Creating Student Connections Using Text Sets

By Sakoi Junko, Tucson Unified School District and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

This week, we will continue the discussion about text sets, which were created by the “Read, Write, Review for Us (RWRU)” project to help educate local Tucson children about refugee students’ homelands and the diversity within those groups of people. Once the first text set was displayed for book browsing in the classroom, the 5th graders were able to “relocate” their old home into the various stories within the books. We observed the excitement in the students’ voices as they shared stories of their homeland with their peers. It became obvious at that point that even the 5th graders did not know each other’s backgrounds. Because they are often generalized as “refugee students”, the students’ individual identities are often forgotten. With the exception of customs, the refugee and immigrant students are no different from any of the American students beginning the new year in a new classroom every August. It was particularly advantageous to put aside the term, “refugee” and allow the children to learn about each other from a fresh perspective.

Creating Student Connections Using Text Sets

After reviewing the books, we created four additional text sets to fit into the following universal themes:
1) Stories of Old, Folklore and Legend
2) Advocating for the Earths’ Protection
3) Finding Cultures in Family and School Life
4) Recalling Physical and Emotional Journeys

In total, we created a text set with 36 titles, including picture books and short chapter books. Each text set included locations that were inclusive of the 5th graders’ home countries, multiple voices, multiple perspectives and a wide range of genres and themes. The text set that was the most popular with the students was Finding Cultures in Family and School Life. They said that this particular text set reminded them of their lives in their home countries. For example, one student couldn’t help but share with her peers a description of the school she attended in the Marshall Islands and how she had such fun times there. The widely stretched smile on her face was quite unforgettable as she read the book, On a School Day in the Marshall Islands. Another student from Nepal had the similar reaction when he picked up the book Dashain Aayo! Tihar Aayo! A Nepali Festival Celebration. He shouted excitedly, “I know this! My family does (celebrate) this (Dashain and Aayo)!” He then shared with his peers how he and his family celebrate these holidays at home.

Included in this popular text set, was Ethiopian Voices: Tsion’s Life, Life in the Marshall Islands Then and Now, Omer’s Favorite Place, Africa is not a Country, I see the Sun in Nepal, A Gift from Abuela, and Seven Pablos. You can find detailed information about each of these books in Creating Mixed Genre Text Sets. All the descriptions are taken from the publishers’ promotional material unless otherwise noted. Other titles are following:

On a School Day in the Marshall Islands, writen by Japo Elementary Schools’ 5th and 6th Grade Students
Setting: Marshall Islands
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
This is the picture book story written and illustrated by children in the Marshall Islands. The Marshallese children describe their everyday lives as they go to and from school. (Description created for this post.)

To be an Artist, written by Maya Ajmera and illustrated by John D. Ivanko
Setting: Around the World
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Children around the world express themselves through art, be it music, dance, visual arts, or theater. Beautiful photographs and lyrical text highlight the many ways art can bring us together.

Every Month Is a New Year: Celebrations Around the World, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Setting: The United States, Ethiopia, Scotland, Russia, China, Iran, Thailand, Jordan, New Zealand, Chile, Egypt, India, Spain, Ecuador
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
This collection of poetry features a diverse range of New Year celebrations from around the world. (Description created for this post.)

You and Me Together Moms Dads and Kids Around the World, written and illustrated by Barbara Kerley
Setting: The United States, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, China, Thailand, Bhutan, Japan
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Publisher: National Geographic Children’s Books
This is heartwarming nonfiction text about parent and child togetherness around the world. It also captures the family bond across the cultures. (Description created for this post.)

Up!: How Families around the World Carry their Little Ones, written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Ashley Barron
Setting: Afghanistan, Canada, Peru, West Africa
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Publisher: Owlkids
Around the world, little ones are carried in many different ways: in slings, on shoulders, in backpacks, on hips, in baskets, and in loving arms. Up! depicts ten places around the world, from Afghanistan to northern Canada, Peru to West Africa.

Birthday Customs around the World, written and illustrated by Sarah L. Schuette
Setting: Brazil, Canada, Japan
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Publisher: Capstone Press
This picture book shows different birthday customs of children from around the world. (Description created for this post.)

Dashain Aayo! Tihar Aayo! A Nepali Festival Celebration, written and illustrated by Anita Adhikary
Setting: Nepal
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Publisher: Mascot Books
This picture book shows Dashain and Tihar, two of the most important festivals that children look forward to all year long in Nepal. (Description created for this post.)

On the first day, many of the 5th grade refugee and immigrant students were very shy when it came to sharing information about their language and culture with peers. However, once the book browsing began, they found their voice and really began to open up and tell stories about their heritage. It was discovered that the topic the students cared about the most were ordinary childhood experiences. These valued experiences included school life, home life and their roles within the community in their home countries and their new home in Arizona. As the 5th graders listened to one another, this exchange of information helped to develop a type of classroom membership that was almost like its’ own mini community. The students now regularly promote cultural awareness and have learned to respect their classmates. They know that their peers have different religious beliefs, different cultures and may speak languages other than English. Most of all, the students realize that their peers are representative of their home countries. As a result, all the students are more knowledgeable about the cultural beliefs that affirm who their classmates are as individuals. The project concluded that the 5th graders thrived the most in the classroom when they were valued as individual learners without the collective label of “refugee.”

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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