Each summer, the Literacy Unbound initiative hosts an intensive institute, drawing educators from around the world to work alongside New York City high school students to generate an original production inspired by the study of a shared text. Out of this immersion, teachers design original curriculum. During July of 2018, the Literacy Unbound Institute joined teachers and students to become players who embraced The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, as their text.
At the start of the two-week intensive, players shared both excitement and curiosity as they entered this new experience of investigating the 1906 novel, exploring the harsh conditions immigrants lived under in industrialized Chicago. How would they connect with these characters? Could they find themselves within this story? What does “Literacy Unbound” really mean?
For the next eight days, players deepened their understanding of the text alongside teaching artists who guided them in the use of expressive movement, writing within a historical context, innovative dramatic techniques, film-making, and music mixing to create a unique performance. On day nine, audience members were welcomed as fellow travelers, moving from their home country into the unknown, experiencing The Jungle, remixed through installation, spoken word, movement, and multi-modal artistic expression, culminating with a conversation between players and audience.
One audience member commented on how confident and clear student-players were when speaking to a full-house audience, answering questions about the text and the meaning they made of it, both in their educational pursuits and their personal lives. A teacher-player responded, “That’s what happens when students are confident! This process provides the space in which students build that kind of confidence in themselves as successful readers and creators.”
At the close of the Literacy Unbound Summer Institute, players reflected on their experience, in part by completing the phrase “Literacy _________” with the words:
Their advice for future players? Take the chance!