CSU California Academic Partnership Program

Reading/Thinking/Writing About Culturally Diverse Literature

Marlene Carpenter, English Teacher, East Union High School writes:

In February I attended the California Association of Teachers of English Conference and learned about the multicultural literature project. I picked up a copy of the book Reading, Thinking and Writing about Culturally Diverse Literature and came back to East Union High School really enthused and ready to incorporate the readings in my classes. I had each of my 35 students interview someone in their family who is older than their parents. the interview concerned their family and formed the beginning of their personal identity book.

We then read "Fifth Chinese Daughter" by Jade Snow Wong and the students compared how this girl described her life and her family with how they see their own family and their role in family life. This kind of exercise helps the kids see the differences and similarities between cultures.

One Filipino boy, a senior, wrote about the similarities between Jade Snow's family and his own. "When I speak to older cousins, I have to use a title that shows respect, just as Jade Snow had to use a respectful title when she addressed an older brother or sister, " he wrote. "Both our parents immigrated from foreign countries. Jade Snow's grandmother had little rituals for her, just as my grandmother has little rituals for me when I visit her.

"It would be a pleasure for me to meet Jade Snow Wong. she wouldn't be a stranger. I'd call her a friend because we have many things in common."

Since I began using multicultural literature in my English classes, I've noticed that the students find the literature more personal and they love it. I don't have any students anymore who don't do their homework. teaching is more fun for me because the students are so involved, and the quality of their papers is so much better.

In fact, it is such a pleasure to teach using this method, that I held a workshop of my own for the 17 teachers in my department, and 30 more from two other high schools, giving them the book and telling them about my experiences incorporating culturally diverse literature into my classwork.

The project

Located in Orange County, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles, this partnership began by focusing on English teachers. The four school districts within this partnership have a student body that is more than 50 percent non-Anglo, and a teacher workforce that is 87 percent Anglo. Teachers wanted to find ways to reach all students with learning experiences that spoke to them. Helping English teachers design multicultural literature into standard English classes was the first step.

Middle School, high school, community college and university teachers worked together to create a variety of demonstration lessons that involved students in critical thinking and writing about culturally diverse literature. By introducing essays, poems, stories, and selections from books by Asian, Native American, Latino, African, and African American authors, teachers found students significantly increasing their English skills. Student's interest in the class, and their ability to analyze critically the literature selection and to write well-organized, cogent papers about their reading, improved dramatically.

The interplay of curriculum design, staff development, and teacher research enabled partners to create and field-test a book-length manuscript entitled Reading, Thinking and Writing About Culturally Diverse Literature.

Partners in this project include:
Garden Grove Unified School District
Irvine Unified School District
Santa Ana Unified School District
Saddleback Valley Unified School District
Orange Coast College
University of California, Irvine

Dissemination goal; To widen the influence of this partnership project beyond Orange County and to have a statewide impact through distributing Reading, Thinking and Writing About Culturally Diverse Literature.

During the 1993-94 dissemination year, this partnership held a week-long institute for teacher/consultants from the California Subject Matter in Writing, Literature, and History/Social Science, and a statewide conference in cooperation with the California Association of Teachers of English.

The institute took place August 2-7 (1994) and drew 23 subject matter project teachers/consultants (10 White, 7 African American, 2 Latino, 1 Asian, 1 Native American) from throughout the state. These teachers in turn hosted 16 workshops at their respective schools and further disseminated Reading/Writing/Thinking materials to 465 of their colleagues.

The statewide conference, held in February 1994, drew 225 English teachers.

The book was also introduced and distributed to 500 Fellows at California Writing Project Summer Institutes. As a result of these efforts, almost 1,225 California teachers received information and materials about the partnership program, and each received a copy of the book.

Partnership members presented workshops on project, one in Multicultural Education and the other in the 1994 Yearbook of California Research, the project and book will receive further national visibility.

"Ultimately, this project is about teacher change and about student growth," said Carol Booth Olsen, project director.


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Last Updated: January 10, 2005