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Investing in Discovery: Our Diverse America

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By: Andrea Stanton, Associate Professor, Religious Studies

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This project brought together faculty members from the University of Denver and Colorado Academy to develop collections of short stories and personal narratives that reflect different aspects of American diversity with support from CCESL’s Public Good Fund. The goal was to then offer these collections to instructors of English-medium literature and American studies courses at universities overseas, as well as English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors working in the United States. 

Over two years, the project leads worked with two groups of combined history and language arts courses at Colorado Academy to develop thematized collections that draw on published work by American authors. These collections focused on themes such as “immigrant experiences”, “coming of age narratives”, “families”, or “women”. 

The bulk of the work of this project was student led, grounded in a collaboration between a university and a high school, which aims to capture the spirit of diversity and complexity representative of the contemporary United States. Students in each cohort began their work by reflecting on what counts as “diversity” in an American context, and how to convey American diversity to overseas or new American audiences. In two combined language arts/history courses, they worked with teachers, library staff, and a DU faculty member to curate a collection of stories focused on the lived experiences of Americans of different backgrounds and identity positions. Students assessed stories by American authors that showcased experiences of veterans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Disabled Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, and Immigrant Americans, in accordance with accessibility, interest, and language level. Working collaboratively, they wrote introductions to situate each story’s narrative within broader social, economic, geographic, and political contexts. They also created writing prompts to help future readers connect their own worlds to the world of the stories. 

Designed to foster self-directed, inquiry-based student learning, the project focused on recognizing the intercultural elements within American communities. Students analyzed stories from a curatorial and teaching perspective, learning how to read a story through the eyes of someone who might use it to teach with or learn from. They used their reflections as the basis for selecting the stories to be included in the final collection, working in small groups to develop teaching materials that would help future students undertake similar reflective learning processes. 

After the student work finished, the project leads compiled a brief description of the digital collection and teaching materials and sent it to instructors teaching ESL, American literature, American studies, or similar courses at institutions overseas or to newcomers to the United States, asking for volunteers to test the anthology with their students. Several have incorporated parts of the collection into their courses, and others have expressed interest in doing so in future courses.