Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the memoir of Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen whose story has led to significant social change and the growing acceptance of transgender youth.
Jazz Jennings is a well-known transgender activist. Born biologically male, Jazz socially transitioned to female at the age of five with the support of her family. In 2006, when Jazz was just six years old, her family shared their story in an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20, which opened up a national conversation around the existence and experiences of transgender youth. Since then, Jazz has remained in the public eye, sharing her life and promoting transgender rights through many forms of media, including a picture book for young children, numerous interviews, a reality TV show, and a memoir.
Jazz’s memoir, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, introduces students to this charismatic young woman whom Time Magazine has named as one of “The 25 Most Influential Teens” and Huffington Post one of the “14 Most Fearless Teens.” Students will be drawn in by Jazz’s conversational tone, her matter-of-fact descriptions of personal details of her life as a young transgender person, the challenges and discrimination she has faced, and her inspirational message about accepting yourself and standing up for others. This unit introduces students to the unique and universal challenges faced by one transgender girl. Additionally, students will read several nonfiction articles about issues facing transgender and other LGBTQ people, including participation in youth sports, bullying, and violence. They will also watch a number of videos. In addition to developing students’ understanding of complex contemporary issues, these articles provide students the opportunity to think critically about author’s purpose and point of view, as well as thinking about the way that two different texts/videos present the same information, supplementing and/or challenging one another.
Being Jazz is an essential part of the curriculum because it is the only English unit in our middle school curriculum to address contemporary questions about gender identity. Students will have a window into the experience of a person who was born into the wrong body and the controversies that surround the transgender movement. According to a recent Human Rights Campaign survey, LGBTQ students “report being harassed at school—both verbally and physically—at twice the rate of non-LGBT youth.” With more frequent bullying, LGBTQ students are also more likely to have lower educational outcomes (“Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate” by Teaching Tolerance). This Being Jazz unit is an effort to create a supportive and safe school environment by representing LGBTQ students in the curriculum to affirm their identities and foster awareness for all students.
In the first writing task of this unit, students will perform independent research for the first time this year, specifically on the topic of a trailblazing athlete. They will look for sources online, determine whether these sources seem trustworthy, and learn how to complete appropriate citations. (They will include specific facts about the athlete, including domain-specific vocabulary (related to the athlete’s specific sport, etc). The second task is a short one and builds directly on the previous day’s reading lesson. Public discourse around bullying has been growing in recent years, and students will certainly have opinions on the topic, either from their own experiences or exposure in the media. Although students have written “argumentative” essays in which they make an analytical claim related to a text, his is the first opportunity for students to practice their persuasive writing skills. They will use the skills they have developed in analyzing the way that Jazz Jennings illustrates ideas in her text and incorporate facts, statistics, and anecdotes into their writing. The final task in this unit introduces students to the genre of memoir. Through analysis of specific stories and incidents in Being Jazz, students will begin to think about the way authors use structure to create logical story structures (W.6.3.A), complete with details and dialogue (W.6.3.B; W.6.3.D), and create resolution for readers (W.6.3.E). This is an opportunity for students to think about their own lives and their own capacity to make change in the world through their stories. This task has a number of opportunities built in for peer-to-peer feedback (W.6.5) and to strengthen students’ skills with confident presentation (SL.6.4).
Book: Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings (Ember, 2017) — 1120L
Video: “An Introduction to Transgender People” by National Center for Transgender Equality
Website: Understanding Transgender People: The Basics by The National Center for Transgender Equality
Video: “20:20 My Secret Self Complete Documentary” by ABC (YouTube)
Article: “The Case for Allowing Transgender Athletes in Youth Sports” by Katy Steinmetz (TIME)
Video: “Transgender Athletes Speak Out as Parents Petition to Change Policy that Allows Them to Compete as Girls” by Catherine Thorbecke via GMA (YouTube)
Website: What Is Bullying by StopBullying.gov
Website: How Does Bullying Affect Health and Well-Being?” by US Department of Health and Human Services
Website: Bullying Statistics by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center
Video: “The Story of Jazz” (YouTube)
Article: “Exclusive: I Interrupted Obama because We Need to be Heard” by Jennicet Gutierrez (Washington Blade)
Video: “Meet Jennicet, One Month after She Interrupted President Obama” by Jorge Rivas (Splinter News)
See Text Selection Rationale
This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
Use a text and video source to define terms related to gender identity and provide basic information about what it means to be transgender.
Being Jazz pg. 1 – 12
Identify narrator Jazz’s point of view and how it is conveyed in the first chapter of Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 15 – 25
Explain how Jazz introduces and illustrates ideas about her life through anecdotes and examples.
Being Jazz pg. 27 – 39
Explain how specific sentences and passages fit into the overall structure of Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 41 – 46
“20:20” — (0:00–16:25)
Explain how the 20/20 documentary about Jazz develops the reader’s understanding of her memoir.
Being Jazz pg. 49 – 60
Explain how Jazz uses examples and anecdotes to illustrate ideas in her memoir.
“Transgender Athletes Speak Out”
“The Case for Allowing...”
Explain the debate around transgender athletes participating in sports and explain the purpose and point of view of two different articles on this topic.
Differentiate between credible and non-credible sources when beginning research.
Appropriately cite sources and provide a strong conclusion for biographical profiles.
Being Jazz pg. 63 – 73
Explain how Jazz communicates her point of view by developing an authentic narrative voice.
Being Jazz pg. 73 – 84
Explain how Jazz uses examples and anecdotes to introduce, illustrate, and elaborate on ideas in her memoir.
Being Jazz pg. 87 – 95
Explain how specific sentences, text features, and paragraphs contribute to the structure and meaning of Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 97 – 114
“Jazz message to Obama”
Explain how Jazz’s narrative style develops her point of view and the impact of this on readers.
Being Jazz pg. 117 – 130
Explain the purpose and impact of Camp Aranu’tiq by reading Being Jazz and watching a video, and describe the differences between those two sources.
Being Jazz pg. 133 – 141
How Does Bullying...
What Is Bullying
Describe the impact of bullying on young people by presenting information from nonfiction articles and analyzing events in Being Jazz.
Literary Analysis Writing
What Is Bullying
How Does Bullying...
Write a letter communicating perspective on bullying and persuade the reader to agree with the position.
Being Jazz pg. 143 – 152
Interpret words and figures of speech Jazz uses in her memoir and analyze their impact.
Being Jazz pg. 155 – 167
Draw conclusions about Jazz’s character based on the way she responds to challenges in her own life and the injustice she sees around her.
Being Jazz pg. 169 – 176
Identify narrator Jazz’s point of view and how it is conveyed in Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 187 – 196
“The Story of Jazz”
Identify author’s purpose and point of view in Barbara Walters’s 20/20 interview and in Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 199 – 204
Compare and contrast two accounts of the same event described in Being Jazz.
Being Jazz pg. 207 – 215
Analyze how Jazz concludes her memoir and how she continues to develop ideas in the text.
Being Jazz — whole text
Determine central ideas in Being Jazz and explain how specific details support these ideas.
Socratic Seminar Guide
Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on performance in the seminar and paraphrasing the ideas of peers.
Identity the features of a strong personal narrative and begin to craft own personal narrative.
Organize narratives in a logical structure and add specific details and dialogue to develop meaning.
Craft a strong concluding paragraph and share stories with classmates.