Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Social Justice and Action: Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jiménez Teaching Strategies
An effective technique for fostering students’ active engagement with a literary text is the reader response activity of double-entry journaling. In this strategy, students divide a notebook page into two columns. They write a quotation from the text they are reading on one side and their response to that quotation on the other. As the students become comfortable with the method, the two columns will record a “conversation” between the text and the reader.
Lisa Espinosa uses double-entry journals to guide her students to consider the issue of “representation” in literature, film, and photography.
Double-Entry Journals in Lisa Espinosa’s Classroom
Espinosa’s seventh-graders respond to a chapter of The Circuit, by Francisco Jiménez, by writing in their double-entry journals. Espinosa instructs them to find quotations that interest them, then copy those quotations (with page citations) in the left column of the journal page. In the right column, the students note how they “connect” with the quotations. Espinosa defines a “connection” as a reason for choosing the quotation — for example, it may mark a significant moment in the text, or remind a student of a personal experience or another text. Espinosa also keeps a double-entry journal as she reads. “Modeling for students is very important,” she says. “It helps kids understand the assignment and feel safe in sharing their ideas and thoughts.”
After all the students have completed their double-entry notes, Espinosa asks them to share their entries. One student points to a passage in which the protagonist stands up to someone. Another reflects that the quotations he chose — about the feelings a migrant student has about leaving school and moving yet again — remind him of when he had to move. Another is reminded of her uncle, who has had to leave his three children in Mexico to come and work in the United States. Espinosa shares her double-entry notes last, mentioning a part where the reader can glimpse whom the protagonist will become when he matures.
Later in the unit, Espinosa uses another version of double-entry journaling. In response to Joseph Bruchac’s The Heart of a Chief, the students take index cards and write an excerpt from the book on one side, then note how they connect to it on the other side. The students then share their notes in a small-group activity called “say the last word.” In this activity, a student shares a quotation and members of the group respond. The student who originally chose the quotation “has the last word”: he or she shares the reason it was chosen.
Tips and Variations for Double-Entry Journals
- Teachers may ask students to record quotations in the first column and questions about the quotation in the second.
- Teachers working with English-language learners might give the students the option to write the quotation in English and their connection or response in their native language.
- Teachers whose students are comfortable with double-entry journaling might add a third column to create “triple-entry” journals. The third column can accommodate a partner’s reaction to the original writer’s notes, or the original writer’s reflections after rereading their notes.
- There are many similar strategies that structure a reader’s response to a text, including a popular strategy called “the one-pager.” In this technique, students respond to a section of text by illustrating a blank sheet of paper in three ways: first, they choose one representative or significant quotation and copy it; next, they write down two questions they would like to ask the author; finally, they draw a simple sketch that sums up something important about the reading or illustrates the quotation. Students can then post these “one-pagers” in a class gallery and compare what their peers have chosen from the same material.
Benefits of Double-Entry Journals
Double-entry journals are tools that help students read “texts and events” and then reflect on and make meaning of them.
- Double-entry journals are one of the most simple and direct ways to teach students to read (or view, or listen to) texts carefully. By reacting to specific lines (or details) and ideas as they go, the students engage in the kind of close analysis of text necessary for articulating that text’s overall “message.”
- Reader response strategies like double-entry note-taking help students practice the habits of good readers by slowing down the reading process and demanding that they become aware of the “conversation” they are having with themselves about what a text might mean. These strategies also help the students respond emotionally, ask questions, make predictions, and connect the text to their own lives.
- The strategy supports English-language learners in numerous ways. As they read and select their quotations, they are improving reading comprehension skills. As they copy the quotations from the text, they are learning English sentence structure and vocabulary. When they write and then share their responses, they are engaging in conversational as well as academic discourse about the texts.
“Two rounds” is a visual literacy strategy that Lisa Espinosa uses to help her students critique and compare images. The students first look at one set of images and list verbs and adjectives those images evoke; they then look at a contrasting set of images and make a similar list. When they share their lists, they interpret the “messages” both sets of images send and explore how the messages were constructed. In Lisa Espinosa’s class, the strategy helps the students recognize the pervasiveness of stereotypes and the danger of allowing “one dominant myth” to tell a group’s story.
Two Rounds in Lisa Espinosa’s Class
Espinosa gives her students two sets of images to analyze. The first includes images of Native Americans set exclusively in the past and taken by photographers outside of the Native American community. The second is comprised of contemporary photographs taken by Native Americans of their own communities and families. Espinosa guides her students to observe the differences between the two sets and speculate on the reasons for these differences.
Espinosa begins with questions designed to uncover stereotypes and their sources. “When you think of Native Americans, what images come to mind?” Espinosa’s students suggest “hunting,” “tepees,” and “buffalo.” When Espinosa asks where they got these ideas, they cite television, movies, magazines, and history books.
Espinosa then gives each table of students a set of “first round” images — historical images that have, over time, become stereotypes. Each student looks at one picture, lists adjectives for the image, then lists verbs for its characters. In the “second round,” Espinosa gives out contemporary photographs taken by Native Americans of their communities. The students again list adjectives and verbs.
When the class shares lists, the contrast is striking: for the Round 1 photos, they list adjectives such as “serious” and “violent.” The verbs include “fighting” and “horseback riding.” The photographs from Round 2 elicit adjectives like “happy,” “fun,” “confident,” and “calm,” and verbs like “jumping,” “laughing,” “working,” “playing,” “dancing,” and “smiling.” Espinosa asks, “What did you notice? What were some differences between Round 1 and Round 2?” Her students immediately respond that Round 1 features “stereotypes of Native Americans — Native Americans from the past.” Espinosa asks, “What is the danger of just seeing images of Native Americans in the past?” A student responds, “Because if we just look at just the Indians in the past, then we’re going to think that all the Indians today are the same or that there are no Indians today.” The class then discusses self-representation, and how they want to “represent” their own neighborhood and family.
Teacher educator Patricia Enciso notes that some might question Espinosa’s deliberate use of stereotypes. “It might seem to reinforce them, but the reality is that children are encountering these kinds of stereotypes all the time. By not naming them, you’re actually validating those stereotypes. Then, in Round 2, when the children see the counterimages to the stereotypes that they saw in Round 1, they can see how what might have once been perceived as benign images become, in their cumulative effect, very negative. In Round 2 they’re seeing very familial, positive images of contemporary, active people. And without the two rounds, the children really wouldn’t be able to see so clearly that it’s important to be in a position where you can represent yourself.”
Tips and Variations for Two Rounds
- Teachers should select and juxtapose sources about stereotypes carefully, and should make sure they have given the students enough context to understand them.
- The students can examine stereotypes by noting examples of news stories, political cartoons, editorials, photographs, video games, television, films, and other popular culture portrayals related to one group. They might note when the media has dispelled stereotypes about cultural groups. They might also compare historical and contemporary representations of a group.
- Teachers can use a similar exercise to analyze texts, such as picture books. Students can compare the accuracy, integrity, stereotypical portrayals, cultural biases, etc., of the texts’ content and style.
Benefits of Two Rounds
The strategy supports students’ critical thinking and helps them become active consumers of media.
- The students develop visual literacy skills, learning how art forms communicate through the medium: e.g., as a writer uses metaphor and tone, a photographer uses camera angle and lighting.
- The students become more careful and creative authors of their own visual messages.
- The students learn that that no one source fully represents an issue, culture, or people.
Teachers like Lisa Espinosa draw on their students’ engagement with images — in photography, books, and film — to build media literacy skills. Espinosa shows her students how to deconstruct images, then gives them cameras with which to create portraits of their communities. Guided by the same set of essential questions they have worked with throughout the unit (“What is representation?”, “How do stereotypes of groups influence how they are represented?”, and “Why is self-representation important?”), the students synthesize what they have learned and create visual messages.
The Photography Project in Lisa Espinosa’s Classroom
Espinosa weaves her photography project throughout her unit, guiding her students to be both critical viewers and thoughtful artists. She begins by showing the students photography by and about three groups: African Americans, Native Americans, and Latino/as. The students choose two photographs each and, guided by a handout – analyze their elements: composition, framing, lighting, angles, and color. They begin to answer Espinosa’s key question: “What is the message of this text?” Espinosa reminds her students that photographs can be analyzed. As the unit progresses, she gives the students great deal of practice in looking critically at the details of a text and then articulating its overall message.
Espinosa gives each student a practice disposable camera with black-and-white film. The students learn how the camera works, how black-and-white images are different from color, and how to compose shots that use framing, angles, and lighting in interesting and effective ways (see handout). They then critique the practice images. As Espinosa comments, “This practice is important, because when they take their pictures, I want them to be thoughtful and reflective about what they’re going to take and how they’re going to do that.”
Before the students take photos of their community, Pilsen in Chicago, Espinosa tells them to photograph the ordinary things in their days, family, and community. The students brainstorm ideas for these images by creating sensory webs of their neighborhood: typical sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. They also brainstorm possible themes, such as family, sports, or “things that need improvement.” Espinosa asks her class, “What do you want to say about your community? What story do you want to tell?” She reminds them that they are “authors” of their own story and that these photographs will be publicly displayed.
In order to broaden the range of subjects in the photographs, Espinosa asks each student to choose one of several themes they’ve identified, then pairs students according to theme. Each pair sets out with one camera, 27 shots, with which to portray their theme. When the students have finished taking their photos, they spread them on their desks to consider which one they will write about and display.
After the students select a photo, they draft and revise essays about themselves, their photograph, how it represents their community, and the message they hope it sends. Espinosa then enlarges each photograph and mounts it, along with a snapshot of the student and a paragraph they have selected from their essay to hang alongside it.
At a culminating photo exhibit in a local coffee shop, parents, teachers, and community members view the pictures, read the accompanying paragraphs, and speak to the students about their projects. “When they see the pictures on display, it’s so validating,” Espinosa comments. “It makes them see, ‘I have something to say and something to add to this conversation.’ My students are making a statement about who they are.” (See Student Work.)
Tips and Variations for the Photography Project
- Working in pairs, the students can take photos of the same object from different angles. They can then compare them and discuss how the camera angle, focus, and distance affect the images’ messages.
- Students in pairs or small groups can alternate using color with using black-and-white film to take photographs of the same object or subject. They can then compare and contrast the images to examine mood and effect.
- The students can also write identity stories and pair them with photographic self-portraits. (See Teaching Strategy: Identity Stories.)
- When taking photographs, the students should be respectful, discussing the project and asking permission of their subjects beforehand.
Benefits of the Photography Project
By crafting their own photographs and essays, the students learn not to passively accept media representations. They are empowered to become “authors” of their own messages.
- This activity helps students strengthen their media literacy skills and realize that being literate means being able to “read” a variety of kinds of texts. Pairing composition and photography is a powerful way for the students to see how media use different tools to convey messages.
- The photography project supports various learners, including English-language learners. By allowing the students to practice two complementary media, more students will feel engaged and successful.
- The photography project helps connect the students to their community.
- Through the photography project, the students recognize the power of their voices and their roles as active citizens who can make a difference in the community. Moreover, taking social action helps them connect schoolwork with the world.
Teaching Strategies Resources
Ayers, William, Jean Ann Hunt, and Therese Quinn, eds. Teaching for Social Justice: A Democracy and Education Reader. New York: New Press, 1998.
This wide-ranging collection of articles and essays discusses topics such as adult literacy, education through social action, and community building.
Bigelow, Bill, et al., eds. Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice, Volume Two. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools Publications, 2001.
This volume includes articles from the classroom, curriculum ideas, lesson plans, poetry, and resources related to teaching social justice in the classroom. For further resources, visit www.rethinkingschools.org.
Busching, Beverly, and Slesinger, Betty Ann. It’s Our World Too: Socially Responsive Learners in Middle School Language Arts. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002.
This resource for teachers discusses the use of significant social issues to enhance the teaching of literacy and communication skills through inquiry and collaborative learning.
Cho, Eunice Hyunhye, Francisco Arguelles Paz y Puente, Miriam Ching Yoon Louie, and Sasha Khokha. Building a Race and Immigration Dialogue in the Global Economy (BRIDGE): A Popular Education Resource for Immigrant and Refugee Community Organizers. Oakland: National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 2004.
This collection of exercises and tools for teaching about immigration, race, and migrant workers’ rights includes a variety of activities, discussion questions, and fact sheets.
Livdahl, Barbara Smith, et al. Stories From Response-Centered Classrooms: Speaking, Questioning, and Theorizing From the Center of the Action. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995.
This book presents reflections on teaching with reader-response strategies.
Olson, Laurie, and Ann Jaramillo. Turning the Tides of Exclusion: A Guide for Educators and Advocates for Immigrant Students. Oakland: California Tomorrow, 1999.
This guide, based on California Tomorrow’s 15 years of research and work, seeks to provide schools with strategies and tools to better serve language minority and immigrant students, as well as other young people who may be marginalized in schools.
Susag, Dorothea M. Roots and Branches: A Resource of Native American Literature. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1998.
Written for those teaching Native American literature and history, this book includes lessons, activities, and an extensive bibliography.
Tovani, Cris, and Keene, Ellin Oliver. I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Young Readers. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2000.
This resource provides practical strategies for teachers to help students improve their reading comprehension in the classroom.
Harper, Douglas. “Visual Sociology: Expanding Sociological Vision.” The American Sociologist (Spring 1988):54-70. This article discusses the contributions and uses of photography in sociological research.
Moll, L. C., C. Armanti, D. Neff, and N. Gonzalez. “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.” Theory Into Practice (Spring 1992):132-41. Dr. Luis Moll and colleagues at the University of Arizona developed the concept of “Funds of Knowledge” — a method of culturally responsive teaching that engages students by drawing upon their home and community resources.
Workshop 6 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.