Understanding China in the 21st Century

A look at the unit "Understanding China in the 21st Century" in a 11/12th grade social studies classroom.

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Posted By: Mary Carter

Posted On: January 10, 2016

Mary Carter
Review of “Understanding China in the 21st Century: Political, Economic and Security Issues in the Asia/Pacific Region, U.S. and Japanese Relations with China: Case Studies of Cooperation and Competition”
Current Placement: K-5 Mandarin Chinese
Appropriate Group for Implementation of this Curriculum: 11/12 World History Classroom.

A quick disclaimer: as teacher certified in both World Language and Secondary Social Studies, it is under the latter specialization that I examine this curriculum unit. This curriculum unit would be appropriately used in a secondary classroom (preferably 11th or 12 grade) in a World History classroom. In such a classroom setting, this would be an excellent unit for students to develop skills as critical examiners of historiography and primary sources as well as for building background knowledge and knowledge of contemporary key issues on Chinese and Japanese relations.
The curriculum unit is massive--and my first concern was that it would actually be too long to be properly implemented. It is 6 Lessons, but these lessons are actually meant to be played out over the course of several days. So, a lesson that would be comical to attempt in 6 days, actually should take more like 18 days, which seems reasonable for this unit to me. It offers a varied form of lesson techniques to keep students engaged (though when you stretch each lesson out to 3 days, with the style remaining the same it might get more tedious). The best quality of this lesson plan by far is the vast quantity of primary sources that it has, especially in the first unit, and the emphasis that it puts on multiple perspectives. The unit touches on everything from analyzing historiography to open contemporary conflicts in multiple different sources. The activities are consistent with the best pedagogy--many are student-centered, there are a variety of different learning styles, including reading, visual, and oral. The unit is also in agreement with modern historical best practices--offering multiple perspectives, it allows students to see history not as a single hegemonic narrative, but rather a plethora of contradicting truths that one must sift through and weigh in order to create any narrative.
This curriculum unit really has very few significant issues. A major concern when looking at different units about Asia in general and China in particular are issues with Orientalism. I was concerned that this unit might focus overmuch on China as a security threat, not to mention get on some serious anti-communist rhetoric in. The actual accounting of the Communist revolution, etc., as done in the Reading Theatre (an interesting form of accessing new content that I hadn’t seen before though I like it as a means of getting students exploring for themselves) is relatively well done and balanced. Overall, the unit’s commitment to balanced and multiple perspectives is well done and keeps the unit clear of many potential pitfalls.
Another relatively minor issue is that the objectives, while extensive, are not measurable. How does one assess whether or not a student is able to “appreciate the historical conditions that set the stage for political events and processes”? A more appropriate objective might be “Students are able to analyze the historical conditions that set the stage for the Rape of Nanjing and Tiananmen Square.” That can be measured by the students written work of the day.
One important consideration for the implementation of this lesson plan would be the need to differentiate in some settings. In some classrooms where reading levels might be significantly lower (and writing levels then, by default), some of the documents would need to be shortened for students to be able to get through the reading in the allotted time.The lesson plan does already have some implicit differentiation, including the different jobs available to students in small groups and the support inherent for students in small group settings.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
This Work, Understanding China in the 21st Century, by MaryCarter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.