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					   Multicultural Literature:
   A Synthesis of Literature
                            By
      Dr. Doris Walker-Dalhouse
              Associate Professor
Department of Educational Policy and Leadership
            Marquette University



Multicultural Literature: A                                           Teacher Attitudes
Synthesis of Literature                                                Generally, qualitative research and
Children’s literature has                                              ethnographic methodology have
sociopolitical implications that                                       been used to examine the impact
have an impact on students’                                            of multicultural literature on the
understanding of the world and                                         attitudes of teachers toward
teachers’ interpretations of its                                       sociopolitical books. McNair
value as an instructional resource.                                    (2003) conducted a study with
Children’s literature reflects the                                      six Caucasian preservice teachers
authors’ political perspectives,                                       to assess their ability to recognize
cultural norms and biases, and                                         and analyze the presence of
views about the world. The images                                      racism and discrimination in
created affect the perspectives of                                     children’s literature, as well as in
students and teachers alike, and                                       school practices and policies. The
foster their critical consciousness of social issues   results indicated the following themes from the
(McNair 2003; Spalding,Savage & Garcia, 2007)          responses of the preservice teachers: 1) cynicism
and cultural issues (Akrofi, Swafford, Janisch,         and an inability to perceive children’s awareness
Liu & Durrington, 2008). Children’s literature         of sociopolitical issues; 2) a reluctance to engage
can also be used for aesthetic and instructional       in individual critical reflections about racism; and
purposes (Mendoza & Reese 2001; Norton,                3) a reluctance to engage in critical reflections
2001; Bishop,1997).                                    about books that they liked.
The purpose of the collection of articles reviewed     In contrast, another study conducted by
is to examine the following questions:                 Gopalakrishnan & Ulanoff (2004) to investigate
1) What is the impact of multicultural literature      the impact of multicultural literature on the
on the attitudes of teachers (preservice and in-       attitudes of preservice and in-service teachers
service)?                                              found that the teachers’ remarks about the
2) What are the attitudes of elementary students       children’s books they read affirmed their
toward multicultural literature?                       awareness of other cultures. Oral discussions
3) Which guidelines should teachers follow when        and written personal narratives reflected their
selecting and using multicultural literature in        knowledge about the impact of race, culture,
reading instruction?                                   and identity on their lives. Colby & Lyons (2004)
                   MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE: A SYNTHESIS              OF   LITERATURE


found similar results after analyzing the response      literature and three types of comprehension
papers of 100 preservice teachers enrolled in           strategy lessons (elaborate, brief, and impromptu
an elementary language arts methods course.             lessons) were presented to students. Students
The authors concluded that an outside stimulus          read self-selected multicultural literature and
might be necessary to increase the preservice           participated in discussion and reading study
teachers’ awareness of what is involved in the          groups. The results from pre- and post-project
selection and use of literature that represents         informal surveys of the students’ reading
diverse groups. Similarly, Nathenson-Mejia &            habits and interests and their oral and written
Escamilla (2003) found positive results when            comments indicated increased reading at home
the same Latino children’s literature was used          and school, increased valuing of reading, and a
with 22–26 preservice teachers for three years          greater appreciation of literature and books.
in a field experience seminar and in their field
experience classrooms. An analysis of the               Additional qualitative research on multicultural
preservice teachers’ responses was based on             literature used in multilingual and multiethnic
classroom discussions, lessons during the field          school settings is needed, along with quantitative
experience, and their reflective summaries.              studies of changes in students’ attitudes toward
Feedback from the elementary students involved          multicultural literature. Larger sample sizes and
in the study also supported the conclusion that         experimental control groups would improve the
the project was successful.                             generalizability of the results.

Student Attitudes                                                       Instruction
A recent case study by Moller                                             Research pertaining to multi-
(2004) of a struggling European                                           cultural literature has focused
American fourth grade female                                              on selecting and using multi-
reader provided an in-depth look                                          cultural literature for reading
at responses to multicultural            “It is important to use          instruction. Criteria formulated
literature. The study, grounded         multicultural children’s          and recommended for use by
in social-constructivistic theory,     literature when teaching educators in selecting multi-
focused on the student’s                      all students.”              cultural literature that meets
participation in a heterogeneous                                          these objectives have been
literature discussion group that                                          outlined by Heflin & Barksdale-
read and discussed diverse                                                Ladd (2001). Books for African
multicultural novels. Data were                                           American children should: 1)
collected from 27 audiotaped                                              feature well-developed characters
literature discussions, audiotaped                                        in authentic and believable
interviews, observational field notes, student          contexts; 2) incorporate authentic and realistic
presentations, and written reports. Moller             language and dialogue with dialect that is
(2004) noted that there was a shift in the             consistent with the characters featured; 3)
participation of the student from an outsider          include illustrations that portray characters and
to an insider in the discussion. She challenged        settings in realistic and authentic situations; and
the understandings of the group by displaying          4) contain accurate information. When teachers
antiracist or nonstereotypic thinking and by           select multicultural literature, Heflin (2002)
showing an understanding of the situations that        recommends that they select culturally conscious
the characters in each novel face.                     African American literature, use such methods
                                                       as call-and-response interaction patterns found
Bauman, Hooten, & White (1999) conducted               in the respective homes and communities, and
a year-long, teacher-research project with a           make connections between the literature and the
group of African American (61%) and European           personal lives of students.
American (35%) fifth grade students to test a
program they had developed to teach reading            Quintero (2004) recommends a problem-posing
strategies and reading motivation. Multicultural       critical literacy approach that uses multicultural
                     MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE: A SYNTHESIS              OF   LITERATURE


literature. The benefits of the method are the             attitudes toward diversity. In addition to her
connections made between students’ personal               numerous publications, Doris Walker-Dalhouse
experiences and the text that encourage critical          has been the recipient of a myriad of awards
reflection and transformative action. Culturally           exemplifying her continuing efforts in education.
responsive literature discussion groups that              She was an active board member in the
foster character analysis through character study         International Reading Association, was President
journals are a promising practice (Montgomery,            for both the Minnesota Reading Association and
2000). Combining students’ natural storytelling           Red River Reading Association, and is a member
abilities with quality multicultural literature is also   of the Board of Directors of the National Reading
recommended as a means for building young                 Conference, as well as many other professional
children’s oral language skills and print literacy        and academic organizations.
(Amour, 2003).
                                                          References
Implications                                              Akroft, A. K., J. Swafford, C. Janisch, X. Liu,
It is important to use multicultural children’s               and V. Durrington, “Supporting Immigrant
literature when teaching all students. Preservice             Students’ Understanding of U.S. Culture
and in-service educators need opportunities                   Through Children’s Literature, Childhood
to engage in critical thinking about the                      Education, 84(4), 2008, pp. 209-18.
sociopolitical aspects of children’s literature and
to develop social critical consciousness about the        Amour, M., “Connecting Children’s Stories to
issues addressed. Some of the pitfalls associated            Children’s Literature: Meeting Diversity
with the use of multicultural literature with the            Needs,” Early Childhood Education,
young children identified are: 1) the availability            31 (1), 2003, pp. 47–51.
of books; 2) the time required to locate and
evaluate materials; 3) beliefs in the adequacy of         Bauman, J., H. Hooten, and P. White, “Teaching
a single book; and 4) the use of books that are              Comprehension Through Literature: A
not accurate and authentic (Mendoza & Reese                  Teacher Research Project to Develop
2001).                                                       Fifth Graders’ Reading Strategies and
                                                             Motivation,” The Reading Teacher, 53 (1),
There is an insufficient body of research about               1999, pp. 38–51.
multicultural literature. Additional information
could be gained from longitudinal research                Bishop, R. S., “Selecting Literature for a
of literacy learners, multicultural literature,               Multicultural Curriculum,” in V. J. Harris
and interactions (Harris & Willis 2003). Future               (ed.) Using Multiethnic Literature in the K-8
research is also needed about the impact of                   Classroom, Christopher Gordon, Norwood,
critical race theory and critical literacy theory             Massachusetts, 1997, pp. 1-19.
on multicultural literature and reader response
to multicultural literature with students at all          Cai, M., “Multiple Definitions of Multicultural
educational levels.                                            Literature: Is the Debate Really Just ‘Ivory
                                                               Tower’ Bickering?” The New Advocate, 4,
Biography                                                      1998, pp. 311-324.
Doris Walker-Dalhouse is an educational                   Colby, S. and A. Lyon, “Heightening Awareness
consultant, researcher, and Professor of Reading              About the Importance of Using Multicultural
at Marquette University. She earned her B.A.                  Literature, Multicultural Education, 11 (3),
from Kentucky State University and achieved                   2004, pp. 24–28.
both her masters and Ph.D. in Reading Education
from The Ohio State University. Her main areas
of research are vested in the cognitive processes
of writing, literature based reading, the socio-
cultural aspects of literacy as well as teachers’
                     MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE: A SYNTHESIS       OF   LITERATURE


Gopalakrishnan, A. and S. Ulanoff, “Lessons in       Mendoza, J. and D. Reese, “Examining
   and of Diversity: Preservice and In-Service          Multicultural Picture Books for the Early
   Teachers Explore Multicultural Literature,”          Childhood Classroom: Possibilities and
   Paper presented at the annual meeting of the         Pitfalls,” Early Childhood Research & Practice,
   American Educational Research Association,           3 (2), 2001, <http://ecrp@uiuc.edu> (August
   San Diego, California, 2004.                         31, 2005).

Harris, V. and A. Willis, “Multiculturalism,         Moller, K., “Creating Zones of Possibility
    Literature, and Curriculum Issues,” in J.            for Struggling Readers: A Study of One
    Flood, D. Lapp, J. Squire, and J. Jensen             Fourth Graders’ Shifting Roles in Literature
    (eds.), Handbook of Research on Teaching             Discussion,” Journal of Literacy Research, 36
    the Language Arts, Lawrence Erlbaum                  (4), 2004, pp. 419-460.
    Associates, Publishers, Mahway, New Jersey,
    2003, pp. 825-834.                               Montgomery, W., “Literature Discussion in the
                                                        Elementary School Classroom: Developing
Heflin, B., “Learning to Develop Culturally              Cultural Understanding,” Multicultural
   Relevant Pedagogy: A Lesson about                    Education, 8 (1), 2000, pp. 33-36.
   Cornrowed Lives,” Urban Review, 34 (3),
   2002, pp. 231-250.                                Nathenson-Mejia, S. and K. Escamilla,
                                                         “Connecting with Latino Children: Bridging
Heflin, B. and M. A. Barksdale-Ladd, “African             Cultural Gaps with Children’s Literature,”
   American Children’s Literature that Helps             Bilingual Research Journal, 27 (1), 2003, pp.
   Students Find Themselves: Selection                   101-116.
   Guidelines for Grades K–3,” The Reading
   Teacher, 54 (8), 2001, pp. 810-819.               Quintero, E., “Will I Lose a Tooth? Will I Learn
                                                         to Read? Problem Posing with Multicultural
McNair, J., “But the Five Chinese Brothers is            Children’s Literature,” YC Young Children, 59
   One of my Favorite Books!” Conducting                 (3), 2004, pp. 56-62.
   Sociopolitical Critiques of Children’s
   Literature with Preservice Teachers. Journal of   Spalding, E., T. Savage, and J. Garcia, “The March
   Children’s Literature 29 (1), 2003, pp. 46-53.        of Remembrance and Hope: Teaching and
                                                         Learning About Diversity and Social Justice
                                                         Through the Holocaust,” Teacher College
                                                         Record, 109(6), 2007, pp. 1423-1456.




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