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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 1: Engagement and Dialogue
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Carol O'Donnell
Valerie Kinloch
Sonia Nieto
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Commentary
Valerie Kinloch
Assistant Professor
Teachers College, Columbia University

Comment on Carol's approach to multicultural literature.

What we need to really understand is that there is no one way to teach multicultural education, or to get students involved in a critique of multicultural texts. What's important is to approach the teaching by looking at who is being taught, and how their voices need to be a part of the larger conversation.

Starting a unit by inviting students into a discussion of identity, by looking at the poems and then leading into a larger discussion of various texts, is really provocative. And I think that was an initial way to get students in -- to actually hear student voices, and for them to understand that this is a class about them, a community of learners looking and investigating and critiquing identity in order to do a final project that requires them to write and share their own stories.

What do you see as the role of the census video in this unit?

Carol talks about inclusivity, and how all of those different identity categories are not clearly represented in any census. I think the larger point there is, how are we to understand identity as something that's not fixed or singular? I think something the video (Matters of Race) does is to enhance people's understandings or misunderstandings of identity. Do we fill out this form and categorize ourselves as this thing that's on this form? Or do we do a larger, deeper, more meaningful exploration of who we are? When she enters the text and the discussion of James McBride's book, behind the story is the idea that there's no one way of talking about James's mother or James himself. This person represents this larger issue in society where we talk about identity by not talking about the complexities of identity. As they enter into James McBride's text, they're able to go back and say, "Hmm, how would James himself, or how would James's mother fit into this larger issue of identifying oneself based on national standards, based on this form, based on data that's collected?"


Comment on the use of historical documents in this unit.

The historical documents play a central role in students' understanding of issues of multiculturalism -- issues of race, culture, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion. Students are able to engage in history at the same time that they are able to understand how this history informs their understanding of the various literary works they're reading and investigating, and will eventually write about.

What is your advice for teachers unfamiliar with multicultural literature?

My advice for teachers interested in using and incorporating multicultural texts inside of the classroom is to get to know the students, to understand their lives, to invite them to write about themselves, and to take that information and use it as text with which to enhance and inform their approach to teaching multicultural literature.

Also be aware of how students already have a voice, so we don't have to teach them how to have a voice. I think we need to teach them how to enhance the voices that they already have in ways where they can look at the literature as example.

What can teachers do to prepare for a unit on multicultural literature?

I think one of the best resources for teachers to go to is the surrounding community. If you're looking at a particular culture or race or religious practice, of course, doing library research is important, but even more important is to use the community as a resource. What sites in the community, what organizations in the community cater to your investigation, cater to your interest in multicultural literature? And how can you make use of the community as a resource in your planning, in your preparation?

Teachers can look to professional development seminars that cater to multiculturalism in education, the various books that are published on issues of cultural differences. I think we have to somehow make room in our teaching lives to grapple with these ideas, to talk with other people on staff who may know more than we do about a particular topic or group or culture, and then find ways to enhance our lessons.


How might a teacher cope with the politically sensitive nature of discussions of race and ethnicity?

One way to do that is by just getting students to read these various texts and getting students to really grapple with the ideas presented in these texts. I think another way to engage this concept of exploration of identities and student understanding of identities is by going back to the historical documents that Carol uses in her classroom. The historical documents are rich opportunities for students to look at the different issues going on in society during particular moments, but also for them to look at how identities are thought of during, across, beyond different time periods. Having historical documents inside of a conversation about multicultural education and multicultural literature enhances how students are learning to define identity across the dualities or the multiplicities of labels.



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