School Collaborations

Exploring and Expanding Understandings of Islam Through Young Adult Literature

Funding provided through a grant from the Humanities Institute, UConn

Team Members

Tala Adawiya, UConn Secondary English Teacher Candidate

Arianna Drossopoulos, Teacher, East Hartford High School

Ricki Ginsberg, PhD Candidate, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Wendy Glenn, Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Danielle King, PhD Candidate, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Asfia Qutub, UConn Secondary English Teacher Candidate

Project Goals

The project aims to engage freshmen students at East Hartford High School in reading and conversation around young adult (YA) literature with Islam-related content and Muslim protagonists to help them build a more complex understanding of representations of a likely unfamiliar religion and culture.

Students will work in small groups and as a whole class to read several YA fiction titles, focusing specifically on content connected to Islam and Muslim culture. Each week, students will participate with the research team in discussions and activities centered on equity, othering, authenticity, etc. At the end of the reading and discussion experience, students will participate in a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) project that asks them to select a research question growing from their reading and classroom discussions, gather information, and design a product that serves to share their findings and educate their intended audience (short film for viewing by students in other English classes, poster for display in the library, resource guide for classmates wanting to learn more about Islam, etc.). All of these products will be presented during a project celebration on the UConn campus; students will be joined by the authors of the YA titles they have read.

To share the results of this project with a wider audience and contribute to the research conversation, we aim to write and publish three papers in benchmark journals on education and literacy that examine the following questions:

1) How might reading YA literature featuring Islamic and Muslim content and themes influence high school readers’ understandings and perceptions of the culture?

2) What are the benefits and challenges of teaching and learning this content for a high school educator?

3) How does participation in a YPAR process influence students’ understandings of their learning?

We exist in a xenophobic cultural moment, one that regularly marginalizes and misrepresents Muslim Americans. This, coupled with changing school demographics and a dearth of children’s and young adult literature by authors of color, suggests a need for public conversation about Muslim representation in texts for young people. This project creates space and opportunity to engage in discourse that has the potential to challenge and expand understandings held by multiple stakeholders in the community, from students to teachers to faculty and staff both in CT and beyond.