Why use multicultural literature in the classroom?

Yuko Iwai

Dr. Yuko Iwai

Today’s blogger is Yuko Iwai, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. Her article, “Culturally Responsive Teaching in a Global Era: Using the Genres of Multicultural Literature,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

As most teachers know, the student population in schools has become increasingly diverse in recent years in terms of culture, language, economic status, race, ethnicity, and religion, and this trend is expected to continue into the future.

Therefore, educators must be equipped to implement culturally responsive teaching pedagogy in order to support all learners.

What is culturally responsive teaching? Culturally responsive teaching incorporates elements of diversity across the curriculum.

That is, teachers use a variety of approaches to introduce students to diverse people (e.g., differences in culture, language, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status), as well any other issues related to diversity. They teach students how to recognize and respect differences among all people, as well as how to advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Unfortunately, despite the need to be supportive of all diverse learners, many teachers and preservice teachers feel unprepared to respond to this demand.

This is because they have had limited education, training, knowledge, and experience in the area of working with and supporting diverse learners. One strategy to help teachers progress toward culturally responsive teaching is to use multicultural children’s literature in their curriculum. Multicultural literature consists of books that describe cultures, traditions, and historical events about various diverse people (e.g., Latinx and Black) rather than just the mainstream White group.

My research study explored preservice teachers’ understanding of multicultural literature. In my literacy course in a teacher education program, my students investigated a number of examples of high-quality multicultural children’s literature in different genres (e.g., picture books, realistic fiction, biography, nonfiction) and critically examined the books through completion of a literature project and development of a literacy lesson plan for elementary school students.

I was interested in how my students viewed multicultural books in different genres and how their learning experience throughout the semester impacted their understanding of culturally responsive teaching.

The study demonstrated an increase in their awareness of diversity and culturally responsive teaching, their professional knowledge about multicultural literature and education, and their practical skills to embed multicultural literature across the curriculum. For example, one preservice teacher who did a multicultural book project on Asian Americans shared her experience:

Take Me Out to the Yakyu (Meshon, 2013) was a perfect book for teaching “compare and contrast.” Students were able to find the similarities and differences between the cultures in the words and pictures throughout the book. . . . It is important to expand our students’ minds to create a global understanding, and not just use popular books from their own culture.

Another preservice teacher shared:

Some students rarely see someone from their culture as the hero in a story. I want to make it a priority in my future classroom to include books that all of my students can relate to in some way.

Using multicultural literature, of course, is just one strategy for promoting multicultural and global education in schools.

But it’s a good place to start.

Teachers can also practice culturally responsive teaching by inviting community members to share diverse perspectives and cultures, and creating a positive and safe learning environment.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2019.


Children’s Literature Cited

Meshon, A. (2013). Take me out to the yakyu. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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