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The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Explore the richness of multicultural literature through four pedagogical approaches.

A video workshop for high school teachers; 8 one-hour video programs, workshop guide, and website.

This professional development workshop for high school teachers is an exploration of the richness of multicultural literature shown through four pedagogical approaches to teaching it: reader response, inquiry, cultural studies, and critical pedagogy. Eight one-hour video programs feature classroom footage illustrating these approaches, augmented by background information on featured authors and analysis of their works by leading scholars, educators, and the authors themselves. Rounding out the workshop experience are the print guide, which includes discussion questions and activities, and the website, which includes resources about literature and teaching strategies.

Series Overview

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, a professional development workshop, includes eight one-hour video programs, a comprehensive website, and a print guide. The workshop features the literature of African American, Asian American, Native American and Latino writers examined through four pedagogical approaches — reader response, inquiry, cultural studies, and critical pedagogy. In the video programs, teachers from across the country demonstrate innovative strategies for using these multicultural works with high school students. Integrated with the classroom footage is background information on featured authors and analysis of their works by leading scholars, educators, and the authors themselves. The Web site includes a wealth of resources about the authors, literature, pedagogical theories, and teaching strategies. The workshop guide includes discussion questions, activities for workshop participants, and short works of literature featured in the series. Use these components for professional development in two-hour weekly group sessions, or on your own.

Individual Workshop Descriptions

Workshop 1. Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch
Part I: In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alfredo Lujan and his students explore the poetry of Pat Mora. Inspired by Mora, the students create and present their own poetry. Part II: Greg Hirst’s students on the Fort Peck Reservation in Wolf Point, Montana, respond to James Welch’s literature about contemporary Native American realities through a series of reading and writing activities.

Workshop 2. Reader Response: Keith Gilyard and Mourning Dove
Part I: Alfredo Lujan’s students explore the poetry of Keith Gilyard. Gilyard reads his poem “the hatmaker” and prompts students to write their own poems in response. Part II: Greg Hirst’s students engage in Native American storytelling. In response to Mourning Dove’s collection of Salish Coyote tales, the students create and present their own stories.

Workshop 3. Inquiry: Rudolfo Anaya and James Baldwin
Part I: In Houston, Texas, Jorge Arredondo’s students explore Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and make connections with a mural depicting the struggles of Mexican Americans. Part II: In New York City, the students in Bo Wu’s classroom read three works by James Baldwin. Sparked by their personal interests, the students research topics related to James Baldwin’s works and collaborate to produce group Web sites.

Workshop 4. Inquiry: Tomás Rivera and Esmeralda Santiago
Part I: Jorge Arredondo and his students begin a unit on Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra (…And the Earth Did Not Devour Him). They meet a translator of Rivera’s work, conduct Internet research based on themes in the novel, and interview members of the school community who emigrated from Mexico. Part II: Bo Wu’s students explore Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir When I Was Puerto Rican. Inspired by Santiago’s style and structure, the students begin creating their own memoirs.

Workshop 5. Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón
Part I: In San Francisco, California, Betty Tillman Samb and her students explore Ishmael Reed’s poem “Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man.” Students meet Reed, who answers questions about his work. Part II: In San Bernadino, California, Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens and her students explore Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces, about the Zapatista uprising. The teacher introduces students to the culture of Chiapas, Mexico, through a bilingual folktale and a dialogue with Limón.

Workshop 6. Cultural Studies: N. Scott Momaday and Russell Leong
Part I: Betty Tillman Samb’s students study the mythological themes and historical shifts of Kiowa culture through N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain. Part II: Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens and her students tour Los Angeles’s Chinatown with poet Russell Leong and explore the relationship between poetry and Tai Chi. Leong shares his poem “Aerogrammes” and leads the class in creating Japanese renga poems.

Workshop 7. Critical Pedagogy: Octavia E. Butler and Ruthanne Lum McCunn
Part I: In Brooklyn, New York, Cathie Wright-Lewis and her students investigate political, social, technological, and environmental issues in Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower. Part II: In Portland, Oregon, Sandra Childs and her students discuss cultural and political issues as they relate to Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel Thousand Pieces of Gold. Lum McCunn reads from her novel and talks with the students.

Workshop 8. Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada
Part I: Cathie Wright-Lewis and her students explore the spoken word tradition and the works of poet Abiodun Oyewole. Part II: Sandra Childs and her students study the history of Japanese American internment through the poetry of Lawson Fusao Inada. The students meet Inada and other members of the Japanese American community who were interned.

Notes About Teaching Multicultural Literature

Multicultural Literature
In this series, multicultural literature refers to works written by African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino authors. In the broadest sense, multicultural literature also can refer to works that deal with issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and nationality.

Each text featured in this series is explored through a particular pedagogical approach and set of strategies. However, there is considerable overlap among them. Any text can be explored through reader response, inquiry, cultural studies, and/or critical pedagogy. A reader’s response can lead naturally into an inquiry, and cultural studies research may lead to political action.

Cultural Immersion
It’s important to immerse students in authentic cultural experiences when exploring multicultural works of literature. In this series, teachers take their students on field trips to see Chinatown, museums, and murals. If these kinds of activities are not possible, there are many other ways to create culturally rich experiences. Teachers can inform students of cultural events taking place in their communities. They should invite community members who might serve as cultural guides into the classroom. Teachers and students can bring in artifacts, artwork, posters, music, and literature to transform the classroom environment. Films, videos (including excerpts from this series), television, and the Internet — including virtual tours of neighborhoods, museums, and art galleries — can provide students with exposure to a new culture.

Many of the programs in this series feature visiting authors, experts, and/or community members. Inviting guests into the classroom is important in any curriculum, but it is especially powerful when teaching multicultural literature. To facilitate this, teachers may want to check with department chairs, librarians, or curriculum coordinators to find out about local writers-in-residence. Teachers can also check with local bookstores, public libraries, or universities to find out about readings. Teachers may also want to contact authors or journalists through their publishers. An option to consider is sharing a writer’s travel costs with a nearby school. Teachers may also bring video of author interviews — from this series or other sources — into the classroom.

Mature Themes
Most powerful literature deals with complex, mature themes such as sexuality, violence, and loss. Many schools have policies about teaching books dealing with these issues. Some schools have reading lists; some require teachers to alert parents to mature reading in the syllabus. It’s important for teachers to find out what school policy is before assigning texts like some of those introduced in this series. It’s also worthwhile to provide alternate selections for students who are not allowed to read mature books. In addition, teachers may want to schedule pre-reading discussions to ease students into the material. Finally, if someone in the school community objects to the material in class texts, the National Council of Teachers of English provides advocacy support for teachers facing censorship challenges.

Each session has its own resources section with information about the theory, teaching strategies, authors and literary works. The following links provide additional information about multicultural literature that is relevant to all sessions:

American Book Awards
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
Multicultural Perspectives is a quarterly journal, published by the National Association for Multicultural Education, that includes literature and articles written by and for multicultural educators and activists worldwide. (Note: Of particular interest is Judith Y. Singer and Sally Smith’s “The Potential of Multicultural Literature: Changing Understanding of Self and Others” in 5:2 (2003): 17-23. In it, the authors discuss the responses of racially different groups of students to the same piece of multicultural young adult literature.)

Multicultural Review
Multicultural Review is a quarterly journal dedicated to better understanding of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
Connect with NCTE on Social Media.

Each workshop session program reflects the Standards for the English Language Arts as outlined by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA).

About the Contributors

Workshop Contributors


Jorge Luis Arredondo is currently the assistant principal for first-year students at Charles Henry Milby High School in the Houston Independent School District. Arredondo also served as an English teacher at Milby High School and is the founder and chair of Milby’s La Raza Student Alliance, an organization that promotes the cultural and educational experience of Latinas and Latinos in the greater Houston area. A member of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Arredondo is active in the organization’s efforts to increase diversity in and public support for English/language arts curricula and instruction.

Sandra Childs is a social studies and language arts teacher at Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon. Childs is involved in Portland Area Rethinking Schools (PARS) as a local educator activist. She is also Franklin’s Literacy Leader and a member of her district’s Language Arts Content Team. In addition, Childs has written several articles for the national educator activist journal Rethinking Schools (

Greg Hirst currently teaches English and Spanish language classes at Wolf Point High School on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeastern Montana. Wolf Point High School is a multicultural community, including students of Dakota (Sioux), Assiniboine, German, and Norwegian ancestry. Hirst, a Blackfeet tribal member, has also taught for 17 years at community colleges and public schools on both the Blackfeet and Fort Peck Reservations in Montana.

Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens is a teacher at Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernadino, California. She has over 30 years experience teaching in the classroom. Houtchens serves on the editorial board for the Recovery of Hispanic Heritage Literacy Project, a Rockefeller grant project at the University of Houston. She edited The Best for Our Children: Critical Perspectives on Literacy for Latino Students, by Maria De La Luz Reyes. Houtchens has participated in several Annenberg Media professional development workshop series on the language arts and is an active member of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Alfredo Celedon Lujan is currently a teacher of English at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The school’s mission is “to graduate students with the skills, desire and vision to become community leaders.” Lujan is a member of the New Mexico Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE); he currently sits on NCTE’s Secondary Section Steering Committee. Previously, Lujan was a member of the Early Adolescent/Language Arts Committee with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, as well as the Chair of NCTE’s Committee on Racism and Bias.

Betty Tillman Samb has been a language arts educator for over 35 years. She has taught a range of courses, from ethnic and European literature to theater and drama. While serving as the head of the English department at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School in San Francisco, she mentored beginning language arts educators. Tillman Samb holds a master’s degree in Theater and Communications from the University of New Orleans.

Cathie Wright-Lewis, a high school English teacher and mentor for new teachers at Benjamin Banneker Academy, is a 20-year veteran of New York City’s Board of Education. She is also a poet, a tutor, and an active community member in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. The transformations of Brownsville, a predominantly African American community, inspired Wright-Lewis to teach and to write Maurya’s Seed: Why Hope Lives Behind Project Walls.

Bo Wu is an English teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School in New York City and a member of the Manhattan High School Instructional Technology Team. Since 1996, Wu has been experimenting with and implementing various ways of using technology in her teaching. She has developed many original ELA lessons and units focusing on various literary works, all of which are published on her own Web site,


Dale Allender is Associate Executive Director of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). He has taught middle school, high school, adult literacy, and coursework in teacher education and English at Grinnell College and Coe College. Allender has been a research assistant at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow for the study of Native American literature, and a board member for the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage High School Project. His publications include two edited volumes, entitled Trends and Issues in the Teaching of Secondary English 1999 and Trends and Issues in the Teaching of Secondary English 2000; the essay “Literary Guerillas, Canon Keepers, and Empire Institutions: A Black Teacher’s Narrative,” for Ishmael Reed’s KONCHMagazine and several articles on teaching myth and multicultural literature. His keynote addresses and presentations include “Performance Theory in the Teaching of Myth and Folklore” at the University of Southern Mississippi; “The Myth Ritual Theory and the Art of Storytelling” at City College, New York; and several guest lectures at New York University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Iowa, and Drake University. Currently Allender serves on several educational television advisory boards, including Cable in the Classroom’s National Education Advisory Board,, William Greaves Productions, and several Annenberg Media-funded professional development series for the English language arts.

Beverly Chin, Ph.D., is Professor of English and Director of the English Teaching Program at the University of Montana in Missoula. She has served as President of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Director of the Montana Writing Project, and Director of Composition at the University of Montana in Missoula. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Linda Christensen, author of Reading, Writing and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, taught Language Arts for over 20 years at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. She is a member of the Rethinking Schools editorial board, Director of the Portland Writing Project, a founding member of the National Coalition of Education Activists, and Language Arts Coordinator for Portland Public Schools. Christensen also has been a keynote speaker for many organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Association of Multicultural Educators, and the International Conference for the Teaching of English. Her research and teaching have been granted numerous awards, including the Fred Heschinger Award for Use of Research in Teaching and Writing, from the National Writing Project/National Council of Teachers of English.

William W. Cook is Professor of English and African and Afro-American Studies at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. His principle areas of research and teaching include classical oratory, African American oratory, modern American and British poetry, American drama, African American literature, and American culture. Cook has also published numerous works, including poetry and critical papers.

Jamal Cooks, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Literacy Education in Secondary Education at San Francisco State University. He teaches a variety of classes, including the state-required reading course and Issues in Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Cooks has received many awards and grants, including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Grant-in-Aid, and a Spencer Mini-Grant Award from the University of Michigan.

Barbara M. Flores, Ph.D., is currently a professor in the Department of Language, Literacy and Culture in the College of Education at California State University, San Bernardino. She has been a teacher and educator/researcher/writer for the last 23 years. Her areas of expertise are in first- and second-language acquisition, literacy/bi-literacy development, and collaborative action research. Flores is the creator and co-author of the Piñata series published by Celebration Press, which targets beginning readers. It is the first original Spanish series in the United States and includes over 200 titles.

Brenda M. Greene is Professor of English and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. Greene served as coordinator of the National Black Writers Conferences (NBWC) at Medgar Evers and is Director of the 2003 NBWC. In addition to serving as Director of the Center, Greene coordinates the English B.A. program and teaches composition and literature. Her research interests are in the areas of the literature of women of color, multicultural literature, and English studies, and she has written a number of essays in these fields. Greene is the co-editor of Defining Ourselves: Black Writers of the Nineties, by Peter Lang Publishers, and Rethinking American Literature, published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Jerome C. Harste, Ph.D., is currently Chair of the Diversity Task Force within the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). He is also Distinguished Professor of Language Education at Indiana University, where he holds the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Chair in Teacher Education. For the last 10 years, Harste has been working with a group of teachers in Indianapolis to create the Center for Inquiry, a new public elementary/middle school in the inner city. Harste is also past President of the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Reading Conference, the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy, and the Whole Language Umbrella.

Nicolás Kanellos, Ph.D., is the Brown Foundation Professor of Spanish at the University of Houston. He is the founding publisher of the Hispanic literary journal The Americas Review (formerly Revista Chicano-Riqueña) and the Hispanic publishing house Arte Público Press. Kanellos is the recipient of various fellowships and honors, including the 1996 Denali Press Award of the American Library Association; the 1989 American Book Award, Publisher/Editor Category; the 1989 award from the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education; and the 1988 Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature presented by the White House.

Donaldo Macedo, Ph.D., Ed.D., is a full professor of English and Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is Graduate Program Director of the Applied Linguistics Masters of Arts Program. Macedo has published extensively in the areas of linguistics, critical literacy, and multicultural education. His publications include: Literacy: Reading the Word and the World (with Paulo Freire, 1987), Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know(1994), Dancing With Bigotry (with Lilia Bartolome, 1999), Critical Education in the New Information Age (with Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, and Paul Willis, 1999), Chomsky on Miseducation (with Noam Chomsky, 2000), The Hegemony of English (with Panayota Gounari and Bessie Dendrinos, 2003), and Ideology Matters (with Paulo Freire, forthcoming). Macedo’s works have been published in Capeverdean, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Kathryn W. Shanley, Ph.D., is Chair of the Native American Studies department at the University of Montana. Professor Shanley, Assiniboine (Nakota) from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, earned a Ph.D. in English Literature and Language Studies at the University of Michigan. She has published widely in the field of Native American literary criticism, writing about such authors as James Welch, Maria Campbell, Leslie Silko, and N. Scott Momaday.

Evangelina Vigil-Piñón is a writer, poet, and translator. She has written numerous books and translated the late Tomás Rivera’s classic novel, …y no se lo tragó la tierra (…And the Earth Did Not Devour Him). Since 1982, she has taught courses in U.S. Hispanic literature at the University of Houston as an adjunct lecturer in the English Department. She is also an experienced television journalist, currently working with ABC/KTRK-TV in Houston.


Deborah Allen, Professor of Teacher Education, Kean College. Chair of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Commission on Curriculum.

Dale Allender, Associate Executive Director, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

John Barber, teacher, Fairmount-Harford High School, Baltimore, Maryland and English Department Chair.

Reggie Finnlayson, teacher, Milwaukee Area Technical College. Writer and performance artist.

Beth Horikawa, teacher, Howard Luke Academy, Fairbanks, Alaska. Chair of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Commission on Literature, as well as a Ph.D. candidate.

Nicolás Kanellos, Ph.D., Brown Foundation Professor of Spanish at the University of Houston.

Production Credits

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York in collaboration with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Copyright 2003, Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

A major American cultural and educational institution for nearly four decades, Thirteen/WNET supplies more than one-third of all primetime programs aired on PBS, including acclaimed cultural, science, and public affairs series and specials. The award-winning Children’s and Educational Programming group is a leading and innovative provider of programming for a variety of projects, from teacher professional development to instructional television and interactive multimedia. Broadcast series that further the station’s educational mission include the daily animated PBS Kids math program Cyberchase, the history series for families Freedom: A History of US, ZOOM Local/National, What’s Up in the Environment/Technology/Factories?, and In the Mixspecials. Many projects promote implementation of national and state education standards. These include Science … Simply Amazing, Learning Science Through Inquiry, and Insights into Algebra I for Annenberg Media, and PBS TeacherLine, Mathline, and Scienceline.

Thirteen is also a pre-eminent source of Web-based educational content and workshops, providing courses that have reached thousands of teachers, teachers-in-training, administrators, and others involved in pre-K-12 instruction. These workshops are currently used by professors and students at Harvard University, Pace University, and Teachers College at Columbia University. Thirteen’s award-winning Web site features online companion pieces to national series and original online content to complement Thirteen’s educational initiatives. Projects include New York: A Documentary Film, African American World, Cyberchase Online, Great Performances Online, Nature Online, and American Masters Online.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
The National Council of Teachers of English has been dedicated to building teacher knowledge and improving student achievement in English language arts since its founding in 1911. NCTE’s member and affiliate networks serve more than 77,000 teachers and supervisors of English programs in elementary, middle, and secondary schools; faculty in college and university English departments; teacher educators; local and state agency English specialists; and institutions. NCTE provides a forum for the profession, an array of opportunities for teachers to continue their professional growth throughout their careers, and a framework for cooperation to deal with issues that affect the teaching of English.

Web Site Production Credits

Brigitte Magar Matsuoka, Executive Producer
Jessica Yin, Co-Producer
Jesse Gale, Co-Producer, Writer
Camille Lee, Project Coordinator
Content Production:
Dale Allender, Content Advisor
Jill Peters, Project Director
Suzanne Rose, Editorial Supervisor
Arash Hoda, Content Producer
Todd Schindler, Writer, Copy Editor
Katherine Schulten, Writer
Margaret Restivo, Researcher
Interactive and Broadband Unit:
Anthony Chapman, Director of Interactive and Broadband
Mikki Monkolchayut, Technical Producer
Sabina Daley, Art Director
Karen Mattson, Designer
Ana Giron, Technical Associate Producer
Brian Santalone, Technical Associate Producer
Josh Zizmor, Technical Associate Producer
Logo Design:
B.T. Whitehill
Special Thanks to:
Sharon Freedman
Rachel Goldstein
Swati Mody
Thirteen Ed Online is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York. Brigitte Magar Matsuoka, Director of Educational Technologies. Carmen DiRienzo, Vice President and Managing Director, Corporate Affairs.


Video Series Production Credits

Senior Producer
Suzanne Rose
Arash Hoda
Mary Drayne
NCTE Content Advisor 
Dale Allender
Project Officer Annenberg Media
Deborah Batiste
Supervising Editor
Geoffrey Richman
Greg Barna
Additional Camera
Arash Hoda
Michael Pruitt-Bruun
Geoffrey Richman
Jake Diamond
Scott Fienstein
Christopher Seward
Jay Slot
Mary Ann Toman
Mark Sutton
Logo and Graphic Design
B.T. Whitehill
Music Composed by
Jim Heffernan
Dave Mazza
Rodney Whittenberg
Audio Post Mix
David Michael Tews
Project Manager
Rekha Menon
Margaret Restivo
Executive Producer
Jill Peters
Director of Children’s and Educational Programming
Sandra Sheppard
Project Advisory Board 
Deborah Allen
John Barber
Reggie Finlayson
Beth Horikawa
Nicolás Kanellos
Sound Engineers
Brian Albritton
James H. Baer
Bayard Carey
Diana Cleland
Richard Mills, Jr.
Fred Runner
Jose Santamaria
Assistant Editors
Damian Baskette
Andrew Bowler
Robert Fass
Edward Goldberg
Carolyn Kim
Uma Sanayafarian
Judy Schiller
Production Interns
Dianna Kennedy
Regine Lahens
Danijela Majstorovic
Special Thanks to
Alpine Recreation Center
Arte Público Press
Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes
Before Columbus Foundation
Bob Morris
Custodial Workers of
Charles H. Milby High School
Fort Peck Reservation
Katonah Village Library
NCTE Research Assembly
Nikkei Legacy Center
Nkiru Bookstore
Portland Area Rethinking Schools
Sunflower Café
University of Houston
Wolf Point Community


Using the Materials

The guide and website provide background, activities, discussion questions, homework assignments, and resources to supplement the workshop session programs and provide a robust professional development experience. They also provide information for facilitators to plan and structure group sessions.

Workshop sessions generally are held weekly for at least two hours. The workshop guide describes pre- and post-viewing activities and discussion to fill out the remainder of the session. The guide also provides homework to expand on what you have learned and prepare you for the next session.

If you are leading a group session, read our Facilitator Guide and the workshop guide for more information on planning and facilitating this workshop.

Series Directory

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School


Produced by Thirteen/WNET. 2003.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-676-6