Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Poi Balls, Breadfruit, and Quilts: Exploring Cultural Diversity through Reading, Writing, and Drawing

Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Poi Balls, Breadfruit, and Quilts: Exploring Cultural Diversity through Reading, Writing, and Drawing

Article excerpt

Students in a culturally diverse fourth grade class explored their own cultures and learned about other cultures, using quilts as a context. The students read books about quilts, conducted oral interviews of family members, wrote about their cultural traditions, and designed individual quilt squares. Through reading, writing, and drawing, students learned to understand similarities in their cultures while respecting differences. Students also discovered parallels in the drawing and writing processes and developed confidence in their own writing. The project culminated in a class book and a cultural quilt that were proudly displayed in the school library.


Many families have them. Many children sleep under them. As they are viewed hanging on a wall or covering a bed you can hear comments such as, "That square is from my favorite jacket," or "That used to be Malia's dress." Some depict a family tree with names, dates, and places. These icons of culture are quilts, and they may serve purposes beyond keeping people warm or decorating a room. They can be used to record histories and tell stories, thus reflecting the lives and culture of their owners.

In contemplating both the significance quilts often have in families and the rich history of the many cultures in our area, we wanted to connect the two in the classroom. We approached a fourth grade teacher in a rural school on Oahu, Hawaii, for permission to teach her students. Her class of 24 was academically heterogeneous, including students with learning and behavioral difficulties as well as gifted and talented learners. The ethnic backgrounds of the students reflected the cultural diversity of Hawaii. Pacific Islanders, Asians, Europeans, and Anglo-Americans sat side by side in the classroom; some represented the third and fourth generation in Hawaii, while others were the first. The teacher agreed to allow us to teach during a 45-minute language arts block for three class periods per week over a 6-week period. During this time we used quilts, and books about quilts, to teach the children about different cultures through reading, writing, and drawing.

Project Goals

In this project we addressed two goals. The first involved the cultural diversity of the students in this classroom. Sensitivity to multiple and diverse cultures is a concern in the classroom and in the community. Savage and Armstrong (1996) point out that learning experiences should help students develop a respect for cultures other than their own and that students need the opportunity to recognize the validity of different cultural perspectives. The first goal of this project, then, was to help students understand similarities in their cultures while respecting differences.

The second goal targeted reading and writing strategies. We addressed three guidelines identified by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English in their standards for the English language arts (1996). These three guidelines state that students should:

1. Apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

2. Employ a Wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

3. Use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes. (p. 3)

To work toward our goals, we implemented the language experience approach (Hall, 1976; Veatch, 1991), graphic organizers, and transmediation, which is "the act of translating meanings from one sign system [e.g., writing] to another [e.g., drawing]" (Siegel, 1995), using quilts as the context.

Steps in the Project

Before meeting the students, we selected eight books about quilts (See Children's Literature Bibliography) that met the following four criteria:

1. In our judgment, students at or below fourth grade reading level would easily be able read the text. …

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