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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 3: Research and Discovery - Shirley Sterling and Laura Tohe
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Sally Brownfield
Joseph Bruchac
Jerome Harste
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
Sally Brownfield
Hood Canal School
Shelton, WA

Why do you teach multicultural literature?

In this country, several groups are not included in the typical curriculum, and when they are included, the materials often contain inaccuracies and stereotypes. The materials about Native Americans are offensive and inaccurate, and many teachers aren't able to recognize that because they didn't have access to authentic works by Native American authors in grade school or in higher education. I think that if we want education in this country to serve all students, the students need to see themselves reflected accurately in the selection of reading materials in classrooms and libraries, in worksheets, bulletin boards, videos, guest speakers, and class and individual projects.

Why is it important to teach students about the residential schools?

The residential Indian schools are part of our history -- not just Native American people's history, but all of ours. It's also important to understand this part of history in order to understand the social issues that people live with on the reservations. What happened was, one generation of a family went to boarding schools, and the next generation lived on the reservations and went to public school. The parents had grown up away from their families and communities in an environment where they received a very poor-quality education and were often abused. When they came out of those schools, there was no transition and no healing. Today on the reservations, there's a high rate of alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as a high rate of suicide, especially among boys aged 19 to 25. It has been only recently that the community has recognized that there is a need for healing.

What cultural differences need to be considered in working with Native students?

Although this is a generalization -- as with any students, not all Native American children learn in exactly the same way -- there are several ways in which we work with Native American students specifically. For example, the wait time -- the time from when a teacher asks a question and then calls on someone to answer that question -- must be longer. In the United States, the average wait time is three seconds. When you look at a class of students, most often you'll see the non-Native American -- mostly Caucasian -- children raising their hands quickly. Traditionally, most Native American students are taught that words are precious and you can never take them back, so they learn to take time to think carefully about what it is they're going to say. And by the time a Native American student does that, the question's been answered and the class has moved on to other questions.

If teachers are aware of this, they can make everybody wait a little longer before calling on someone, because research shows that if you lengthen wait time, you get much higher quality answers from all students. Students who answer questions as fast as possible have a much higher rate of error than those who wait and think.

Why did you take your students to visit the elders?

First, I wanted the students to see that the boarding school experience described in My Name Is Seepeetza was widespread. It wasn't something that just happened in this one story in this one place; it was an experience we had right here.

It was also an opportunity for them to see just a snippet of what traditional Native American learning was: sitting and listening to the elders' stories. Sometimes you have to sit for a long time; those stories can go on for a long time. We don't see that very often anymore. With the coming of schools, education took on a different look in Native American communities. But still, outside of school, on weekends and in the evenings, traditional teaching does continue. I wanted my students to experience the rich stories and the way that our elders can teach us.


How did you prepare your students for the visit?

We talked about proper etiquette when you meet elders in a Native American community. We stayed after school to make gifts for the elders: Because we were going to ask for and to take their stories, we needed to give them gifts as a way of showing our appreciation for allowing us to be there and for doing this for us. Taking the time to make gifts helped the students understand that we were doing something very special.

While they were making their gifts, I gave them some reminders of how to treat an elder. For example, at lunch, you wait until all of the elders are served, and if another elder comes after the students have begun to be served, you say, "Please come in line ahead of me." At the same time, I prepared them for the interviewing. I first asked them, "What do you want to know?" We talked about the questions, and then about how to ask the questions clearly and allow the elder time to think and time to talk.

Many of the students were nervous about doing the interviews. In class, we practiced interviewing each other. We asked ourselves, "Do we always have to ask one question after another as we've written them, or might one question lead to another we hadn't thought of before?" We talked about the importance of knowing when to allow that to happen. And I thought they did quite well when they interviewed the elders.

How did you assess your students' work throughout the unit?

The journal is a very important piece of this unit, and I told the students that it would be a very big part of their assessment. At the beginning, I told them what they would need to put in their journals: their individual K/W/L charts, their reading guide, and their research. I did that because I wanted them to have everything organized in one place and I wanted to make sure I got their work. They left their journals after every class, and I would respond to them each night so they'd have ongoing feedback. For example, I would look at the K/W/L and ask: "What did you start out with? What did you want to know? What did you find out? How much learning is really happening?" That can vary greatly from student to student. Sometimes what they wanted to know will match up with what they learned, and sometimes it won't. Some of the questions that they came up with were outside of this piece of literature, and they weren't able to answer all those questions in the span of one unit on a piece of literature. That's how it is in life -- we don't find answers to our questions immediately -- so I don't expect to see answers to all of their questions. However, at the end of the unit, we will go back and ask ourselves, "What was it that we studied, how did we study it, and why did we study it? What learning did we take away from this, and what will we do with the newfound knowledge?" Those are the deep questions we will ask at the very end of the unit.

For their final project, the poster, I gave the students the rubric that I would use. That way, they can look at their work and compare it to my descriptions of what constitutes the highest-quality work on down to the poorest work, and they can think about what they can do to enhance their own work.

How can the teaching strategies that you used in the Seepeetza unit be applied to other works of literature, including those that are not specifically about the Native American experience?

The strategies I used in teaching My Name Is Seepeetza can be applied to any literary genre -- they are not particular to Native American literature. The elements include: creating a learning environment based on trust and respect, allowing students to guide their own learning through freedom and choice, and using devices such as K/W/L charts both as a class and individually to assist students in taking responsibility for and directing their learning. I feel that taking the teaching and learning beyond the classroom serves to enhance the learning and teaches students that what is studied in the classroom is relevant to not only themselves but a greater community as well. The fishbowl activity gives students the opportunity to share their voice, whether it is on the topic of the piece of literature, interpretation of the author's intent, or finding inferences.



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