By Travis Trombley
The activity - good for students 6th - 9th grade - helps students practice critical observation while introducing to them, through popular texts, two particular schools of criticism: historicism and gender studies.
The activity takes 5-10 minutes, so it works especially well as a warm up. Since it's rooted in observation, even students who hold no particular affinity for superheroes enjoy the task.
- Show students the first image: the cover to the first Captain America comic. Either in pairs or individually, have the students record their observations. The next two slides (the second being a little more dynamic in nature) contain prompting questions to help take students direct their inferences from their observations. If at all possible, simply allow the students to observe the text prior to exposing them to the prompts.
- However you see fit, have the students discuss their observations and potential inferences. I prefer to have students discuss with a partner first, then - using established core group jobs - select a number of students according to "job" (ex. "Absent checkers stand up") to share their findings with the class, inviting more depth and participants whenever possible.
- Move on the slide offering a brief note about historicism's view of art. Again, have the students discuss this note to build understanding.
- The following slide provides a number of historical context factoids. Discuss these with the students and move to the next slide, which asks them to share how this background info could affect how they see the text. The partner-talk and stand-and-share method would be of use again here.
- Moving on, the next slide simply adds a note about the nature of critical lens as reflections and means to change.
- As a transition from historicism to gender study, I ask students to read the same Captain America text in terms of gender and how it reflected the notions of gender from the WWII era. This should be an obvious and brief discussion: men are powerful and warriors; woman have no role in the man's arena.
- To study gender from a more recent text, we turn to a concept art poster for the 2012 Avengers film. Again, have the students read observe and discuss the text, focusing especially on the idea of gender. Following the same routine, have the students discuss in small groups and then as a class.
- In my experience, a handful of students will notice very quickly that Black Widow is the only character turned in a manner that portrays her butt and breasts while most will stop with the fact that the ream is mostly men (an understandable jump given the previous text).
- If none of these more observant students are present, the class may require some hints.
- Once the class makes the necessary observation and comments on the implications, move the the final slide depicting an artists parody of the poster, which will provide a humorous conclusion for the students.