Discussing literature is a big part of English classrooms. Discussions allow teachers to use literature as simulations of the real world and address critical issues. In my experience, I have found that starting with conversations that require students to discuss critical issues on a global scale fall flat. Instead, through extensive reading and talking with other educators, I discovered that building students’ cultural and intercultural competency creates a foundation to build critical and global competence for productive conversations in the classroom around social and political global issues.
Becoming Culturally Conscious
Knowing oneself as a cultural being is the first step towards critical global literacy. Gloria Ladson-Billings (2014) says cultural competency is important for all students. Too often, for white students in particular, race and culture are left unexplored in literacy classrooms (Berchini, 2019; Tanner, 2019). Personally, I have found that some white students believe that they do not have a cultural identity or that culture does not influence how they view the world. Developing a cultural identity helps them to see how their perspectives are shaped by culture.
One way to help students see how culture shapes their identity is to have them bring in artifacts to share and talk about with the class (see DeJaynes, 2018). Think of this as the anthropology version of show and tell. To connect these discussions to literary study, students can read and discuss Claude McKay’s “Tropics of New York” and Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks”.
After sharing cultural artifacts with classmates, students can also create digital cultural artifacts through Twitter threads, sixty-second selfie videos, or memes that they then share with the world. For indigenous and students of color, providing opportunities to construct digital cultural artifacts as positive representations of their own identities to share with the world can empower them to use literacies from their cultures, such as testimony and translanguaging, to counter negative stereotypes portrayed in media (Price-Dennis, 2016). Translanguaging means to flexibly and creatively use multiple languages and modalities to express one’s messages and identities (Kim & Song, 2019).Negative stereotypes can lead to imposter syndrome--feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt--in youth whose cultural identities are associated with negative stereotypes in school. These negative views can cause students anxiety and lead to poor performance. Breaking down the stereotype that some cultures are outsiders to school can begin by reading texts written by diverse authors as part of the official school curriculum. While reading the stories, teachers can use Kathy Short’s (2008) cultural X-ray graphic organizer to help students prepare to discuss the cultural identities of characters. The X-ray prompts students to look deep into characters’ culture, beyond external markers like clothing, to examine cultural values and beliefs.
As a community, the students then become creators and consumers of cultural artifacts and texts, helping them to see the shared culture by observing similarities. At the same time, they observe differences within this shared culture so as not to fall into the trap of thinking of cultures as monolithic. Understanding that there are similarities and differences across cultures and within cultures is foundational to fostering intercultural communication.
Fostering Intercultural Communication
Considering not only what we want to say but how to say it is an important part of intercultural communication. Veronica Boix Mansilla (2017) shares how the thinking routine How else and why? is a way to scaffold respectful dialogue. Following this routine, first students write what they think, and then they revise by considering the most respectful wording.
1. What I want to say is … (The student makes a statement.)
2. How else can I say this? And why?
3. How else can I say this? And why? (Student repeats the questions.)
Students can read Sandra Cisernos’s The House on Mango Street, N. H. Senze’s Shooting Kabul, or Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands and examine misunderstandings caused by different cultural assumptions and how characters use language to position others. Using literature as simulations of real life can help students learn what to do and what not to do when communicating cross-culturally.
Developing Critical Global Literacy through Class Discussions of Literature
Shea N. Kerkhoff.
The writing workshop is a block of instructional time in which students practice the writing process (Dorfman & Shubitz, 2019). Writing workshops can be used with young children and with adolescent students. This article provides a brief overview of instructional methods involved in the implementation of a writing workshop.
Conducting a Writing Workshop
Increased time to write with a focus on the strategies of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing are linked to increased writing quality (Graham & Harris, 2016). Unfortunately, students tend to demonstrate a decrease in enthusiasm for writing from early childhood to middle school and high school, due to less time to write and less engaging writing opportunities (Graham & Perin, 2007) so it is imperative to engage students in workshops that are personally and culturally meaningful. We recommend that it should be evident that multicultural literature is being read, enjoyed and analyzed across the curriculum. Writing workshops provide opportunities for lively inquiry and discussion about texts with diverse characters, settings, and cultures (Alexander, 2018).