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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 7: Social Justice and Action - Alma Flor Ada, Pam Munoz, and Paul Yee
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Laura Alvarez
Patricia Enciso
Sonia Nieto
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
Patricia Enciso
Associate Professor
Ohio State University

Talk about Laura's lesson.

Laura's curriculum really helped kids analyze the barriers to participating fully in the community: She looked at health, she looked at education opportunities. In using these categories, she was really able to help kids see the complexity of being a participant in a large society that depends on the labor of immigrants. The other thing that Laura did was really situate her questions with the children in a historical setting, which is perhaps easier to understand than the current picture of globalization, by looking at specific stories and experiences of María Isabel's family and also the stories of Gold Mountain. The children began to recognize that this is not an easy transition and that there are huge costs and sacrifices to moving one's self, one's family, and one's culture into a new environment.

Children will tend to see themselves as relatively powerless in the society at large, but Laura helps them see that they have something to offer. Through the literature, through the curriculum, and with the visit by Alma Flor Ada, they begin to see that they have something to say and they have an issue that's of great importance to them. So in identifying one problem, focusing energies and focusing ideas and inquiry about that problem, children can begin to see that they can formulate a point of view that could be influential. In this case, they wrote letters. It's not a kind of action that's going to create any kind of danger for the children or put them in any kind of harm, but it shows them certainly that they can participate in this democracy.

So the children had the opportunity to formulate their ideas, talk together about what would be a good argument in support of their views, and to write that out and send it to someone associated with the government, to a newspaper, to a family member -- to let people know that they had a stake in what was happening and that they had a particular point of view that could make a difference.

Laura has clearly established the importance of children being engaged in reading, but beyond that, she's not just looking at their personal responses to the literature or how they feel about it. She's showing them how to look at what happens when opportunities are not equitable and how people have managed to struggle through that. She's showing them that way of analyzing the structures of society while also encouraging them to look at their own communities, look at some of the issues that matter to them and to understand how that connects with other people's lives and other stories, and then to use that knowledge to take action in the world, to write a letter, to formulate an argument, to take a stand.


How does Laura's use of multiple texts enhance students' understandings of literature?

One of the things that is really remarkable and commendable about Laura's curriculum is that she doesn't focus exclusively on the experience of Mexican American children. She's looking at African American and Chinese American immigration experiences, and in doing that she broadens the landscape for the meaning of immigration and the experience of immigration. This is a lesson and a structure for a lesson that would work very well in any classroom, whether it's a classroom that's heterogeneous with a dominant white population of children or a dominant population of African American children.

One of the important things about teaching with multicultural literature is to not rely on one book. There are so many issues and so many concerns that any one book could bring up. What Laura does that I would hope all teachers do is to bring in multiple stories so that children can see how they connect with a particular story line, a particular character. With these different connections, new stories develop from the children. They begin to be able to tell their own stories.

Why is bilingual education important?

Among Mexican families, Spanish is a primary way of connecting with family, connecting with other Latinos, whether they're of Mexican descent or Central American. So Spanish is a very important identity marker, while it is also -- from a reading and writing standpoint -- an important resource for developing a broader understanding of language. Rather than seeing it as a barrier to recognizing the way English functions, it is in fact a framework and complex resource for understanding all languages.


What reading and writing skills did this unit help students to develop?

Laura engaged the children in multiple writing opportunities around this literature. These included writing their families' personal stories, but even prior to that, writing the questions that they would ask their family and friends. She helped them use structures she had created to do careful readings of the literature and to look at obstacles that the characters encountered. These structures became the springboard for further writing about issues connected to their own communities. And then, more specifically, she helped them write questions and answer questions in more elaborative writing for their responses to the books that they read.

What's clear in Laura's classroom is that she's able to help children develop very sophisticated reading and writing skills, while the curriculum content is addressing the inequities in our society and the very real experiences of children and their families who will face obstacles within American society. The children need to learn not only how to write and how to read, but why they should be reading and writing, why they should be participating in the world, so that they're not silenced.



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