after-school programs she has developed, and the extracurricular activities she has designed. Recently, she overheard a student saying he wished a character he was reading about was a real person, and her peals of joy could be heard in the hallway.

Claire Casaccio is a pre-service teacher from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She was inspired to become an educator by the many wonderful and influential teachers she has had throughout her years of schooling. She hopes to instill a love of reading within her students by showing them how literature applies to their own lives. She has presented her scholarly research at Marist College's Women and Society Conference, the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Sigma Tau Delta International Conference in Portland, Oregon. She loves to play basketball and hopes to coach a team of her own in the future. She would like to thank Tracey Butler for her guidance, support, and encouragement throughout this learning process and feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work beside such a wonderful teacher and person. Their collaboration this year has not only been a lot of fun but also a learning experience for both of them.


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