Notes about teaching multicultural literature
In this series, multicultural literature refers to works written by African
American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino authors. In the broadest sense, multicultural literature also can refer to works that deal with issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and nationality.
Each text featured in this series is explored through a particular
pedagogical approach and set of strategies. However, there is considerable
overlap among them. Any text can be explored through reader response,
inquiry, cultural studies, and/or critical pedagogy. A reader's response
can lead naturally into an inquiry, and cultural studies research may
lead to political action.
It's important to immerse students in authentic cultural experiences
when exploring multicultural works of literature. In this series, teachers
take their students on field trips to see Chinatown, museums, and murals.
If these kinds of activities are not possible, there are many other ways
to create culturally rich experiences. Teachers can inform students of
cultural events taking place in their communities. They should invite
community members who might serve as cultural guides into the classroom.
Teachers and students can bring in artifacts, artwork, posters, music,
and literature to transform the classroom environment. Films, videos (including
excerpts from this series), television, and the Internet -- including
virtual tours of neighborhoods, museums, and art galleries -- can provide
students with exposure to a new culture.
Many of the programs in this series feature visiting authors, experts,
and/or community members. Inviting guests into the classroom is important
in any curriculum, but it is especially powerful when teaching multicultural
literature. To facilitate this, teachers may want to check with department
chairs, librarians, or curriculum coordinators to find out about local
writers-in-residence. Teachers can also check with local bookstores, public
libraries, or universities to find out about readings. Teachers may also
want to contact authors or journalists through their publishers. An option
to consider is sharing a writer's travel costs with a nearby school. Teachers
may also bring video of author interviews -- from this series or other
sources -- into the classroom.
Most powerful literature deals with complex, mature themes such as
sexuality, violence, and loss. Many schools have policies about teaching
books dealing with these issues. Some schools have reading lists; some
require teachers to alert parents to mature reading in the syllabus. It's
important for teachers to find out what school policy is before assigning
texts like some of those introduced in this series. It's also worthwhile
to provide alternate selections for students who are not allowed to read
mature books. In addition, teachers may want to schedule pre-reading discussions
to ease students into the material. Finally, if someone in the school
community objects to the material in class texts, the National Council
of Teachers of English provides advocacy support for teachers facing censorship
Each session has its own resources section with information about
the theory, teaching strategies, authors and literary works. The following
links provide additional information about multicultural literature that
is relevant to all sessions:
American Book Awards
The American Book Awards, established by the Before
Columbus Foundation, acknowledge the excellence and multicultural
diversity of American writing. The awards recognize outstanding literary
achievement by contemporary American authors, regardless of race, sex,
ethnic background, or genre.
Multicultural Perspectives is a quarterly journal, published by
the National Association for Multicultural Education, that includes literature
and articles written by and for multicultural educators and activists
worldwide. (Note: Of particular interest is Judith Y. Singer and Sally
Smith's "The Potential of Multicultural Literature: Changing Understanding
of Self and Others" in 5:2 (2003): 17-23. In it, the authors discuss
the responses of racially different groups of students to the same piece
of multicultural young adult literature.)
Multicultural Review is a quarterly journal dedicated to better
understanding of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
NCTE's multicultural listserv is a forum for teachers, educators, and
Teacher-Talk is the mail discussion list for participants.
Each workshop session program reflects the Standards for the English Language
Arts as outlined by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
and the International Reading Association (IRA).