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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 2: Engagement and Dialogue - Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Akiko Morimoto
Tonya Perry
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
Akiko Morimoto
Washington Middle School
Vista, CA

How do you create a learning environment in which all students are encouraged to participate?

In my classroom I try to create a community of learners. I use learning groups often because I believe that students have ideas to share. I tell them that this is the place for them to take risks. I have them discuss in their small learning group first so they can explore their ideas before sharing them with the whole class. During the learning group discussions, I circulate and listen and say, "Ooh, that's really a good idea. Mark that down so you remember to bring that up in the whole-class discussion."

I like heterogeneous groups because students who are stronger in a particular area can help those who are weaker. The power of poetry is evident when a student who isn't usually strong in writing is able to convey through writing an image with which people can make a connection. That student then feels how powerful language can be.

How do you help students learn to enjoy reading?

One of the most important things I do to support learning in my classroom is to get to know my students as readers. Each month, I put 30 or more new books on my shelves to entice and engage them. During our sustained silent reading time, I help reluctant readers as well as confident readers select books. When I give them books and tell them I think they will like them, and then they do like them, they develop trust in me.

Three years ago, Nikki Grimes's book Jazmin's Notebook helped turn one of my students into a reader. At the NCTE annual convention in Atlanta, I asked Nikki to pick a book of hers and sign it for my student. Nikki's book not only got this student stepping onto the path of reading for pleasure, it also gave her a sense of empowerment about school and schoolwork.

Talk about the ways in which you help your students become better readers.

From the beginning of the year, I provide my students with literature that I have reformatted so that they can record their ideas, questions, comments, pictures, speculations, and epiphanies alongside the text as they read. Since most of my students have not yet developed the inner voice with which confident readers ask themselves questions and make thoughtful comments, I read aloud with them. This is my version of "guided reading," and it helps them develop an interior dialogue and thinking process.

What was the purpose of the open microphone session in your classroom?

The open microphone session after school was an extension of Nikki Grimes's Bronx Masquerade. I offered it to my students as a voluntary experience of an intimate, yet public sharing of their writings. Some students who had been reticent to take the big step of presenting their poetry to an audience found this smaller venue less intimidating. For my language development students in particular, it is through the personal terror -- then triumph -- of experiencing the impact of their words and their emotion-filled images that they empower themselves.


Why do you emphasize making connections among all of the texts students have read during the year?

Within our classroom community, we build toward greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. That's why connecting with texts is always central to our reading. As students become able to see themselves in relationship to other people and other times, places, and situations, I hope they become more thoughtful and reflective, and less quick to judge.

The last quarter of the year is a time of rush and anticipation as summer, and then high school, beckon. Students are more confident in themselves as readers, writers, and thinkers. It is a special time of poignancy when they are daring to take more risks in exploring their notions about their places in a world that is expanding before them. I hope I have made them aware that there is so much more to read, and I hope I've asked them just enough questions to keep them seeking to learn.

How do you address cultural diversity within your classroom?

I don't go into the students' cultures overtly. I talk mostly in terms of stereotypes and perceptions and the façades that we wear. I use myself as an example, telling them that that they're going to be like me one day and look at that mirror and say, "Who is that old person? There used to be a young person in the mirror!"

I used to do a project in which students would research somebody and write about him or her. They would interview the person and look through his or her old photographs and/or scrapbook. They would be amazed: "You were beautiful. You were handsome. You did all these things. Oh my goodness!" For me, something similar happened when I packed up my mother's belongings after she died from cancer, and I looked at her yearbook and saw she had the same innocuous inscriptions that I had in my yearbook. I realized then that she'd been a teenager, too.

I think it's worthwhile for students to have conversations where they can grapple with stereotypes that come up in a story because many students never have these conversations at home. Yes, the conversations can be uncomfortable. Yes, everyone has to be very clear about what they're thinking and how they're presenting it. But if they haven't learned to reflect on who they are and their place in the world, then I don't think I've done my job as a teacher.

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