Prior Perspectives: The Preconception Game
Quite early in the Language and Literature course, teachers will want to get their students to do some self-reflection, and ideas can be recorded in learner portfolios. Students, if they are going to recognize that meaning in texts is constructed, must understand the active role they play as readers or viewers. That is, students should come to appreciate their own enculturated ethnocentrism and homeblindness. Teachers may also like to include short readings that illustrate the apparent ethnocentrism of others. Three excellent readings, in no particular order, include Laura Bohannan's 'Shakespeare in the Bush', Richard B. Lee's 'Eating Christmas in the Kalahari', and Horace Miner's 'Body Ritual Among the Nacirema'. Teachers may also like to explore students' preconceptions in the activities on our page Representing the Other: How to Write About Africa.
However, ultimately, teachers introduce the idea to students that they come to texts with (perhaps provisional) culturally learned preconceptions, it is an understanding that is essential for success on the course. The following activity - The Preconception Game - works to reveal the preconceived ideas we have about gender, and how this influences the ways in which we read and the understandings we reach. The idea comes from the book Literature and Gender (1996) by Lizbeth Goodman (ed.).
Whilst the activities on this page involves the reading of literary extracts, the relevance to any area of the course where teachers intend to put 'gender on the agenda', or for teaching through a range of conceptual lenses, including perspective and identity.
Possible Guiding Conceptual Questions
- To what extent are our perspectives on gender a product of socialisation and enculturation?
- To what extent do our gendered identites influence how we read texts and how we use language?
Preconceptions: Introductory Discussion
Initially, in the following discussion activity, students begin to contemplate how their preconceptions influence their thinking about the world, before reflecting on their preconceptions of 'gender'. Teachers may feel, depending on their students, that some pre-teaching of the concept 'gender' is useful, not least to ensure that students are aware of the conventional discrimination which often exists between the appellations 'gender' and 'sex'. The activity can be done in a range of ways; for example, teachers may wish to 'pair and share', or groups of students may be given discrete tasks, reporting back to the class.
Playing the Preconception Game
In the Preconception Game, students read eight texts/text extracts. They attempt to identify if the writer of each text is male or female. Students must motivate their response. The game should be stimulating and fun. If teachers prefer, they can make it competitive for students; for example the game can be played 'females versus males'. Teachers may find some initial resistance to the idea of playing the game from students. However, teachers should persevere. Students do enjoy playing the game and, whether they intend to or not, reveal their stereotyped preconceptions.
Here are the answers:
Students are asked to reflect on the decisions they made, and the preconceptions that may underpin decisions. This is probably best done as a whole class activity. Teachers may like to use this discussion as the basis for a short reflective writing activity. Responses can be collated in learner portfolios.
The Preconception Game has a particular relevance to the study of literary works. However, the general understanding - the meaning of texts is not fixed; meaning is constructed, and readers have a crucial role in determining meaning - has general applicability accross the course. Students, therefore, should aim to embed this awareness in every assessment component where it is appropriate. Where student do this well, exam marks improve.
Links to Theory of Knowledge (TOK)
The understandings which emerge from The Preconception Game have many potential links to TOK. Students should recognise at the conclusion of this activity that their understanding of gender is, in large part, a product of socialised learning. Students may claim that their knowledge about gender - the 'typical' traits of males and females - is intuitive; however, it may be better to suggest that bias is learned through processes of enculturation. And, the risk of suggesting that something is 'intuitively obvious' seems to suggest the potential problem of rationalisation or confirmation bias. That is, given pre-existing prejudice (about men and women), students (and others) may simply look for behaviours and traits that confirm this, rejecting contrary evidence.