Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades introduces teachers to ethnically diverse American writers and offers dynamic instructional strategies and resources to make works meaningful for students. This workshop includes eight one-hour videos in which teachers model effective approaches — based on reader response, critical inquiry, cultural studies and critical pedagogy — for using multicultural works in the classroom. In units that unfold over time, they also demonstrate activities and practices that engage students in critical discussions of race, class and social justice, and empower them to take action for change. The featured teachers, along with leading educators, provide reflection and commentary throughout the programs. Authors share information on their works and about their lives through interviews and classroom visits. A robust Web site extends the video content with author biographies, synopses of the works, information on how to implement the teaching strategies, summaries of the video lessons, student work samples, resource materials, and annotated bibliographies. A downloadable guide includes short works of literature featured in the workshop, along with discussion questions, activities, and weekly assignments, to engage teachers in professional development and learning experiences similar to those they might provide in their own classrooms.
1. Engagement and Dialogue: Julia Alvarez, James McBride, Lensey Namioka and more — In New York City, Carol O’Donnell and her students explore themes of multiple worlds and dual identities. They read poetry by Diana Chang and Naomi Shihab Nye, the novel The Color of Water by James McBride, essays and short stories by Gish Jen, Khoi Luu, Lensey Namioka, and Julia Alvarez and a monologue by Tina Lee. Through a series of innovative drama, role-playing and writing activities, students examine the social and cultural experiences of the characters, and reflect on their own definitions and experiences of identity. View the web resources for this program here.
2. Engagement and Dialogue: Judith Ortiz Cofer and Nikki Grimes — The workshop begins with a profile of the writer Judith Ortiz Cofer and then moves to Vista, Cali., where Akiko Morimoto and her students read short stories from Cofer’s collection, An Island Like You. They respond personally to the works, examine the author’s use of figurative language and then make intertextual connections with books they’ve read throughout the school year. In a culminating project, students create their own visual symbols to represent the characters and events in the text. Students then explore poems from Nikki Grimes’s Bronx Masquerade and examine the writer’s craft. Grimes visits the classroom, answers questions about her work and attends an after-school reading of student poetry. View the web resources for this program here.
3. Research and Discovery: Shirley Sterling and Laura Tohe — At the Skokomish reservation in Washington state, Sally Brownfield and her students study and connect with the literature and issues related to the Native American boarding school program through community involvement and self-examination. Students use Shirley Sterling’s novel My Name Is Seepeetza and the poetry of Laura Tohe as the lenses through which they explore topics of their choosing. The class visits the Skokomish Tribal Center to interview tribal elders about the impact of the residential boarding program on the community. Author Shirley Sterling visits the class and answers student questions related to her novel, her life and their personal research topics. Students then decide how to make their learning public. View the web resources for this program here.
4. Research and Discovery: Edwidge Danticat, An Na, Laurence Yep and more — ResIn Clayton, Missouri, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce’s students read works that explore issues of historical and contemporary immigration. Pierce uses multicultural picture books to introduce students to a wide range of perspectives and to set the stage for their novel study. In literature groups, students discuss novels by Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, Walter Dean Myers, Pam Munoz-Ryan and An Na. In culminating presentations, students synthesize themes and pose thought-provoking questions that invite others to examine these novels in new ways. This workshop features author profiles of Laurence Yep and Edwidge Danticat. View the web resources for this program here.
5. Historical and Cultural Context: Christopher Paul Curtis — Laina Jones and her students in Dorchester, Massachusetts, explore The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Jones uses non-fiction, documentary film and historical photographs to contextualize the events in the novel and the Civil Rights movement. The students make deep connections to the literature through drama, poetry and creative writing activities. Curtis visits the classroom, addresses questions and leads students in a writing workshop. The unit culminates with a service learning project in which students create children’s books about the Civil Rights movement and share them with elementary school children. View the web resources for this program here.
6. Historical and Cultural Context: Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore — Stanlee Brimberg and his students in New York City study the important contributions of African Americans to the United States and the recent discovery of the African Burial Ground in Manhattan through factual texts, video, art, photography and poetry. The students interview writer, historian and documentary filmmaker Christopher Moore to learn more about the everyday experiences of African slaves in early New York. They examine the works of Langston Hughes, and then — drawing on all of the texts — they write their own poetry and engage in peer review. As a culminating activity, the students take a field trip to the African Burial Ground Memorial, and then design their own postage stamps to commemorate the site. View the web resources for this program here.
7. Social Justice and Action: Alma Flor Ada, Pam Munoz and Paul Yee — Laura Alvarez and her students in Oakland, Cali., examine different perspectives and experiences of immigrants, and then formulate and defend positions on issues with which they connect personally. They examine works including My Name Is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, and Tales From Gold Mountain by Paul Yee to compare characters’ hopes, expectations and actual experiences upon arriving in the United States. Students conduct research, including interviews with family members and nonfiction readings. Dr. Alma Flor Ada visits the classroom, answers questions about her novel and facilitates discussion about social justice and taking action for change. As a culminating project, students write and revise persuasive letters to raise public awareness about the issues they’ve examined. View the web resources for this program here.
8. Social Justice and Action: Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez — This workshop begins with profiles of the featured authors, and then moves on to Chicago, Illinois where Lisa Espinosa’s students explore themes of representation through literature, documentary film, photography and music. Students look critically at past and current media depictions of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, and examine ways in which artists and writers from within those cultural groups, including Joseph Bruchac and Francisco Jimenez, represent themselves. The students analyze the individual works, make comparisons across texts and make connections to their own lives. In a culminating project, students represent their own experience, using black-and-white photography and essays as social commentary. Teachers, family and community members join together at a local coffeehouse for an exhibit of the students’ work. View the web resources for this program here.
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