Opening Students Up to a Great World Shawano County

In an age of Snapchat, Twitter, and Netflix, Hannah Agyekum’s students at Bonduel High School made meaningful cultural connections last year through 400-year-old Chinese literature.

Through the Great World Texts program, facilitated by the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities, they explored the novel Journey to the West, written in 1592 by Wu Cheng’en.

UW Connections in Shawano County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

The program includes workshops in which participating teachers work with UW-Madison faculty on understanding each text, receive extensive curriculum materials, and take their students to a conference on the UW-Madison campus, where they share their work and hear from experts.

“It not only challenges students to engage in world literature and explore other cultures, but it’s a humbling experience for me because I’m growing as an educator,” says Agyekum, who has used the program for three years.

The class did a lot of character analysis, trying to determine whether Monkey, the book’s main character, was more of a hero or villain. Students created a collage with characters or objects with parallel traits, such as Marvel Comics heroes.

I relish bringing my students to the University of Wisconsin–Madison so they get the experience of being on a college campus with cultural and racial diversity.

The students also attended the conference. “I relish bringing my students to the University of Wisconsin–Madison so they get the experience of being on a college campus with cultural and racial diversity. Some had never stepped outside of Shawano County,” Agyekum says.

“They are from rural backgrounds, and my hope was to expose them not only to the joy of reading, but to how literature can transcend cultures and time periods and still make relevant connections,” she adds.

This year, Agyekum team-taught the class with art teacher Danielle Piparo, whose students used the text to express themselves through painting. Agyekum says that the Great World Texts program provides a detailed course guide with enough flexibility to allow for an individualized approach, such as this blending with other areas of study.

Agyekum plans to use UW–Madison’s Great World Texts in 2016–17 to explore Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

She concludes, “I have a lot of fervor for what Great World Texts does.”