The theme for this series of “En la Clase” posts is how to bring multiculturalism into our classroom in authentic ways. As I mentioned in the previous post, one of my most important goals each year was to help my students learn what it meant to be a global citizen. One of the first steps in doing this was to expand the focus of our classroom beyond its four walls. I needed to begin to encourage all of us (myself included) to think beyond the narrow focus of our own lives. Bringing literature from around the world into the classroom was one of the easiest ways I found to accomplish this.
In order for this to really work, meaning I wasn’t just picking random books that caught my interest throughout the year, I had to have a plan of attack. Now, there are numerous ways to go about this, much of it depending on the age level of your students and the organization of your curriculum instruction and your daily schedule. The suggestions below are just that, you will probably have to modify them to make them work for your classroom.
First, I had to decide how I wanted to approach my yearlong theme of multicultural literature–did I want to focus on specific countries? continents? did I want to cover the entire globe by the end of the year, or focus on specific parts. While curriculum varies from state to state, often times a specific grade in elementary or middle school focuses on a particular area or continent or period in history. Your multicultural literature could be mapped according to this. Once I had that decided, I researched to find the best reviewed books that would help us to learn about the specific countries or cultures that I wanted to cover (for resources on Latin America, we have all kinds of great resources here on the blog). Because I was teaching elementary school, it was easiest for me to introduce these books to my classroom through read aloud–I did 10 to 15 minutes of read aloud every day after lunch and recess. Once or twice a week (when time allowed) I planned some sort of short activity to accompany the read aloud–usually toward the end of the week as a review of what we’d read. Often times it was as simple as draw a picture of your favorite scene, or if it was a novel heavy on descriptive language or imagery, I would ask them to draw a picture of their favorite simile, metaphor, or personification (if this was a focus of our reading work, we’d make a list (on oversize butcher paper) of the best similes, metaphors, etc. we found in the book.
A few different school years, I posted a large world map. Each time we read about a different country, continent, or people group we would mark that on the map–we’d put the title of the book, story, or article we read, the year that it referred to (if applicable), and any other interesting information and tack that to the correct place on the map. This wasn’t just for our read aloud books–it applied to anything we read: science, social studies, our reading text book, etc. Our map became a visual representation of our global journey. Not only did it help students become more aware of the different countries they were learning about, it also improved their ability to identify the setting of the particular piece of reading material. They also loved seeing the map become increasingly covered with our tacked notes. One class even decided to keep a running tally of the different places we’d read about.
As we progressed through the year, and my students matured, I was often able to start bringing in small group novel studies. Often times I tried to choose multicultural literature for these groups. I know many teachers said they would never have time for this in their school day. I found however, as students settled into our various daily routines, certain things started to take less time, thus allowing me to ‘steal’ 10 to 20 minutes a day from other activities to make time for this. We didn’t necessarily do this everyday, but maybe 3 times a week. I grouped students based on some of my own behind the scenes maneuvering and their book selection preferences. Then, they would get anywhere from 5-10 minutes to read aloud to each other in their small group. The fact that they only had a short amount of time was key to making this work–they needed that in order to settle down quickly and get to work reading. Once their reading time was up, each group had 1-2 minutes to summarize their book to the rest of the class. I offered the incentive that whoever ‘sold’ their book best (i.e. made us want to start reading it) earned a small prize–an eraser, a piece of gum, etc. Here, even if each student didn’t get to read every book, they were exposed to parts of the story, plot or setting.
I have found literature to be one of the best ways to create not only global awareness, but also to encourage understanding, empathy, compassion and even acceptance of those who are different than us.
These are just a few of my suggestions. I’d love to hear what you think or any of the things that you do in your own classrooms.
I’ve just recently been reminded of an excellent blog, Gathering Books, that is currently reviewing books and posting on Asian Literature and Immigrant Experience (click here to go to a list of all the posts for this theme). The posts are full of great book ideas you could use with a variety of age groups. I especially liked “The Foreigner in Armin Greder’s The Island“. It’s an interesting way to bridge the topic of immigration in the classroom, as a picture book that discusses issues of acceptance (or non-acceptance) of those who are different than us, and the results of our choices. At the end of the post you can find resources for ways to use the book in your classroom. If you know of any other resources, please share and I will add them to the post!