WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom

Introduction: Developing Intercultural Understandings Through International Children’s Literature at Van Horne Elementary School

Although Arizona children live in a world increasingly connected through mass media and globalization, most gain their world knowledge through television and so their understandings are often grounded in fear and stereotypes. We are committed to bringing books and children together in order to build bridges across cultures. We want to encourage thoughtful dialogue around international literature so that children can reflect on their own cultural experiences and imagine global experiences beyond their own. By immersing themselves in story worlds, children gain insights into how people feel, live, and think throughout the world as well as come to appreciate their own cultural identities. They move beyond a tourist perspective of collecting facts and artifacts to recognizing common values and valuing unique cultural differences.

The administrators, teachers, and children at Van Horne Elementary School in the Tucson Unified School District are engaged in the exciting work of exploring intercultural understanding and developing critical thinking and global perspectives as a school community. Children and teachers participate in experiences with literature in a weekly Learning Lab directed by the Instructional Coach, Lisa Thomas. In addition, the teachers and administrators meet in a weekly study group to thoughtfully consider our work together and to challenge our thinking as professionals and as people. Another component of this project is a collaboration with Kathy G. Short, a University of Arizona professor from the Department of Language, Reading and Culture in the College of Education.

One aspect of our work has been writing classroom stories about our first year of exploring how to engage children in thoughtfully responding to literature and in considering cultural perspectives. The classroom stories in this issue reflect our first efforts in working toward these goals and in writing about what is happening in some of the classrooms. We hope to add many more stories from other classrooms in the school along with stories about how this work develops over time. We recognize that we are just beginning a much longer journey of reaching toward intercultural understanding but are excited to be traveling together.

We want to acknowledge the National Council of Teachers of English in providing a grant for our research, especially in giving support for teachers to engage in the writing of these classroom stories.

We hope that sharing our classroom stories will inspire other educators to write their stories as well.