June 10, 2020

Incorporating Multicultural Literature Meaningfully

One glaring aspect to many's approach to teaching language arts using literature is the lack of diversity in the stories they share. I know I've been guilty of this for a number of years and it wasn't until I began taking courses to earn my English Language Learners certification as a part of my CA teacher credentialing, that I realized just how marginalized these stories and authors are.

Furthermore, with the current conversation (and protest) around the world concerning inequality, police brutality, white privilege, and race/racism, it has become VITAL that our classrooms do better in terms of representation. 

Often, teachers gravitate towards their favorite go-tos that they've been using year after year to teach a certain concept. Then there's the push for diverse read-alouds and accompanying activities because it's Black History Month or we have to teach a lesson on Lunar New Year, early civilizations or the Age of Exploration, or Famous Americans. I've found that a lot of the books I've chosen actually reflect very little because the author is white - an oversight on my part as an educator.

Instead, I have found that it is now more than ever that these multicultural perspectives be shared and celebrated in our classrooms. Bilingual and ELL students are amongst the highest demographic in our American public school systems and these students arrive to our rosters with a set of diverse learning experiences from both in and outside the classroom. The more we engage these children in meaningful ways and allow them to connect with the stories we share, the more they're engaged with their learning. In a classroom where these students feel like they're the minority, let us invite them into a classroom where diversity is represented, celebrated, and a safe place to share experiences and stories.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite authors and stories that can easily be incorporated into any classroom library or used to teach language arts objectives! I challenge you to see where in your instruction you can be more inclusive of these cultural perspectives without a holiday prompting you! :)

Please note:
Much like with any race or culture, there are distinct differences amongst each. Just because language may bind them, each culture is rich in their own diversity and it's important to not generalize. For the purpose of this post, I've categorized these authors and stories into four main groups. Of course, use your discretion when applying these stories into your classrooms in meaningful ways.

Native Americans/ Indigenous Peoples

Beyond the story of the first Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims (which are all told from the perspectives of the white community), Native people's culture is rich in meaning, especially in children's literature. Their stories were originally told orally, but today we have a number of Native authors from around America that can be easily shared within the classroom. Depending on where you live, see if you can find a tribe, folktale, or story that has meaning for your town, city, or state!

Furthermore, it's important to find everyday stories to fill your classroom library with - stories that aren't always saved for whole group read alouds. Find this kind of representation through authors and characters!

Latin Americans

Latin Americans is a generalized term to represent people from South and Central Americas and Mexico. It's important for teachers to note that this wide generalization impacts the attitudes Latino students have about their own culture and identity. Find out which countries your Latino students come from and find authors that reflect those experiences or culture for your classroom. A Venezuelan student has a very different set of cultural experiences than a student from Puerto Rico. So, it's very important to make those distinctions and create a classroom that allows Latin American students to feel represented and is a place to safely share their experiences.

African Americans

Now more than ever has there been a very direct and intentional conversation around African Americans and the longstanding history of racism in America. Regardless of ones opinions, as educators we have a duty to educate ourselves about our shared history and experiences and be sensitive/aware of the students in your class that may have their own experiences. We cannot shy away from such conversations and if anything, our classrooms need to become safe spaces to have such discussions with our students.

Asian Americans

"Asian Americans number more than 12.5 million (in 2001) in the U.S. and represent more than thirty different nationalities and ethnic groups, including Samoan, Tongan, Guamanian, and native Hawai'ian from the Pacific Islands; Lao, Hmong, Mien, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Burmese, Malay, and Filipinos from Southeast Asia; Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Sri Lankan from South Asia; Afghani and Iranian from Central Asia; and Korean, Japanese, and Chinese from East Asia" (via asiasociety.org).

The diversity that is included under the simple distinguisher of "Asian American" is so much more than one generalized area. It's so important that teachers make the effort to understand and educate themselves about the specific cultures that are represented in the families they receive on their roster year after year. It's not only important for students to feel included, but families at home benefit from this inclusion as well.

Mixed Race Representation

Now more than ever do we have an amazing representation of multicultural and mixed raced children flowing into our classrooms across the country. This provides a unique opportunity as teachers to tap into that cultural resource and find ways to incorporate their experiences in meaningful ways. From parent volunteers, a guest reader/speaker, to a show-and-tell like opportunity - these are all ways, including read alouds, that allow students of mixed races to feel visible in the classroom.

I've made sure to include this type of inclusion in a few of the book selections above. I highly encourage you to seek out and discover new stories and authors that highlight the beautiful qualities of being multicultural.

Support Black and POC Authors

As a final note, just as it is important to flood our classroom libraries and read alouds with multicultural literature, it's just as important to be mindful and aware of black and POC authors. I was surprised to find a lot of cultural perspectives in children's books are written by white authors. It's not to say that those stories should be disregarded, however we should provide our students with more authentic storytelling and that can only come from authors who are writing from direct experiences belonging to a given race or culture. Just a little something to be more aware of...

I hope you enjoy this list and find many of these titles to be helpful in creating a more meaningful experience for your students this upcoming year! Now more than ever is it important that we place an intentional emphasis on our own approach to the curriculum and I continue to encourage education, growth mindset, and introspection of our own biases/privilege as we begin to plan for the year ahead. We must do better and we can...

Happy reading!