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Multicultural Literature for Social Justice in ELA Classrooms


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Presented as an introduction to the study beginning in the fall - a personal reflection and literature review of the need to incorporate multicultural literature in the classroom on a frequent and regular basis to assist not only with reading skills, but in self development, esteem, and identification. Shared at UCF's International Conference on Poverty, Globalization, and Education: A Holistic Approach in February, 2015.

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Multicultural Literature for Social Justice in ELA Classrooms

  1. 1. MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE IN ELA CLASSROOMS Laura Kieselbach UCF Alumni, 2011 Doctoral Candidate, Northeastern University, 2016 Compiled in preparation for UCF International Conference: February 26-28, 2015
  3. 3. Discussion of Social Justice  No clear cut definition could encompass the scope of social justice and very little direct discussion is held on its meaning in the field of education – it is assumed there is a universal understanding of its meaning.  Agreement on some common attributes:  Fairness  Equity  A general respect for basic human rights  Description of such a broad term cannot exist in isolation. Rather, a fluid understanding and pliable implementation needs to happen in order for a very interpretative concept to work effectively and timelessly in an evolving world.
  4. 4. Institutionalized Oppression  Students can be awakened to individual experiences of their own culture and others, that is otherwise ignored or invisible, through text.  Using multicultural literature can interrupt prejudice and misunderstanding, not so that everyone feels the same but so that individuals can begin to acknowledge similarities between one another.  Through questioning and discussion, marginalized students who are otherwise absent from text books and literature choices can openly share how reading about their own heritage and experiences can effect their self image.  Teacher’s role – make certain to choose books that go beyond a superficial, surface exploration of an under-represented culture. A deeper look allows more meaningful identification.
  5. 5. English Language Arts as an Avenue  Currently, limited texts used in most English Language Arts classes reflect all cultures that live within our society.  Using the perspectives available in multicultural literature can offer a new and enriched understanding of marginalized populations, both for the majority culture and the oppressed.  Multiple truths exist for all cultures and using text can help inform students of the various experiences they don’t know or understand.  Students can be granted an opportunity through multicultural text to become aware of and begin to understand intercultural connections.
  6. 6. Current Numbers in Young Adult Literature  In 2013, only 251 of more than 3,000 Young Adult Literature novels represented marginalized populations in American culture (African American, American- Indian, Asian Pacific, and Latino).  Approximately 232 of these were written by authors of the same or similar cultural background.  These numbers emphasize the need for more diverse literature accessible to students in the classroom, and in general.
  7. 7. RESEARCHERS WHO ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE Schools are one of the few places where individuals “cross the boundaries of race” to learn from one another, reaffirming the need to challenge natural biases in education. (bell hooks, 2003).
  8. 8. Giving Voice and Choice to the Oppressed  Melanie Hobson  B. J. Daniel  bell hooks  Gloria Ladson-Billings  Geneva Gay Each addresses inequality through race, ethnicity, gender, and or class.  Colorblindness as a concept: accepting people without “labels”  Counterargument: we have to give voice to who people are without pretending the world does not see individuals as different or acting as if experiences are the same for everyone. History informs us of these differences; it is important to celebrate them.
  9. 9. Agents of change – Training Teachers with a Purpose B. J. Daniels (2009)  In order for teachers to move towards this progressive education in which all students are educated equally and taught to unlearn their racism, teacher candidates must first learn to unpack and interrogate their taken-for-granted assumptions about race. Teaching for social justice begins with the teacher herself. T. C. Howard (2013)  Race is not the only sensitive matter that isolates learning, so is gender, class, and elements of identifying out own heritage. The universe is largely predicated by men which often places women in general in oppressive situations. Add another element of marginalization and it becomes easy to see how women in particular can struggle to find her place in the world. We need to begin to empower teachers who can empower students to understand what makes us who we are, and how to celebrate that, not be ashamed of it.
  10. 10. POSITIONALITY My experiences as a young teacher…
  11. 11. Learning to Know what I did not Know…  My life experiences have taught me that the world is not always an easy place, but that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. I never saw who I was and the world I live in as a part of that equation until I began teaching, and learning about teaching.  White, middle class, female. By most standards, gender being the exception, I am part of the majority culture in the United States. Because parts of my life were hard, I was unable to see that I was “privileged” on account of what I was. White privilege is a truth.  As a teacher, I tried to believe that all students were the same – tried to pretend that I did not see labels. I lived in a colorblind world. I negated the experiences of my students in doing so. I tried to fix how they talked and change how they walked. I tried to assimilate them into my world instead of learning about and embracing theirs.  Then I learned, but could not accept, that they wanted me to read aloud to them… Why?  Many of my students of lower socio-economic backgrounds, and often of minority ethnicities, were rarely read to. There was little degree of separation between gender needs and this request was more of a class issue. I was learning the live of my students.
  12. 12. Using my work to make a difference…  I was not willing to play mom to these students, but I was wiling to let them be heard and give them a safe place to express their needs.  I promoted an atmosphere of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding within the walls of my classroom. I created a space driven by respect – for self and others.  I began searching out authors who my students could identify with and I would share these suggestions with my students.  Many of them began reading. Many of them wanted to share about their reading. It wasn’t for a class assignment (not yet), but they wanted more. They were excited to see themselves in literature, living the lives of the characters.  I invite my students to cross the societal divides and close the separations the world dictates. We learn about each other through reading together, sharing in lit circles, creating discussions based on concerns and ideas of the students themselves.  I did not know I could make such a difference, but students responded when I acknowledged them for who they were, without trying to change them.
  13. 13. CELEBRATING DIVERSITY Bringing culture to the classroom!
  14. 14. Creating a Diverse Classroom Curriculum  Currently, as part of the beginning stages of my study, I am inviting students to read collective young adult literature and some children’s books that shed a positive light on the history and experiences of various cultures.  Through discussion and collaboration, students have the freedom to ask open questions about student understanding and experiences, and then rely on text to create a meaningful connection to that understanding.  Yes! This works even in today’s new world of common core, which is about text complexity. This concept is not reflective of how difficult a reading is but on what work is done with the reading. How deep can you go with it???  The goal and the challenge - is for teachers to take the plethora of knowledge already available and transform it into a learning opportunity and a classroom experience that students can identify with.
  15. 15. Using Multicultural Young Adult Writers  Generally speaking, teachers value diversity in their classroom, their school, their district, and even their community. Yet reaching those students of diversity can sometimes be difficult.  Introducing writers like Sharon Draper, Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, Matt de la Pena, Jeanette Walls, and Walter Dean Myers can help introduce and sustain conversations about race, gender, and ethnicity that are essential to transform teaching practices and classroom dynamics.  Engaging students in familiar formats and with familiar texts can allow them to fill the gap they experience between academic content and cultural capital they bring with them to school
  16. 16. A Workshop Approach Making Text Connections: Reader response theory holds that a reader's understanding of a text is based on the unique connections he or she is making while reading -- connections to personal emotions, life experiences, knowledge of other texts, and knowledge of the world. Tips: Purposefully ask students to make three kinds of connections as they read: between the text and themselves; between the text and other texts they know; and between the text and issues, ideas, facts, and events in the world. Teachers refer to these as "text-to-self"; "text-to-text"; and "text-to-world" connections. Take time to ensure that all responses are grounded in the text and its cultural and historical context. Peer Facilitation Circle: Use this design to encourage students to create discussion topics they want to talk about, using a multicultural piece of text. Tips: The structure is fairly simple, but the task is not necessarily. Many students are not used to devising discussion questions, so teachers should ask the students to prepare by bringing the text and a written response to share -- such as questions, quotations, reactions, and/or connections.
  17. 17. A Workshop Approach Double-Entry Journal: An effective technique for fostering students' active engagement with a literary text is the reader response activity of double-entry journaling. In this strategy, students divide a notebook page into two columns. They write a quotation from the text they are reading on one side and their response to that quotation on the other. Tips Teachers may ask students to record quotations in the first column and questions about the quotation in the second. If you are working with English- language learners, you might give the students the option to write the quotation in English and their connection or response in their native language. Text Set: Text sets are resources of different reading levels, genres, and media that offer perspectives on a theme. By collecting materials ranging from fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to maps, charts, historical documents, photographs, songs, and paintings, teachers can add voices and perspectives to the study of any complex issue. Tips Use various levels of books, even children’s books, as a way “in” for any reader. These books can often start wonderful conversations that allow you to hear people you otherwise would not.
  18. 18. A Workshop Approach Frozen Tableau: A strategy in which students create a scene and freeze the action, then discuss what is happening and their reactions to it. Using physical poses, gestures, and facial expressions, students convey the characters, action, and significance of a historic moment. Tips Students can create frozen tableaux that represent important conflicts among characters or powerful scenes in the text. To help student groups move from copying poses to inferring what a fictional scene might look like, teachers can ask all the groups to use the same scene in a novel or story. In addition, the frozen tableau strategy can be used to deepen the classroom discussion of themes or issues brought out in a text. Literature Circles: Literature circles engage students in rich conversations about shared readings. Students can express their opinions, predictions, and questions about a text in a productive, structured way. Tips The teacher may ask students to take on specific group roles, such as summarizer or director, which are designed to develop reading, speaking, and thinking abilities. As the students become more skilled in literature circle conversations, they can move beyond specific role assignments.
  19. 19. I close with this…  F. M. Briscoe: “If the scholars advocating for those who have been oppressed do so in a manner that transforms oppressive power relations into more equitable power relations, then their appropriation of the others narrations benefits not only the scholar… but those whose experiences have been appropriated”.
  20. 20. References Abrams, D. (2014). Why is there not more diversity in young adult fiction? Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved from Barry, A. (1990). Teaching reading in a multicultural framework. Reading Horizons, 31(1), 39-48. Barta, J., & Grindler, M. C. (1996). Exploring bias using multicultural literature for children. Reading Teacher, 50(3), 269. Bersh, L. C. (2013). The curricular value of teaching about immigration through picture book thematic text sets. Social Studies, 104(2), 47-56. doi:10.1080/00377996.2012.720307 Briscoe, F. M. (2005). A question of representation in educational discourse: Multiplicities and intersections of identities and positionalities. Educational Studies, 38 (1), 23-41. Bushman, J. (1993). Diversity in young adult literature: Ethnic, cultural, and national. English Journal, 80-82. "Color Blind or Color Brave". Melanie Hobson Ted Talk, 2014: Cronin, M. K. (2014). The common core of literacy and literature. English Journal, 103 (4), 45-52. Jay, G. (2005). Whiteness studies and the multicultural literature classroom. MELUS, 30 (2), 99-121. Daniel, B. J. (2009). Conversations on race in teacher education cohorts. Teaching Education,20(2), 175-188. DeCuir, J. T., & Dixson, A. D. (2004). So when it comes out, they aren't that surprised that it is there: Using critical race theory as a tool of analysis of race and racism in education. Educational Researcher, 33, 26-31.
  21. 21. References Gay, G. (2013). Teaching to and through cultural diversity. Curriculum Inquiry, 43 (1), 48-70. Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53 (2), 106-116. Goldman, S. R. (2012, Fall; 2014/10). Adolescent literacy: Learning and understanding content.22, 89+. Halagao, P. E. (2004). Bringing Banks’multicultural typology to life: When curriculum and pedagogy are transformed. Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education, 6(1), 4-4. Hendershot, J., & Jackie, P.. (1999). A conversation with Sharon Draper, winner of the 1998 Coretta Scott King award. Reading Teacher, 52(7), 748. Hinton, K. (2006). Trial and error: A framework for teaching multicultural literature to aspiring teachers. Multicultural Education, 13, 51. Hobson, M. (2014). “Color blind, color brave”. Ted Talk, 2014. Transcript. hooks, b. (2003).Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. NY: Routledge. Horning, K., ed. (2002). “Children’s books by and about people of color published in the United States: Statistics gathered by the cooperative children’s book center school of education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.
  22. 22. References Daniel, B. J. (2009). Conversations on race in teacher education cohorts. Teaching Education,20(2), 175-188. DeCuir, J. T., & Dixson, A. D. (2004). So when it comes out, they aren't that surprised that it is there: Using critical race theory as a tool of analysis of race and racism in education. Educational Researcher, 33, 26-31. Koss, M. D., & Teale, W. H. (2009). What's happening in YA literature? Trends in books for adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52, 563+. Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). Just what is critical race theory, and what’s it doing in a nice field like education? In L. Parker, D. Deyhle, & S. Villenas (Eds.), Race is...race isn’t: Critical race theory and qualitative studies in education, pp. 7-30. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Landt, S. M. (2006). Multicultural literature and young adolescents: A kaleidoscope of opportunity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49, 690+. Lesesne, T. S. (2002). To instruct, to inspire, to entertain: The world of Sharon Draper. (author portrait). Teacher Librarian, 30, 47+. Lorde, A. (1984, 2007). Age, race, class, and sex: Women redefining difference. In Sister Outsider. (pp. 114-123). Berkeley Crossing Press. Low, J. (2013). Twenty years of multicultural publishing: A publisher of award-winning multicultural titles discusses diversity in children's books and the challenges and rewards of risk taking.109, S12+. Lynn, M. & Dixson, A. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education. New York, NY: Routledge.
  23. 23. References Ostenson, J., & Wadham, R. (2012). Young adult literature and the common core: A surprisingly good fit. American Secondary Education, 41(1), 4-13. Perini, R. L. (2002). The pearl in the shell: Author's notes in multicultural children's literature. Reading Teacher, 55(5), 428. Seidl, B. (2007). Working with communities to explore and personalize culturally relevant pedagogies: "push, double images, and raced talk". Journal of Teacher Education,58, 168+. Sensoy, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2012). Is everyone really equal? New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Tatum, A., Wold, L., & Elish-Piper, L. (2009). Scaffolding the English canon with linked text sets. National Council of Teachers of English. English Journal. Terranoud, T. G. Using collaborative planning and teaching practices to improve the academic achievement of students with disabilities: A case study of inclusive classrooms in two schools. . (881456480; ED521262). Thomson, L. E. Constructions of literacy: A study of reading instruction in middle school content areas. . (964179232; ED526370). Tobar, H. (2014). “Walter Dean Myers was a pioneer of diversity in young adult books”. Retrieved from: LA Times. July 3, 2014. Walton, P. H., & Carlson, R. (1995). Preparing for a more diverse student population. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 24(5), 36. Wass Van Ausdall, B. (1994). Books offer entry into understanding cultures. Educational Leadership, 51(8), 32.