The Great World Texts project run by the University of Wisconsin – Madison helps engage high school and college students in literary works by having them create works of art. One group made illustrated journal covers based on miniature paintings they had seen, while another group made a video based off the tv crime show The First 48. I think this is a really great idea for helping world literature become meaningful for these students and to understand some of the timeless features that make literature endure across centuries. I liked the journal covers because the students learned about art from different places and were able to see different influences on the art. Their focus on the products that occur from the mixing of cultures is really interesting and something that many students can relate to in their own lives. They also had to write their own stories or poetry inside the journals. My favorite project is the video where two student “detectives” interrogate Shahrayer and Shahzaman about the murders of their wives and of the women of the kingdom. They combine details from the story with the legal process in a way, and the story really seems as if it could be set in the modern day. The students had to understand the characters, their motives and their personalities in order to fit them into a crime drama interrogation format. At first the characters are defiant, but eventually they break down and admit they killed their wives because of the pain and anger they felt upon learning of the affairs. The fact that the students chose this format shows that they understand how major themes that people enjoyed hearing stories about hundreds of years ago are still the themes that draw audiences to shows and movies today. The best aspect of the project is that multiple schools participate in the Great Texts project and them meet up for a conference at the end of the school year to share their projects with students from other schools. This is a nice way to let students show their peers what they’ve been working on and to see what other groups came up with based on the same work. The students who participate in these types of programs must come away with a much more in depth knowledge of and appreciation for the work they read. It would take a lot more time than just reading the book, but they would get a lot more out of it and remember it for much longer.
This would be a great project to use as an interdisciplinary type of unit among English, Arabic, history and maybe even French and science classes. You can incorporate so many different aspects into the lessons and the project to make it appeal to students with many different interests. Because The Arabian Nights has been around so long and depicted in so many ways, it could be used to teach about the culture and history of the area, about literary themes and devices, and could even be used to introduce contributions of the medieval Islamic civilization to the fields of math and science.