Building Global Understanding through Collaborative Relationships

Building Global Understanding through Collaborative Relationships
by Kathy Short

Global Literacy Communities are small groups of educators who are committed to professional inquiries about how to build international understanding through global children’s and adolescent literature. These communities meet regularly to immerse themselves in global literature and consider strategies for using these books effectively with students in K-12 classroom contexts. The communities are school-based, community-based, or university/school collaborations whose members have a shared commitment to thinking together as a professional learning community in order to transform their practice.

In 2012-2013, thirteen Global Literacy Communities received grants from Worlds of Words to support their work and to encourage their explorations of innovative practices. Community members also participated in an online forum where they shared their explorations and resources with each other. Each literacy community also committed to sharing their work with other educators through writing vignettes for WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom. This effort by Worlds of Words was supported by the Longview Foundation for World Affairs and International Understanding, an organization that has been helping young people in the United States learn about world regions and global issues since 1966.

This issue of WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom focuses on four Global Literacy Communities that worked collaboratively across contexts. The type of collaboration varies from teachers in different schools planning and thinking together to students engaged in cross-grade level projects to an exchange between a public library and a small school. These groups range from New York to Illinois and Alabama and from urban to rural contexts. Some are school-based and involve a close collaboration across a group of teachers and others are community-based with educators in different school or library contexts who meet to share ideas in person as well as through skype. The authors have included examples of student work, book lists, and visual images of their students’ responses.

The first set of vignettes comes from the Tri-Cities Global Literacy Community in Albany, New York, a university/school collaboration that developed out of teachers’ concerns about keeping learning alive for their students despite high stakes test pressures. Their focus on meaningful engagements around global literature brought renewed energy to their teaching and exciting opportunities for their students. Their vignettes highlight the work in four classrooms, including an ESL teacher whose students traveled the world through global literature, a literacy specialist whose students engaged in an inquiry on war across global contexts, a reading specialist whose students were moved to action by the true story of a social activist, and a reading teacher who invited students into multi-layered discussions about global texts. Each one shares how the curriculum was broadened through rich reflective conversations and spaces for students to think about their responsibilities as global citizens. Fiction and nonfiction along with other multigenre texts were combined with an open inviting classroom context to create exciting learning opportunities for teachers and students.

The second set of vignettes features collaborations across a long-time group of educators, the Teacher Talk literacy community, a university-based inquiry group of educators who have been involved with the Literacy Studies program at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. The group includes early childhood to high school classroom teachers as well as college faculty and school administrators. The group uses a blog and Skype to connect with a member who is a district literacy specialist in Kaneohe, Hawaii. The goal of this group was to inquire into how to globalize the text exemplars from the Common Core State Standards. This exploration built from their previous inquiry on developing a definition of global literature and using literature to build intercultural understanding. Three group members worked together to develop a unit around Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Lin, 2009), while others developed classroom inquiries around poetry backpacks, cultural identity, and a critical approach to a problematic book.

The third vignette highlights teachers’ reflections on a cross-grade-level collaboration. A to Z Literacy Movement is a grass roots educational initiative that connects children and teachers in several schools in northwest Chicago with schools in Zambia. Their vignette tells the story of the relationships that developed from their work with middle school students reading and discussing multicultural picture books with first graders, in particular the ways in which this collaboration across grades influenced the perspectives of middle school students. These same books were then later shared with teachers in Zambia.

The collaboration between public librarians and kindergarten teachers in rural Alabama is the focus of the fourth vignette. Their focus was to co-plan a series of lessons that broadened the children’s understandings of global cultures, highlighting various cultural traditions related to holidays across the year. Their story is told through several visual formats, including a prezi.

These vignettes demonstrate the generative nature of collaboration when members of a group think and work together around a common purpose, sharing knowledge and engaging in reflection and problem-solving about issues that are significant to them. This collaboration was evident in the ways that educators thought together within their literacy communities as well as the ways in which children worked together in classrooms. The learning potential goes far beyond a cooperative group in which members break down a task into roles that each carries out separately.

We will be publishing two more issues of vignettes from Global Literacy Communities and then will have an unthemed issue in the spring of 2014. 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.

Kathy G. Short, Director of Worlds of Words

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