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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 8: Social Justice and Action - Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Lisa Espinosa
Patricia Enciso
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
Lisa Espinosa
Irma Ruiz School
Chicago, IL

What do you hope your students will take away from this unit?

I really felt, going into teaching, that part of my responsibility with my students was to teach for change, or teach for social justice -- to help my students see the big picture and see different perspectives. And also, hopefully, to move on to be active in the community and make it a better place, and the world at large as well.

I think through language arts you can really look at a lot of social issues. You have an opportunity to open up the world for students. There is excellent literature out there that really talks about race or oppression in different ways. And it opens up these conversations for students. I love reading, and one thing I want for my students is to love reading as well. But I really want them to read books that are going to push them to think critically, to look at the world differently, or to ask different questions.

I also want to introduce them to literature that tells their story -- that has their voice in it. Also, what's very important to me is for them to begin to see commonalities between different groups. In this particular unit we're focusing on Native Americans, Latinos, and African Americans, but we're not stopping there. The conversation's going to keep going. Unfortunately, I think a lot of times the students aren't aware of those common struggles, and I think that if they do see how many similar experiences they have, then maybe they will be able to be more active as far as fighting against injustices that happen not only to their particular group but also to other groups.

I want them to look at the different forms of the media: news, movies, or music. That's a big influence in their lives. I want them thinking critically about what they're watching and to be active participants -- to be looking at how different groups are represented in the media and what story is being told about those groups, and what's the power of having that story being told.


How do you build community among your students?

One of the most important things is to create a safe place for the students. So much of what we do is engage in discussions of difficult and complex topics. It's very important to set the tone that their opinions are going to be respected. I tell my students over and over that we can disagree, but it needs to be done in a respectful way and that we need to express ourselves in a respectful way. One of my strategies is to bring in my own experiences. And that makes my students feel comfortable sharing some of their experiences.

How did you prepare students for the photography project?

Throughout the unit they have to look at a lot of images, a lot of photography books. This is to help them see different images and representations of Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, and other groups as well. They're looking at different photography books to get an idea of the power of images, how important they are, and what political commentary they can have.

Also, it's very important to talk about technique -- composition, framing, lighting, angles. It's important because when they take their pictures, I want them to be thoughtful and reflective.

As they're looking at the photography books, I ask them to choose two pictures from each book and I give them a guide of things that I want them to look for: for example, the title of the photography book, the name of the photographer. If there is a title, I want them to write it down. If there isn't, I'd like them to come up with a title. Then I ask them to describe the photograph in detail -- tell me what the angle is like, what the lighting is like. And then, a very important part is what they think the message is: why did the photographer take the picture?

One reason to ask them about the message is because when they take their pictures, they're going to be saying something. They're going to be conveying some statement about their community. But also, it really ties into some of the ways they will be assessed later on in the year with standardized tests. They're not going to have pictures, but they're going to look at poetry and other forms of literature, and they're going to be asked about the message of what they're reading or what they're looking at. They really need to be critical thinkers.

Why do the students use Venn diagrams?

I think it's really important for my students to be able to synthesize all of the information we've read, all of the literature, all of the films, all of the music. It can get very overwhelming, and it's important for them to see the connections and the common themes.

The Venn diagrams really help them visualize that better. Eventually, I want them to be able to write something with these connections. So this really is not the final step, but it helps them organize these ideas.

After we've done the Venn diagrams, one of the last steps is to look at the essential questions that we began with, then choose one of those questions and write an extended response. I think it really helps them get the main ideas of this unit.

Talk about the essays that accompany the photos.

I thought it was important, once they chose their final shot, to write a narrative, an essay. They really need to focus on the picture. "What is this picture about? Why did I take it? What's my message with the picture?" I think it's important because they really need to be critical thinkers and be able to either look at an image or read a piece of literature, and write a form of narrative about the picture or the literature.

This is something that's difficult for kids at first, but it really ties into our whole unit of representation. They're representing their community, representing themselves. It takes some time, and they have to do several drafts until we get to a place where they feel comfortable with the essay and they feel it really expresses what they want to say.


What do you see as the value of the community exhibit?

One of the students' biggest complaints is, "Nobody listens to us. Adults don't hear us." So this is a strong way to make a statement.

When they see the pictures hanging, it's so validating. I think that's one of the most inspiring parts of the unit -- walking into the coffeehouse, seeing these pictures, and having the community see them and celebrate with them. They see that people really are listening and they really are looking -- and that they have something to say and something to add to this conversation.

Throughout the unit we've really been looking at how different groups have been represented and how different groups have decided to represent themselves -- and the power that there is in that. With this photography exhibit, my students are representing themselves. They are making a statement about who they are.



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