A Bridge to Intercultural Understanding: Reading Teachers in the U.S. & English Learners in China Read Children's Literature Books in a Global Book Club

By Wang, Yang | Multicultural Education, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

A Bridge to Intercultural Understanding: Reading Teachers in the U.S. & English Learners in China Read Children's Literature Books in a Global Book Club


Wang, Yang, Multicultural Education


Introduction

"But I don't have a culture. What should I explore?" This is how one Caucasian teacher responded when asked to explore her culture in a course assignment during a graduate level children's literature course that I taught in the spring of 2016. The purpose of the assignment was to invite teachers and teacher candidates to examine their cultures. Many teachers identified themselves as cultureless in their reflection paper because they were Caucasian American.

Their reaction to this assignment made me wonder how teachers understood the concept of culture, what they knew about their own cultural identities, and whether they would be able to teach children of various cultural background to embrace diverse cultures since they as teachers did not see or value their self culture. I wondered what I could do to help teachers find their cultural identities and thus build up their intercultural understanding.

Besides talking about what culture was and how they could explore their own culture, I invited this group of teachers and teacher candidates along with a group of English as a foreign language (EFL) learners in China to participate in a book club through which we would read and discuss global literature books.

The inquiry I developed for this action research project was: How do American teachers and Chinese EFL learners build intercultural understanding through reading and responding to children's picture books in a global book club? The purpose of this study was to investigate how readers explore each other's culture and their self culture and gain intercultural understanding through children's literature books, while also seeking implications for selecting and incorporating children's literature to inform literacy practices.

Global Literature

Corapi and Short (2016) define global books as those "written by immigrants and set in their home countries; written by authors who live and work across global cultures and regularly move between the U.S. and their home culture; or set in global cultures but written by American authors using various research strategies that influence the cultural authenticity of their stories" (p. 6).

Multicultural literature books are those that represent marginalized groups (Corapi & Short, 2016). They provide readers a mirror of their culture and a window into other cultures (Glazier & Seo, 2005), just as do global literature books. When reading books from a different culture, readers tend to wonder if the book accurately represents that culture. Cultural accuracy and authenticity thus is a critical issue when teaching multicultural children's literature (Fox & Short, 2003; Noll, 2003).

Global literature encourages children to sharpen their critical perspectives when exploring personal cultural identities, cross-cultural studies, cross-curricular international materials, and sociopolitical global issues (Short, 2009). Short created a curriculum that is international and invited children's engagement in critical dialogue (Short & Thomas, 2011).

What is Intercultural Understanding?

Culture includes all aspects of the way of life of any social group and thus cultures are "dynamic, complex, and changing" (Banks, 2008, p. 56). Intercultural understanding involves dialogue at the cultural level and includes problem solving and social action activities. Gaining intercultural understanding cultivates deeper comprehension of others and helps us become global citizens (Corapi & Short, 2016). Intercultural understanding is obtained when a person:

Exhibits curiosity and basic knowledge about the world and global cultures;

Expects complexity in viewpoints and intentionally seeks out multiple perspectives;

Sees self as a product and participant of multiple cultures;

Values cultural diversity as a resource;

Is comfortable with ambiguity and not having one "right" answer. (p. 4)

One important goal is to help students to establish intercultural competency beyond country boundaries and become global citizens who have a better understanding of culture and empathy for various cultures in and outside of their own nation (Banks, 2008). …

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