The Use of Multicultural Literature to Support Literacy Learning and Cultural Literacy

By Huang, SuHua; Kowalick, Melanie | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, February 2014 | Go to article overview

The Use of Multicultural Literature to Support Literacy Learning and Cultural Literacy


Huang, SuHua, Kowalick, Melanie, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


Introduction

The use of multicultural literature in recent years has been emphasised because classrooms have become more diverse (Colby & Lyon, 2004). Books about students who live through multicultural experiences have also been on the rise (Kiffer, 2010). At the same time, books that offer students many opportunities to gain broader and in-depth understandings about the world that is beyond their current horizons present challenges. The challenge is not only in selecting high quality multicultural books (Colby & Lyon, 2004); the greater challenge is finding how teachers can design meaningful lessons so that students enjoy reading texts which introduce various cultures as well as develop cultural literacy. Cultural literacy in this article is taken to mean: 'understanding of and fluency in one's culture which provides the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world' (Hirsch, 1987, p. xiii).

To aid in developing an understanding of other cultures, many researchers and educators have felt the need for positive multicultural literature to help readers identify 'cultural heritages, understand sociological change, respect the values of minority groups, raise aspirations, and expand imagination and creativity' (Norton, 2009, p. 2). Rosenblatt (1978) suggested that students need to learn how to make connections between literature and their surroundings, and how to connect text to self in order to promote greater understanding of text. Thus, it is important for teachers to select high quality and positive literature and to develop well-structured lessons. This will enable students to relate to characters and situations found in books that reflect their own cultures and the culture of others (Hefflin & Barksdale-Ladd, 2001; Keene & Zimmerman, 1997).

To explore how multicultural books help students make textual experience connections through literacy activities, and how students learn to understand a literary heritage that comes from diverse backgrounds, we selected a novel titled Now is the time for running by Michael Williams (2009). We wanted a novel suitable for a Year 6 classroom for a three week multicultural novel unit. The story is about two brothers, Innocent and Deo, who are forced to leave their country, Zimbabwe, and to run for their lives to South Africa. It is a story dealing with hatred and horror and it also deals with how one person can change society.

This article presents some effective strategies to enhance students' engagement in the text during a multicultural book study unit. Theoretical support for the use of these strategies is provided by Rosenblatt's (1978) reader-response theory of reading. Some teaching examples will be outlined after discussing the theory.

The transactional theory of reading

Rosenblatt (1978) used John Dewey's term, transaction, to emphasise the contribution of both reader and text to the reading process, in establishing a two-way process between the reader and the text, wherein the reader constructs meaning through personal experiences. Rosenblatt defined her theory of transactional reading in terms of the reader, the text, which is constructed through the transaction between the two, called the poem (poem here means the meaning that comes to mind when readers think back to a book that they have read). This is also called reader-response theory.

Rosenblatt (2004) further indicated that readers cannot make sense of a text except through seeing, memories and associations. Rosenblatt also identified two possible stances that readers can adopt: the efferent stance, in which readers concentrate on extracting information from the text, and the aesthetic stance, where readers are more concerned with thinking, feeling and imagining during the reading. Based on the three elements of reader-response theory, reader experience, text and poem influence readers' involvements and connections with the meanings that they construct. …

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