The Teacher Talk Literacy Community:
Our Study of ‘What Is Global Literature?’
Welcome to a “typical” Teacher Talk Meeting, one of the WOW learning communities during the 2011-2012 school year. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the process of learning we went through as we read and taught with global literature this year. Click on our names and you’ll go to a fuller description of our individual vignettes.
It’s 6 p.m. on a Monday after a long day of teaching. One by one, 11 teachers gather around the long table in a classroom at Hofstra University, on Long Island in New York, carrying books, coffee mugs, and tea cups. The teachers greet one another, chat about their day, and say hi to Esmeralda Carini who appears on the large screen in the room, Skyping from her school in Hawaii. At the table are the stories that each will share this evening based on the wide variety of their teaching settings.
Joan: (Dr. Joan Zaleski, associate professor, Literacy Studies, Hofstra University, NY)
Let’s begin tonight by thinking about the work that each of us has been doing this year. We’ve spent the year focusing on the question of what is global literature by looking at what this means for our own teaching.
Michele: (Michele Marx, administrative coordinator, Reading/Writing/Learning Clinic, Hofstra University, NY)
From our readings and our discussions, I don’t think we see global literature as a single text or as a collection of texts. We’ve been using children’s literature to explore global issues and to influence what Kathy Short refers to as intercultural understanding. But I think that for each of the books we’ve read together our conversation has focused on our personal connections and how those connections relate to our common humanity.
Yes, that has been an important discovery for us this year as we read The Dreamer and Inside Out & Back Again, and shared a variety of picture books and poetry that we felt might be global. Would someone like to begin tonight by sharing what you’ve been doing in the classroom? How are your projects going?
Amy: (Amy Gaddes, ESL teacher, Gotham Avenue School, Elmont, NY)
As you all know, one of my assignments this year has been to work with a blended fifth grade class of ELL students and struggling 5th grade mainstream readers. I thought Inside Out & Back Again would be a good book for both groups of students to share common experiences and to learn from each other. It was, but it was so much more.
I also used Inside Out & Back Again with my undergrads in our annual read-a-thon. I was able to give each of them a copy of their own book. The experience and the discussions really built community. Their books became valuable treasures to them.
Esmeralda: (Esmeralda Carini, Literacy Content Specialist, Kaneohe, Hawaii)
Since you’re talking about Inside Out & Back Again, I have to tell you about the in-service workshop I created for my teachers to help them develop strategies for discussing multicultural books. The teachers who read aloud Inside Out & Back Again in their classrooms felt that it was a perfect text to share with their students since Hawaii is made up of so many ethnicities, especially from Asian countries. But many teachers had trouble finding ways to connect to The Dreamer. The family dynamics, the time period, and fear of the ocean were obstacles for making text-to-self connections.
Louise: (Louise J. Shaw, instructor, Literacy Education, Dowling College, NY)
The same thing happened when my undergraduate students read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. They were sure they wouldn’t like the book from the cover and the title. I also questioned how I would move forward and have them connect to the text. But they did. They began to connect to the characters’ feelings.
Stephanie E.: (Stephanie Eberhard, English teacher, Bayport-BluePoint High School, Center Moriches, NY)
Feelings became a universal language, instead of culture becoming a barrier.
Being bullied, having an alcoholic parent, what it’s like to lose a friend, and what it means to want something better for yourself. That’s what my students were connecting to.
With The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and the interpretive community you created, a critical space was developed where your readers could see themselves.
That is what was so powerful with my group of fifth graders. Although they didn’t all share the immigrant experience of the characters in Inside Out & Back Again, they all had shared an experience of having to leave behind something or someone they loved.
Jennifer: (Jennifer Pullara, literacy specialist, East School, Long Beach, NY)
The fourth graders that I read this book with were very connected to the wide range of feelings the characters exhibited as they fled Vietnam and came to America. In our discussions and in their written reflections, they were also personally connecting to these emotions and thinking about their own abilities to be as brave, or as hopeful as Hà was.
Stephanie A.: (Stephanie Annunziata, kindergarten teacher, Our Lady of Grace Montessori School, Manhasset, NY)
I think that’s what the author of Inside Out & Back Again meant in her Author’s Note when she said that she wanted “to capture Hà’s emotional life” so that readers can imagine what it felt like to start over again in a new place. Although I wasn’t able to use this book with my kindergartners, I did think about the question of ‘how much do we know about those around us?’ as I shared books with my students.
Thank you for bringing up the Author’s Note, Stephanie, because it resonated with me, too, almost as much as the rest of the book. I loved Thanhha Lai’s invitation to ‘sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story.’ Valuing our students’ stories is what we are all trying to do as we invite them to respond to this literature. What my colleagues and I discovered in talking with our undergrads about Inside Out & Back Again was how few stories their grandfathers and uncles were sharing about their time in Vietnam. Reading and talking about this book was the first story they had read from that time period and it helped them understand why their families might be silent about the Vietnam War.
I know this book has made an impact on many of us in Teacher Talk this year. But how about those of you who used other books to promote global understanding? How have stories helped your students to develop deeper understandings of the world around them?
AmyMarie: (AmyMarie Livermore, literacy specialist, Lockhart Elementary School, Massapequa, NY)
I didn’t read Inside Out & Back Again with my students, but I found the author’s quote of ‘how much do we really know about those around us?’ important for me too. Throughout this school year I have explored rich literature with my third graders on various topics and from different cultures. They found new ways to make connections and tell their own stories from what they have read. As they shared their family stories of customs and traditions, we gained respect for each other’s backgrounds.
Liza: (Liza Carfora, literacy specialist, Reading/Writing/Learning Clinic, Saltzman Community Center, Hofstra University, NY)
The fourth grade ELL students I’ve been working with on Saturday mornings at the Clinic have used stories, along with non-fiction, to focus on their academic literacies. What helped them develop understandings on the topic of trees were the connections they made to their own experiences with nature in their home countries, as well as here in the United States. Many personal stories were told. Reading fiction and non-fiction about trees helped them to realize how fragile and interconnected the world is.
Vera: (Vera Zinnel, 3rd grade teacher, Bowling Green Elementary School, East Meadow, NY)
Like Liza did with her study of trees, I incorporated global thinking into our social studies content area with our study of Columbus Day. My third graders began by role playing and interviewing each other, as either members of Columbus’ ship or as native Taíno. This raised lots of real questions they wanted to explore. Then we read fiction and non-fiction to think about different perspectives and finally they wrote an ‘inner monologue’ that expressed these perspectives. What they learned from this unit is to question history and to think about who gets to tell the story of history.
Joan, and others:
Wow. Pretty powerful learning for third graders. It is possible for 3rd graders to be critical readers and writers by thinking globally.
And children’s literature played an important role in creating these global conversations in a classroom community that supports critical inquiry.
If no one has anything to add, I think this is a good place for us to end tonight. It has been a good year for our Teacher Talk community. We learned that it is not enough to merely select a globally themed book to use with our students. To have deeper global understandings requires that we need to facilitate the talk that goes on around books. As Esmeralda and Louise found, when students personally connect to the emotions and feelings of what they are reading, it is much easier for them to share their own stories, make their own meanings of these books. It is truly a transactional reading experience, as all of us found with the books we used this year. I think we’ve all grown this year in both the depth and breadth of our knowledge of global children’s literature. And yet, this is only the beginning.
Alexie, S. (2009). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. Boston: Little Brown.
Nye, N. S. (2000). Come with me: Poems for a journey. New York: Greenwillow.
Ryan, P. M. (2010). The dreamer. New York: Scholastic.
Lai, T. (2011). Inside out & back again. New York: HarperCollins.
Transcribed by Joan Zaleski is a former associate professor in Literacy Studies at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York and Michele Marx is the administrative coordinator of the Reading/Writing/Learning Clinic at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, where she is a doctoral candidate in Literacy Studies.
WOW Stories, Volume IV, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/stories/iv3/.