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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
Making Connections with Texts
Creating Visual Representations and Symbols
Open Microphone
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Teaching Strategies
Making Connections with Texts

Description

Reader response theory holds that a reader's understanding of a text is based on the unique connections he or she is making while reading -- connections to personal emotions, life experiences, knowledge of other texts, and knowledge of the world. Teachers help students become more skillful at articulating unique interpretations by asking them to make three kinds of connections as they read: between the text and themselves; between the text and other texts they know; and between the text and issues, ideas, facts, and events in the world. Teachers refer to these as "text-to-self"; "text-to-text"; and "text-to-world" connections.

Sharing personal responses shows students that they are "holders of knowledge," and that readers may have wide-ranging interpretations of the same text. The teacher's role is to ensure that all responses are grounded in the text and its cultural and historical context. By reminding students to connect their responses explicitly to the words of the text, teachers can help them discover how making meaning comes, in part, from prior experiences and linguistic and cultural background.


Making Text Connections in Akiko Morimoto's Classroom

Text-to-Self
As the students read a text, they relate to the characters, their emotions, and their dilemmas. The students also might relate to thematic issues confronting the literary characters, such as "Who am I?" or "What is friendship?" One of Morimoto's students makes this kind of connection when she relates the poem "Bilingual" to being stereotyped by fellow students because she is biracial. Later, other students connect Grimes's poem with their bilingualism, and discuss how they can express certain thoughts and emotions more easily in Spanish or Vietnamese than in English.


Text-to-Text
As the students read, they compare the text to other literature they have read or experienced -- whether fiction, nonfiction, films, or visual art. Morimoto explicitly asks her students to make these connections by finding commonalities between Judith Ortiz Cofer's stories and stories they've studied previously. Her students match the protagonists of "Arturo's Flight" and Anne Tyler's "Teenage Wasteland": both are troubled teenage boys who find someone older in whom they can confide. Another story, "Matoa's Mirror," reminds the students that a Gary Soto character also had "layers" of identities. When making text-to-text connections, the students should note authors' different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and consider how that might affect their portrayal of character, theme, conflict, and plot.

Text-to-World
As the students read, they draw parallels between the text and the outside world, including history, a contemporary issue, or a current event. In Morimoto's class, for example, the class discusses stereotypes of certain language communities. The students see that while they stereotype others' speech, they, too, can be stereotyped.

Tips and Variations for Making Connections to Texts

  • Early in the school year, students may not feel comfortable participating in open-ended discussions such as those Morimoto leads. Teacher educator Tonya Perry recommends taking steps right away to establish a safe environment in which the students feel comfortable expressing themselves and know how to have respectful discussions even when they disagree with a classmate. "It's a good idea to establish guidelines for discussions, such as 'What do we do if we feel offended by something someone has said?'," Perry explains. "Teachers might want to let students know that it's not appropriate for them to clasp their arms and roll their eyes. Instead, they should maintain eye contact and continue to listen. Students can keep note cards on their desks so they can write down anything they find offensive and think about how to respond. They should remember that they are responding to something a classmate has said, not commenting on his or her character. When their classmate is finished speaking, they can raise their hands and address the issue that's on the table."

  • Another strategy, which can be used throughout the year, is to have the students discuss everything in their learning groups before sharing their thoughts with the whole class. As Perry notes, members of a learning group have built trust in one another and can bounce ideas off one another before taking the risk of sharing their thoughts with the whole class.


  • If middle school students have difficulty making text-to-world connections, bring in a current newspaper and ask them to connect the characters, themes, conflicts, or cultural milieu of their text and the articles, photos, and advertisements in the newspaper in as many ways as possible. After using this strategy a few times, students may bring their own newspaper clippings to discuss.

Benefits of Making Connections to Texts

  • When students recognize and practice the three kinds of textual connections, they broaden their sense of both text and context. They gain personal insight into characters, experience new worlds vicariously, and recognize how a "point of view" affects a story.

  • As students articulate text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections, they recognize they have the responsibility and the authority to construct and negotiate meaning.

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