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Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades

Historical and Cultural Context: Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore

Stanlee Brimberg and his students in New York City study the important contributions of African Americans to the United States and the recent discovery of the African Burial Ground in Manhattan through factual texts, video, art, photography, and poetry. The students interview writer, historian, and documentary filmmaker Christopher Moore to learn more about the everyday experiences of African slaves in early New York. They examine the works of Langston Hughes, and then — drawing on all of the texts — they write their own poetry and engage in peer review. As a culminating activity, the students take a field trip to the African Burial Ground Memorial, and then design their own postage stamps to commemorate the site.

Video Summary

The following is a summary of the activities featured in Workshop video 6. The activities were part of a larger unit on the African Burial Ground in New York City. In adapting them to your own classroom, students, and overall curriculum, you may choose to vary the sequence or timing presented here.

    1. Stanlee Brimberg begins his class by reminding the students of the previous week’s discussion on freedom and rights. He prompts a new discussion by asking, “Are people born with rights?”
    2. Brimberg shows the class a variety of books by African Americans, from Maya Angelou to Julius Lester to Frederick Douglass, and asks the students what they know about the books or authors. He assigns a reading from the bookBreaking Ground, Breaking Silence for homework.
    3. The class screens the documentary The African Burial Ground: An American Discovery. Brimberg has assigned each student a particular year or span of time about which to take notes while watching. Later, using everyone’s notes, the class creates a composite time line of events depicted in the film.
    4. The students prepare to interview Christopher Moore, historian and screenwriter of The African Burial Ground: An American Discovery, by writing open-ended questions. When Moore comes to speak to the class, they ask him about the African Burial Ground, his own family history, the lives and work of the slaves in the city, and the relationship of the slaves with the Native Americans. (See Teaching Strategies: Interviewing.)
    5. The students examine and answer questions about photographs of skeletons exhumed from the African Burial Ground.
    6. Brimberg introduces the poetry of Langston Hughes. The students choose poems to read aloud and explain the reasons for their choices.
    7. Brimberg asks the students to write a poem about a person from one of the photos from the African Burial Ground. He gives the students a handout that provides guidance for creating their poems. (See Teaching Strategies: Connecting Poetry and History.)
    8. Brimberg and the students meet to read the draft poems aloud and discuss their writing process.

The students read Barbara Chase-Riboud’s poem “Africa Rising” aloud and examine individual lines. (The poem accompanies Chase-Riboud’s sculpture of the same title, at the African Burial Ground memorial site.)

  • The class takes a field trip to Trinity Church, where white citizens of New Amsterdam were buried, and to the site of the African Burial Ground. The students answer questions on their trip sheets (PDF). Brimberg asks additional questions to help them make connections to the poems by Langston Hughes and Barbara Chase-Riboud.
  • When the students return to the classroom, Brimberg engages them in a whole-class discussion about memorializing the past. Drawing on what they’ve learned during this unit, the students create their own designs for an African Burial Ground commemorative stamp.

 

Video Materials & Standards

Materials

  • Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence, by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan
  • The African Burial Ground: An American Discovery, video written by Christopher Moore
  • Poems by Langston Hughes (Available in Workshop 6: Readings) PDF
  • “Africa Rising,” by Barbara Chase-Riboud
  • Poetry writing guide sheet (PDF)
  • Trip sheets for field trips (PDF)
  • Sample commemorative stamps
  • Art materials for students to create their own commemorative stamps

Standards
Standards for the English Language Arts

 

General Resources

Books
Allen, JoBeth. Class Actions: Teaching for Social Justice in Elementary and Middle School. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.
This book describes strategies that teachers can use to make issues of social justice the focus of their curricula.
Barton, David, and Mary Hamilton, eds. Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Key scholars remark on literacies in specific contexts as well as broad practices.
Carey-Webb, Allen. Literature and Lives: A Response-Based, Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2001.
This book uses classroom anecdotes to illustrate reader response and cultural studies methods, making numerous connections between canonical works and multicultural writers, popular culture, politics, history, and contemporary youth issues. It is full of useful information about literary scholarship and theory, and provides extensive annotated bibliographies for multicultural literature.
Christensen, Linda. Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 2000.
The author offers lesson plans, essays, student work, and strategies for teaching political and social issues in the language arts classroom.
Close, Elizabeth, and Katherine Ramsey, eds. A Middle Mosaic: A Celebration of Reading, Writing, and Reflective Practice at the Middle Level. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000.
In this collection of 15 essays, the editors connect literacy, reflection, and other themes of middle school teaching, to provide ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms.
Cook, Lenora, and Helen C. Lodge, eds. Voices in English Classrooms: Honoring Diversity and Change. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1995.
This collection of essays explores the need for new content and procedures in the language arts classroom based on the notion that “diversity connotes the challenge and reward of providing quality programs and instruction that tap into the experiences that students bring to their learning.”
Derman-Sparks, Louise. Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Youth, 1989.
This book gives the rationale for creating an antibias curriculum and discusses ways to create an antibias environment, learn about differences, teach about differences, and resist stereotyping students.
Edelsky, Carole, ed. Making Justice Our Project. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1999.
This book considers the political implications of whole language classrooms, with particular attention to inquiry teaching.
Fox, Dana L., and Kathy G. Short, eds. Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children’s Literature. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2003.
This collection of essays by authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, educators, librarians, and scholars highlights key issues, debates, and new questions and critiques related to the issue of cultural authenticity in children’s literature.
Golub, Jefferey N. Making Learning Happen: Strategies for an Interactive Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000.
Golub shows how to create classroom activities that include every student in the classroom and allow students to work on interactive projects in groups.
Hansen-Krening, Nancy, Elaine M. Aoki, and Donald T. Mizokawa, eds. Kaleidoscope: A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8. 4th ed. Urbana, IL: NCTE: 2003.
This fourth edition of Kaleidoscope focuses on stories by and about people of color living in the United States. It provides an annotated bibliography of books published from 1999 to 2001, and is meant to serve as a guide to selecting books to incorporate into the general canon of literature used in schools.
Lee, Enid, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development. Washington, D.C.: Network of Educators on the Americas, 1998.
This guide includes practical ideas for transforming classroom instruction and school culture.
Muse, Daphne, ed. The New Press Guide to Multicultural Resources for Young Readers. New York: New Press, 1997.
This guide to multicultural literature for young people brings together more than 1,000 reviews of picture books, novels, poetry, biographies, and other resources, which cover more than 20 different multicultural communities.
Nieto, Sonia. Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. New York: Longman, 2004.
In this text, Nieto examines the necessity for and benefits of multicultural education for students of all backgrounds.
—. Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives for a New Century. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
Nieto addresses the issues of bilingual education and multicultural education together, focusing on effective ways to integrate multicultural education into curricula.
—. The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999.
Nieto demonstrates how educators can change their methods and attitudes toward learning to ensure that students receive affirmation and a strong education.
Oliver, Eileen. Crossing the Mainstream: Multicultural Perspectives in Teaching Literature. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1994.
This book focuses on curriculum development and teaching strategies for multicultural texts.
Rogers, Theresa, and Anna O. Soter, eds. Reading Across Cultures: Teaching Literature in a Diverse Society. New York: NCTE and Teachers College Press, 1997.
This collection of stories, observations, and discussions about teaching multicultural literature, from a range of students, teachers, and classrooms, also provides a list of multicultural texts and films for children and young adults.
Short, Kathy G., and Carolyn Burke. Creating Curriculum: Teachers and Students as a Community of Learners. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1991.
This book helps teachers in defining curricular goals and making changes in curricula in order to focus education on the learning process.
Strickland, Dorothy S., Kathy Ganske, and Joanne K. Monroe. Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers: Strategies for Classroom Intervention 3-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2002.
Strickland, Ganske, and Monroe stress the importance of individualized and tailored teaching methods in helping children overcome problems with reading and writing.
Unsworth, Len. Teaching Multiliteracies Across the Curriculum: Changing Contexts of Text and Image in Classroom Practice. Berkshire, U.K.: Open University Press, 2002.
This book outlines visual and verbal language necessary for students in technology-rich classrooms.
Web Sites
American Book Awards
http://www.literature-awards.com/american_book_awards.htm
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
http://www.nameorg.org/publications.html
This quarterly journal, published by the National Association for Multicultural Education, includes literature and articles written by and for multicultural educators and activists worldwide.
Multicultural Review
http://www.mcreview.com
This quarterly journal is dedicated to better understanding of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.
The National Council of Teachers of English
http://www.ncte.org
This organization for teachers offers information about workshops, publications, and other resources for teachers. The NCTE site also offers articles and information about their activities and programs.
Rethinking Schools
http://www.rethinkingschools.org
This nonprofit organization publishes articles and offers Web resources that address issues of equity in education.
Teaching for Change
http://www.teachingforchange.org
This nonprofit organization’s Web site offers information, workshops, and resources about equity in education for teachers and parents.
Teaching Tolerance
http://www.tolerance.org
This site offers information for teachers about various resources and activities that can be used in the classroom to teach diversity and tolerance, as well as information about the organization’s magazine, Teaching Tolerance.

Additional Resources

Books

Baker, Houston A., Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Baker argues that the Harlem Renaissance was a crucial social and political movement that put forth an expression of self-identity that is still relevant today.

Harris, Leslie. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Harris offers a history of slavery in New York City and describes what the African Burial Ground tells us about the everyday lives of African Americans in that period.

Hill, Laban Carrick. Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance.Singapore: Megan Tingley, 2004.
This book, aimed at young adults, describes the cultural influences in Harlem in the early 20th century and discusses the idea of the “New Negro” that brought so many people to the North.

Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Voices from the Harlem Renaissance. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.
A collection of essays and other works by prominent figures from the Harlem Renaissance that depict the political and social struggles African Americans had to face.

Katz, William Loren. Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Katz traces the relationship between people of African descent and Native Americans, and brings forward a hidden part of U.S. history.

——. Proudly Red and Black: Stories of African and Native Americans. New York: Atheneum, 1993.
This book for a wide range of readers includes brief biographies of people of mixed African and Native American ancestry who have overcome many social obstacles in their lives.

Lewis, David. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Lewis examines the far-reaching effects of the Harlem Renaissance for African Americans.

Lewis, David, ed. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Viking, 1994.
This collection features poems, stories, and essays from important journals of the Harlem Renaissance that are often not readily available.

Wintz, Cary D., and Paul Finkelman, eds. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.New York: Routledge, 2004.
This set of articles about the Harlem Renaissance reflects the diverse range of scholarship on the subject.

Books

Baker, Houston A., Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Baker argues that the Harlem Renaissance was a crucial social and political movement that put forth an expression of self-identity that is still relevant today.

Harris, Leslie. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Harris offers a history of slavery in New York City and describes what the African Burial Ground tells us about the everyday lives of African Americans in that period.

Hill, Laban Carrick. Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance.Singapore: Megan Tingley, 2004.
This book, aimed at young adults, describes the cultural influences in Harlem in the early 20th century and discusses the idea of the “New Negro” that brought so many people to the North.

Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Voices from the Harlem Renaissance. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.
A collection of essays and other works by prominent figures from the Harlem Renaissance that depict the political and social struggles African Americans had to face.

Katz, William Loren. Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Katz traces the relationship between people of African descent and Native Americans, and brings forward a hidden part of U.S. history.

——. Proudly Red and Black: Stories of African and Native Americans. New York: Atheneum, 1993.
This book for a wide range of readers includes brief biographies of people of mixed African and Native American ancestry who have overcome many social obstacles in their lives.

Lewis, David. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Lewis examines the far-reaching effects of the Harlem Renaissance for African Americans.

Lewis, David, ed. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Viking, 1994.
This collection features poems, stories, and essays from important journals of the Harlem Renaissance that are often not readily available.

Wintz, Cary D., and Paul Finkelman, eds. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.New York: Routledge, 2004.
This set of articles about the Harlem Renaissance reflects the diverse range of scholarship on the subject.

Web Sites

African American Odyssey
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/
This Library of Congress exhibition displays a collection of primary documents and other materials about slavery and the African American experience throughout U.S. history.

Harlem: 1900-1940: An African American Community
http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Harlem/
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture offers an online exhibition of photographs from the Harlem Renaissance as well as information about key figures and movements of the era. This site also offers suggestions to educators for lesson plans and additional resources about the Harlem Renaissance.

African Burial Ground
http://www.africanburialground.com
The African Burial Ground’s official Web site contains articles and documents that trace the events following the discovery of the burial ground in Manhattan.

The African Burial Ground — Africans in the Americas: Celebrating the Ancestral Heritage
http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/afb/
The General Services Administration and Schomburg Center collaborated to create a site that contains video clips and information about the rites and ceremonies performed during the uncovering and researching of the burial ground, as well as information about the artifacts found there.

Periodicals

Blakey, Michael L. “The New York African Burial Ground Project: An Examination of Enslaved Lives, a Construction of Ancestral Ties.” Transforming Anthropology, 7 (1): 53-58 (1998).
Blakey, director of the New York African Burial Ground Project and scholar from Howard University, writes about the history of the site, the struggle the African American community went through to ensure its preservation, and information about the slaves he has deduced from his research.

Film/Video

Bones of Our Ancestors. PBS, 2001.
In this unique documentary by Orlando Bagwell, teenagers delve into history while they do research for a story about the lives of people who were buried in the African Burial Ground in New York.

From These Roots. William Greaves Productions, 1974.
This film documents the Harlem Renaissance through the social, political, and artistic movements of the period.

I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Arts. PBS, 1999. (See Hour 2: “Without Fear or Shame”)
This film is about African American artists throughout the 20th century. “Without Fear or Shame” focuses on the role of art in social protest during the Harlem Renaissance.

Slavery and the Making of America
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/
This four-part television series focuses on the history of slavery in the United States. The series uses personal narrative and contemporary scholarship to document the central role that African Americans played in the development of the nation.

African American Odyssey
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/
This Library of Congress exhibition displays a collection of primary documents and other materials about slavery and the African American experience throughout U.S. history.

Harlem: 1900-1940: An African American Community
http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Harlem/
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture offers an online exhibition of photographs from the Harlem Renaissance as well as information about key figures and movements of the era. This site also offers suggestions to educators for lesson plans and additional resources about the Harlem Renaissance.

African Burial Ground
http://www.africanburialground.com
The African Burial Ground’s official Web site contains articles and documents that trace the events following the discovery of the burial ground in Manhattan.

The African Burial Ground — Africans in the Americas: Celebrating the Ancestral Heritage
http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/afb/
The General Services Administration and Schomburg Center collaborated to create a site that contains video clips and information about the rites and ceremonies performed during the uncovering and researching of the burial ground, as well as information about the artifacts found there.

Periodicals

Blakey, Michael L. “The New York African Burial Ground Project: An Examination of Enslaved Lives, a Construction of Ancestral Ties.” Transforming Anthropology, 7 (1): 53-58 (1998).
Blakey, director of the New York African Burial Ground Project and scholar from Howard University, writes about the history of the site, the struggle the African American community went through to ensure its preservation, and information about the slaves he has deduced from his research.

Film/Video

Bones of Our Ancestors. PBS, 2001.
In this unique documentary by Orlando Bagwell, teenagers delve into history while they do research for a story about the lives of people who were buried in the African Burial Ground in New York.

From These Roots. William Greaves Productions, 1974.
This film documents the Harlem Renaissance through the social, political, and artistic movements of the period.

I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Arts. PBS, 1999. (See Hour 2: “Without Fear or Shame”)
This film is about African American artists throughout the 20th century. “Without Fear or Shame” focuses on the role of art in social protest during the Harlem Renaissance.

Slavery and the Making of America
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/
This four-part television series focuses on the history of slavery in the United States. The series uses personal narrative and contemporary scholarship to document the central role that African Americans played in the development of the nation.

Workshops