Teaching with Multi-Cultural Texts: Getting to the How

The knowledge that kids should have about the world—from understanding the perspective of kids in Iraq to understanding the Chinese experience—can be overwhelming. It’s obvious that we should be exposing kids to multicultural literature, but the “how” is less explicit.

It’s tempting to fill classroom libraries with diverse titles and let students dive in. But, simply exposing students to multicultural literature without purpose or principles, can lead to indifference or resistance, which undermines the purpose of using the texts in the first place (Louie, 2006, 438).

Belinda Louis (2006) outlines principles for teaching with multicultural text. Here are the four that resonated with me:

Cultural Authenticity

While I agree that we should be looking to increase the number and reach of diverse authors, we should also look for authors who are thoughtful in their writing and research to create authentic experiences. The Breadwinner Series by Deborah Ellis is a good example of this. Ellis was inspired to write the story about Parvana and Shauzia after she read about the Taliban’s treatment of Afghanistan’s women and girls. Ellis’ research, including visiting refugee camps in Pakistan, inspired the characters and informed the authenticity of her stories.

Teach Perspective

The ability to understand different perspectives is key to applying lessons learned from literature to kids’ day-to-day life. Kids (like adults) rely on their own experiences first and use those to influence their understanding of fiction. So, stories are a way to help students understand other kids.

This resonates most when reading about the immigrant experience. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez and La Linea by Ann Jaramillo are both books that encourage perspective-taking about the Hispanic-American immigrant experience. (And, here are 10 More books about the immigrant experience.)

Teach Values

Conflict sheds light on values. Examining how characters handle conflict, what they value, and how their expression of values may differ, is a huge benefit of using multicultural literature. The most important lesson to draw, though, is not that we’re different, but that humans share many of the same values, even if those values are expressed in different ways.

Respond and Reflect

Reading multicultural texts can be challenging for students, especially if they are encountering ideas that run counter to what they’ve believed in the past. If kids have the opportunity to “talk back” to text with their opinions, attitudes, and judgments, they’ll have the opportunity to process their understandings and develop them in ways that encourage communication.

Citation: Louie, Belinda. (2006) “Guiding Principles for Teaching Multicultural Literature.” International Reading Association, The Reading Teacher, 59(5).

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