Becoming Critical Readers through Engagements with International and Multicultural Literature

Becoming Critical Readers through Engagements with International and Multicultural Literature

As a teacher, critical thinking and questioning are my primary goals for students. – Courtney Bauer

One of the goals of Worlds of Words is to connect children with international literature. While encouraging children to read international literature is an important goal, the mission of WOW goes further to focus on using these reading experiences to promote intercultural understanding through critical explorations of the literature and the world.

In this issue of WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom we share five vignettes of classroom engagements and literacy experiences that encourage critical reading. While the authors are at different grade levels and use diverse strategies, they share a commitment to helping the students they work with become more knowledgeable, careful thinkers about books, the book world, and their own world.

In the first vignette, Courtney Bauer describes how she and her fourth graders used critical literacy strategies to explore narratives documenting children’s lives during the Holocaust. Next, Lorraine Wilson discusses her work exploring a conceptual understanding of refugees with grade 5/6 students in Australia. Wilson notes that critical explorations of literature depend on freedom from restrictive curricular mandates. In the third vignette, Deanne Paiva describes how her third graders analyzed the values and beliefs of characters in global literature.

Teacher knowledge is essential in order for schools to facilitate critical reading. The last vignettes explain how two different professors work with educators to strengthen their knowledge of literature and critical inquiry. Julia López-Robertson shares strategies she uses to help graduate students deepen their thinking about multicultural literature, an issue that is complicated by their lack of historical knowledge. Finally, a vignette by Kathy Short completes the issue. Short discusses how her curriculum and teaching engagements have evolved to help graduate students examine multiple perspectives and take on depth of thinking about international literature.

As you read these vignettes, think about how you connect students of all ages with literature in ways that promote intercultural understandings. Consider sharing your innovative practices by submitting a vignette to WOW Stories. We are interested in descriptions of interactions with literature in classrooms and libraries at preschool through graduate levels. See our call for manuscripts and author guidelines for more information.

Janine M. Schall

Editor, WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom

5 thoughts on “Becoming Critical Readers through Engagements with International and Multicultural Literature

  1. Children’s literature is one of the most important ways the we can express values as well as the values of other cultures through print. It would be a great way to compare and contrast what we hold as our cultural values here in the U.S. with those of the cultures we examine through international literature. How can children learn different view points as well as how to respect those viewpoints? How can children learn that the world is a much bigger place than the classroom, school, state, or country? For most, international literature holds the answer as well as the key to unlock those doors. TV is probably the other way, but how rich a resource we have with a book

  2. Genny O'Herron says:

    I appreciate having some how-to steps outlined for using multicultural & international lit in the classroom. It seems so obvious and straight-forward as I read, but without guidance like this I know I’d be floundering. I’m wondering about the Hancock quote, “Moral background becomes an influential part of response to the actions and decisions of characters in literature. Readers measure the right and wrong of characters against their personal value systems.” I like the emphasis on having students articulate the values they glean from a story, rather than on the values a teacher sees, and/but I’m wondering in light of Hancock’s observation if there is a skillful way for teachers to model how bias/stereotyping/cultural difference/over-generalizing factors into what-how we see & name values? Has anyone tried an approach like this?

  3. Genny O'Herron says:

    My above comment was suppose to follow the article about using multicultural and international lit by Deanne Paiva. Sorry for that confusion!

    I appreciated how this article focused on how being a holistic teacher requires the provision of holistic/creative/broad writing responses. It is true that a range and choice of expressive forms will allow student to demonstrate their knowledge (or lack of) most vividly. It is always helpful to see examples of new expressive strategies–THANKS!

    And yes — like in Finland, all teachers should be empowered to realte lessons to community issues & knowledge!!!

  4. I am posting to this article, as for some reason what I wrote about the other article posted here.
    I found this article much more interesting than the other one. I particularly enjoyed to writing samples by children, as I used to be a bilingual writing specialist. It is as interesting to read what children say in word as much as it is interesting to see how they respond through picture. Building on prior knowledge about refugees and experiences is a great way to begin a discussion about this topic.
    I also like the theme of children’s life journeys. It is a new concept since children aren’t viewed as having much of a life journey being only alive a few short years, yet they have as interesting a story to tell as adults through writing.
    I like the idea of taking into account the child’s family background, community, etc. in both the home country and the new country. This makes it much more interesting but also tells a much deeper tale. It connects the old with the new in a sense, but also has continuity. Reading and writing about these experiences is very important in a multicultural curriculum. International children’s literature plays a key part in this at all levels. The refugee experience is unique in this connection.

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