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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 8: Social Justice and Action - Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Lisa Espinosa
Patricia Enciso
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
Patricia Enciso
Associate Professor
Ohio State University

What impresses you about Lisa's choice of literary works for this unit?

Lisa has selected literature that engages children in an analysis of common struggles -- three books, The Circuit, The Heart of a Chief, and Our America, all coming from very different experiences but sharing in common struggles. These books help children examine how the world sees people who are typically marginalized or represented only in the most stereotypic ways. Through her curriculum, Lisa helps children clarify not only the content -- what happens, what does it look like when people are viewed through stereotypic lenses -- but also ways in which these stereotypes arise. So the literature becomes a metaphor for how people are located in society. These stories [also] challenge myths and stereotypes: she uses literary texts that are the counterstories.

These stories, particularly The Circuit and The Heart of a Chief, are coming-of-age stories, which are especially interesting to middle level children. They want to know how to become an adult, how to make the move from childhood to adulthood. For children who are making that move and also trying to recognize themselves within an American landscape, they need stories that help them name what's happening around them. They need opportunities to create broader lenses and broader tools, like photography and writing, for claiming who they are and using their own words and their own images.


How does Lisa build students' background knowledge for The Circuit?

In using film and photography, Lisa creates a larger context for these stories. Sometimes with multicultural literature, there is an assumption that children can make sense of the context out of which the stories are written. But in Lisa's class, it is clear that the children, in reading The Circuit, for example, didn't understand who César Chávez was. And without that knowledge of the whole history of Mexican American struggles for labor rights and for civil rights, it makes Panchito's story somewhat singular and solitary, when in fact his world was shaped by a larger context of struggle ... and there's a lot more hope for Panchito than the story might express on its own.

This particular chapter that they're reading in The Circuit is called "Learning the Game." It's one of the most important chapters in the book, and one that would probably be very difficult for children to interpret without the film Chicanos, without the book Americanos, without a whole analysis of the ways Chicanos and Mexican immigrants have experienced being laborers in the United States.

So there's a larger context there, but then this context allows Lisa and the children to look at that chapter from a literary standpoint as well. What they recognize, and what I think other teachers working with this book need to recognize, is that the chapter presents a metaphor for economic exploitation that is situated in Panchito's initial experience of feeling injustice -- which is what a lot of kids will experience initially too. They feel the injustice of someone being excluded from participation in a playful game. But then Panchito understands that this exclusion process happens as well in labor processes, and that it creates a very vulnerable group of laborers. This is a complex construction to grasp, but the combination of the films, the readings, the discussion, and the beautiful writing that Jiménez offers the children I think enables them to see a much broader picture.

Talk about this literature in the context of social justice and action.

Across the stories and the images that Lisa selected, she's offering children what could be called critical fictions: that is, stories that are testimonial, that are telling a story from a point of view that's typically marginalized and given a whole frame of reference around which it's seen to be negative. A frame of reference is a way of looking at the world, whether that's seeing things only in good and bad or immigrant and nonimmigrant terms or it's a matter of thinking that the world operates around meritocracy -- that people earn and then deserve their place in life. The books that Lisa is sharing with the children are ones that question these frames of reference. They don't allow for simple views of a person or a community of people. For example, The Circuit really questions what it means to be a laborer -- and that even when someone is working very hard under grueling circumstances, it's not possible to do that day in, day out under very exploitative conditions and earn your way in the world. Meritocracy as a frame of reference doesn't hold up, and these books really challenge that kind of assumption. In that sense they could be called critical fictions.

In creating a testimony, Francisco Jiménez and other authors of multicultural literature are asking more of the reader -- that they not only participate in the story and be engaged with the characters, but they be prepared to be witnesses. That means to understand the circumstances of the story, to follow the character's emotional journey and contextual journey, the way that he has to struggle with these circumstances of his life, and then finally, not only to take on that story but to take action as well. If you're a witness to any event, it becomes part of you and you then have the opportunity to make something different happen in the world.

What Lisa understands with these books is that you don't only give kids stories and ask them to be witnesses, to see the world through a particular point of view -- you expect them to do something with that viewpoint, that new knowledge. What she built into her curriculum from the very beginning was the expectation that they would learn how to represent themselves within their own community.

They did this through recognizing how images are constructed in both a literary form and a filmic or a photographic form. And with that knowledge they created their own photographs that are very situated in the worlds that matter to them. They have a lot of specificity about them. And she worked really hard to encourage them to use their senses to identify the world that they live in, to name it, and to make it appear to other people in a way that was going to help them see how valuable the world around them really is.

What did you notice about Lisa's use of graphic organizers?

When Lisa introduces the children to the double-entry pedagogy, she's giving them the tool that helps them organize their thinking. It's a standard reading pedagogy where they identify a quotation and then consider it in terms of their lives and their feelings about that section -- but it's clearly at the service of a more critical curriculum, one that asks kids to inquire about social justice and [in]equities in their worlds.

The Venn diagrams give the children an opportunity to synthesize their knowledge around all that they've studied about misrepresentation and self-representation, but more importantly, I think they give them an opportunity to see the convergence of experiences for African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, all of whom had experienced misrepresentation. In creating these Venn diagrams, the children can see that self-representation for all groups creates a kind of sense of unity and collective experience.

What types of skills did this unit help develop?

When we think about authorship, we usually connect that with writing, but in Lisa's classroom they not only wrote, they authored their worlds. They looked around them, they were asked to think about what they saw and what mattered to them and why. They needed to name their worlds in particular ways, and that naming process is an authoring process that facilitates writing, which of course is something we want to develop in children in schools. At the same time, it's helping them develop a sense of themselves: people who name the world around them and can shape the world around them.

Lisa recognizes that her students are going to encounter myths about who they are in the world. She supports her students by giving them the tools they need to examine the representations that are made about them and the tools they need to represent themselves. She knows that they will be more capable of participating in the worlds that they must live in if they have a way of naming what they're seeing and producing images that they care about, that they think really speak to who they are in the world. So Lisa is giving the children tools for producing images about themselves, writing about themselves, and reading about themselves in a way that counters myths.


Lisa knows that her children need tools for interpreting literary texts that have metaphors and complex characters and settings and context. At the same time, she understands that the children are going to need to recognize who they are in the world and recognize ways of participating in the world. She sees them bringing a great deal to their communities and is able to support them in both reading and in constructing a world where they can be active and thoughtful participants. So the reading doesn't just end with having adequately comprehended the text. It's about comprehending who you are in the world and how you want to be in the world. They're connecting their reading to their families' lives, to their friends' lives, and seeing themselves as part of a larger picture, seeing literature as part of a larger picture of participation in the world.

Lisa is supporting the children's writing by helping them to look closely at the world. She's telling them, "Go back to your community. Go back and look closely at what's around you, and use that very close observation for your writing." It makes writing easier for kids and it makes it possible to be a clearer writer.

We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that school is the place where children do most of their learning. In fact, children are gathering information, images, and ideas about who they are in the world from many, many sources. The curriculum that Lisa created for her students is one that accounts for many other sources of knowledge outside of the ones that might have been offered to her through a regular curriculum. She's clearly taking up the standard curriculum in that she's advancing children's literacy skills and literacy knowledge, but she's doing it in a way that acknowledges that the children are living in a complex world and that they need to be able to define themselves in a way that's positive, critical, and active.



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