Using Three Lenses to Critically Engage with Global Texts
Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Sarah Duncan, Kathryn Hall, Denise Lancaster, Molly Miller, Kahla Smith, Elizabeth Weisenfelder, Melissa Williams, and Alexandra Zuehlke
Elementary students come to classrooms with diverse needs, experiences, cultures, and interests that are often a poor match for one-size-fits-all book titles and programs. Children’s literature can either perpetuate the status quo or challenge it. When teachers make a deliberate effort to bring children’s literature that features global communities into the classroom to be used in powerful ways, both teachers and children can be inspired and motivated. As scripted programs and curricula expand in schools, teachers need to be able to critically evaluate and select texts that work for the specific students in front of them. The purpose of our global community is to develop teacher knowledge around text selection and evaluation by critically looking at elements of diversity, quality, and kid appeal to select titles for classrooms.
Although students coming to classrooms are diverse, scripted programs assume one book fits all needs and remove teachers from the book selection process. State Education Prep Providers are asked to prepare candidates to use “High Quality Instructional Materials” instead of teachers developing their own lessons. Our university-school collaboration works to create a space where we can grapple with the challenges of using global literature in thoughtful ways in the midst of these mandates and attempts to ban books by groups such as Moms of Liberty in Middle Tennessee. We also grapple with teaching to the test and using a scripted Language Arts Curriculum, Wit & Wisdom. Our community is finding ways to insert global texts that are not currently on the list of books within the Language Arts Block amidst the challenge of the overemphasis on teaching text evidence.
Our global literacy community consists of five K-4 teachers, an EL coach, a librarian, and two teacher educators, each of us with more than 4 years of teaching experiences. The EL coach and librarian have expertise with a range of texts and have experienced a book challenge. Four teachers have worked with the teacher educators on additional global literature projects. The project is situated in a Title 1 school in Middle Tennessee where many students come to school knowing multiple languages. The teacher educators have worked at this school for eight years.
For several years, we have focused on making connections with global texts. We maintained that focus, but this year we analyzed global texts through the lenses of readers, evaluative criteria, and instruction. In this vignette, we each selected a different text that we felt strongly about using with children in the classroom. We liked the idea that we could use our differing opinions to deepen conversations and help students understand the importance of making deep personal connections with a global text. These connections provided deeper understanding of multiple texts and situations that many students powerfully resonated with in our classroom discussions.
Past community projects taught us the importance of starting our work with valuing the reader. We used to jump right into thinking about how we wanted to use a global text with children and discovered that we needed to place ourselves into the books as readers first. Then we started to evaluate the global texts. We used criteria from the Notable Books in a Global Society award as a jumping off point as we carefully analyzed texts. This reader lens and evaluative lens then propelled us to think about how we would use books in elementary classrooms.
Figure 1: Using a 3 Lens Approach to Analyzing Global Books in the Classroom
What do you notice as a reader?
Story, Structure, Language,
How does this book relate to evaluative criteria?
Quality of Writing, Genre,
Authenticity of Culture and Representation
Diversity of Themes, Language, Stories
How would you teach this book?
We used this frame to think about the global books that we read and discussed. We recorded our thinking about these books in journals around this framework. This vignette is organized around pairs of teachers and how they used these three lenses in selecting and using a global book with their students.
Denise Lancaster and Kahla Smith
Areli is a Dreamer, written by Areli Morales and illustrated by Luisa Uribe (2021), is an autobiographical picturebook about Areli’s journey as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Dreamer. This book powerfully shows the challenges of an immigrant living between two worlds. Eventually, Areli’s application for DACA is approved and as a result she now has the freedom to live “her dream” in the United States. In addition, Denise and Kahla read Nana Akua Goes to School, written by Tricia Elam Walker and illustrated by April Harrison (2020). Zura wants to bring her most favorite family member to school for Grandparents Day. But she is worried about what her classmates might say about her because Nana Akua has Adinkra symbols in tattoos on her face as part of the tribal marking tradition from Ghana.
Denise related to Areli is a Dreamer due to the many stories she has heard from her multilingual learners over the years. Kahla connected with Nana Akua Goes to School due to feelings of being treated differently as a child because of physical uniqueness. Denise, an ELL coach, and Kahla, a fourth-grade teacher used both books together in Kahla’s fourth grade classroom. They worked collaboratively to support the fourth graders as they critically read these books. They chose these books because the texts were deep and thoughtfully connected diversity through the topics of immigration and cultural diversity in the family inside and outside of schooling.
Using a reader’s lens
While using a reader’s lens to view Areli is a Dreamer, we (Denise and Kahla) valued the authenticity of the story as an accurate depiction of what happens to many immigrant families. The illustrations have depth and they truly represent the emotions expressed in the texts. There is a beautiful illustration that symbolizes the moment Areli feels a sense of belonging in both cultures and shows her thoughts of immigrants from the past.
When viewing Nana Akua Goes to School through a reader lens, we noticed that the book was extremely attractive. The bright colors and visual images strongly depicted the feelings characters were experiencing. The illustrations showed a lot of diversity in students and their families at the school, which is important for readers. In addition, the author included a pronunciation guide of the Adinkra symbols, which aided in the authenticity of the story. There is quite a bit of figurative language, adding to the overall appeal of the story. Finally, the author focused on having self-pride in your culture which we viewed as valuable for our readers.
Using an evaluative lens
Through an evaluative lens, we were enchanted by the bright colors. We appreciated the incorporation of Spanish language into the text because it provides a means for students to see their language in print and honors their linguistic backgrounds. We also valued the authentic experiences, such as showing how Areli’s brother can travel back and forth as a U.S. citizen, but Areli may not be able to return to the U.S. if she leaves because she is not a citizen. Students shared similar stories with us. At our school, we interact with many students who are new to the country. Children often come to school just beginning to speak English and we work to build community and honor all of the languages represented in the school. Areli did not have the same warm welcome in her school. We appreciated that this book allowed students to see an unfamiliar perspective.
In reading Nana Akua Goes to School through an evaluative lens, we noted that the book would appeal to fourth-grade students in terms of comprehension and connections throughout the story. The book also included diversity in multiple ways. Diversity was shown through the illustrations as well as in the ideas shared by the grandparents about what makes each child special. We also felt the story was high quality. The author conducted research about the culture represented to assist in the depiction of authenticity of representation. The story had many elements that made it appealing to our multilingual learners. The author included pictures of the Adinkra symbols as well as words from the language, which students enjoyed. The author portrayed an elevated level of curiosity from students and their grandparents when it came time to hear Nana Akua’s story, showing students the value of learning unique symbols.
Using an instructional lens
As we thought about Areli is a Dreamer using an instructional lens, we noted the book promoted deep conversations about immigration and the struggles associated with it. One reason we work so well together as colleagues is that we both ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions to spark conversation. We used the strong connections that many students had toward the book to build connections for others to see what their peers’ families experienced. We intentionally withheld the author’s note in the beginning to discuss her story further and then shared it with children.
The instructional lens for Nana Akua Goes to School allowed us to see that the book provides many opportunities to build connections and increase engagement. We wanted students to understand that some aspects of culture should be considered gifts, and not just something that make us different. We began this process by bringing in the figurative language used by the author to help deepen comprehension of the story. To help strengthen the idea of building connections, we invited students to choose one of the Adinkra symbols they felt best represented themselves or their family. We had students design their own symbol to represent their family and explained the significance.
We asked students which of our two books, Areli is a Dreamer or Nana Akua Goes to School, they liked best and why. There were a variety of responses to this question. Students selected their favorite text based upon the connections from their lives that they shared with the text and illustrations. Using the three-lens framework, we discovered a method to analyze and select texts that are appealing to readers, thought provoking for students, and prepared us instructionally.
Kathryn Hall, Molly Miller, and Alexandra Zuehlke
The Day Saida Arrived, written by Susana Gómez Redondo and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (2020) is a story about friendship and a celebration of language. A friend works to find the right words in the language she knows and grapples with helping her new friend navigate the challenges of school in a new country. Arabic and Spanish are used thoughtfully across the book as both girls teach each other their languages. Kathryn (second grade teacher), Molly (second grade teacher), and Alexandra (fourth grade teacher) selected this book to use in the classroom because they noticed the theme of friendship and language and wanted to support the linguistic friendships they frequently observed in their classrooms.
Using a reader lens
As the three of us (Kathryn, Molly, and Alexandra) opened the book, we noticed vivid illustrations that immediately invoked deep emotions. Right away the reader starts to wonder what is happening. Why is the girl crying? Why has the author used the whole page to show the character’s face? Creative inventions, larger than life people, and clear emotions are depicted, drawing us immediately into the book and into the world of the character. We found out through the story that the character speaks Arabic and see Arabic words on every sign and as labels on each picture. As readers, we enjoyed getting to see the world through the character’s eyes and were inspired to learn another language as the two girls teach each other words in their own languages. The book ends with the English alphabet and the Arabic alphabet side by side. We enjoyed being able to compare the two alphabets and see how they are similar and different.
Using an evaluative lens
The broad messages shared within the book about friendship, language, immigration, empathy, and respect connect with a broad audience. Students will immediately be drawn to the vivid colors on the pages. The empathy and concern for Saida’s emotions throughout the text will keep students connected and invested in the story line. The book centers around the stories and experiences of students in our classrooms so they can see themselves in the story. Many immigrant stories are told from a first-person perspective. However, this book explores a different approach where Saida’s English-speaking friend tells the story of her arrival. Many students will connect with having met or interacted with someone who comes from a different place or speaks a different language. The author also strategically incorporates Arabic words on the page alongside the English words with similar meanings. The pronunciation guides throughout the book and the list of Arabic words in the back provide students with visuals to process new words from different languages. Overall, The Day Saida Arrived is a high quality and powerful text with themes that connect with a broad audience and expose students to the diverse experiences of immigrant peers.
Using an instructional lens
This book thoughtfully shows the power of learning new languages. Multilingual learners have critical experience with learning a new language in school, and many may recall a time when they arrived in a new classroom and added to their language learning journey. This book is also a valuable lesson in empathy and discussions about being in a new school with a new language. How does it feel to be the new kid? What if you speak a different language than the teacher or other students? How can you help students who are new and learning a new language? How can you learn the language of someone new?
After reading this book with students, we discussed the importance of words and why words are important. Why does everyone deserve to have and use their own language? Responses included needing words to learn and communicate with others, and using words to help us be strong and confident. Students learned that everyone learns words differently and that helping others includes getting to know their story and a desire to learn their words. Words are a powerful tool for communication–and everyone deserves to communicate!
Elizabeth Weisenfelder and Melissa Williams
Light for All, by Margarita Engle (2021), celebrates the U.S. story of immigration. Illustrated by Raúl Colón, the vibrant illustrations portray diversity in the U.S. in a variety of ways. The poetic prose and colorful illustrations provide opportunities for children to see themselves and each other in this story. Elizabeth Weisenfelder, a third-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary used this text in her classroom. Melissa Williams, librarian at J.E. Moss Elementary, used this text with several third and fourth grade classes. Both examined the text through a reader lens, evaluative lens, and instructional lens.
Using a reader lens
As a reader, Elizabeth finds this book engaging on many levels. The prose is sparse on most pages, but every word has a purpose and brings deep meaning to the text. The illustrations are rich and detailed, and the recurrence of the Statue of Liberty on many of the pages make it clear that her light truly shines for all. Throughout, readers see the Statue of Liberty situated from different angles and settings, cementing the statue as a symbol of hope, freedom, and opportunity. The illustrations are engaging images of ships arriving to Ellis Island under the lamp of Lady Liberty and joyful immigrants as they arrive to their new home with the Statue of Liberty now shining behind them, as well as images that depict reasons why people might need to leave their homelands. Coupled with powerful prose, these illustrations make a reader feel pride in living in a nation of immigrants.
The first thing Melissa noticed on opening the book is how warm the pictures feel. Raúl Colón does a wonderful job of making the book feel welcoming. The images are light and bright and the texture has readers wanting to run their fingers over them. But more than just the colors, so many people from different backgrounds can see themselves in these images. The story seems simple, and the language is approachable, almost sweet. However, the message is poignant. There are many reasons why people come to the U.S. but the light of liberty continues to shine for all that come here. As wonderful as that thought is, one powerful moment is when Margarita Engle reminds readers that, while newcomers may love this new homeland, the U.S. has bitter moments in history. We may not be perfect, but we can work together to create a “shared hope for all.”
Using an evaluative lens
From an evaluative lens, this book is diverse in multiple ways. Elizabeth immediately noticed the broad diversity that went beyond the cultures so that Light for All is a great example of how a text can encompass various types of diversity. Light for All examines different reasons why people might immigrate to the U.S., their differing hopes and dreams, and the different occupations they seek once they arrive. In this sense, this book broadens the scope of diversity, which makes it possible for more students to make connections to themselves, others, and the world around them. The topic of immigration can be heavy and sometimes difficult for children to understand, especially if they have not lived this experience, but this book does a good job of using words and illustrations to show that immigration is something many people, especially children, experience.
One strength of the book is that so many readers can find themselves in it. It is incredibly important for readers to see that validation in what they read and the message that their stories matter. Elizabeth tries to be as inclusive as possible in purchasing books for the library to make sure that the space is welcoming, and the books are available to everyone. This book seems to be designed to be welcoming, telling the story of many immigrants who came to the U.S. for differing reasons while not glossing over the fact that it is important to support homes with multiple languages and traditions brought to a new homeland. It is important to value the heritages of all people who move to the U.S.
Using an instructional lens
Elizabeth found a perfect opportunity to use Light for All with her third-grade class since the third module of the mandated reading curriculum is about immigration, using the book as a hook to engage students around immigration. Most students in her class are multilingual learners and either are immigrants themselves or have family that immigrated to the U.S. Knowing this, Elizabeth thought the text might spark some conversation about their own experiences. Immediately, students noticed the variety of children on the cover and that these children looked different from each other. As the class read, students were particularly interested in the different reasons why people come to the U.S., such as war, natural disasters, and famine. This led to a conversation about what is currently going on in Ukraine and why Ukrainians might need to escape war. Elizabeth found this real-world connection to be the most powerful part of using this text with students, providing a safe space to voice their questions and concerns about the world. The conversations while reading this text supported student learning by allowing them to form deeper connections to the content and to the world around them.
Melissa used this book for a project about landmarks with several classes of third and fourth graders. Students researched a favorite landmark and then built that landmark in Minecraft. After completing their Minecraft buildings and presenting why they researched that specific landmark, Melissa read this book to encourage discussion about the purposes behind their landmarks and why they felt other landmarks were built. They had a wonderful discussion on the purpose behind the Statue of Liberty and the meaning of the word liberty. They remarked that the statue stands for freedom and hope. They discussed why there might be a statue in New York standing for freedom and hope, leading to comments on why people come to the U.S. and what was in the book about those reasons. Melissa mentioned that when immigrants came into New York on ships for the first time, the Statue of Liberty was the first thing they saw. Some students commented that people may have been looking for a second chance for liberty. A few students noted that just because they were coming to a place that had a statue about freedom didn’t mean that the new country was perfect, and the importance of remembering the not-perfect history to work towards a better future.
The experiences of Melissa and Elizabeth in reading, evaluating, and teaching with this book led both to believe this is a valuable book to include in teacher libraries. It has facets that can add to a lesson or be used as a book study. This text can also be used to supplement a scripted curriculum.
Using the three-lens framework, we discovered a method to analyze and select texts that are appealing to readers, thought provoking for students, and inspirational for teachers. In terms of the reader lens, we learned to analyze the story and think about the strong narrative in the book, including the dialogue and relationships between characters. We analyzed the visual appeal of the book in terms of vibrant colors in illustrations. We examined the simplicity of the text as connected to the illustrations. We noted the level of readers who could join in reading the books. We read heartwarming and inspirational stories that were told through multiple perspectives. Diversity in multiple language within a country and a sense of pride within a culture were key factors we noticed.
Using the evaluative lens, we based our analysis on analyzing the content of the text and illustrations. We did an initial look at representation to note language, image, space, and objects across global books. Our community made connections with illustrations and authors’ perspectives. In terms of an instructional lens, we tried to move outside of a rigid curriculum as we thought about integrating these books into our classrooms. We made connections to powerful books from other projects and thought about how to intentionally use global books for instruction in the classroom.
Children’s Literature Cited
Engle, M. (2021). Light for all. (R. Colón, Illus.) Simon & Schuster.
Morales, A. (2021). Areli is a Dreamer: A true story by Areli Morales (A Daca Recipient). (L. Uribe, Illus.). Random House.
Redondo, S.G. (2020). The day Saida arrived. (S. Wimmer, Illus. & L. Schimel, Translator) Blue Dot Press.
Walker, T.E. (2020). Nana Akua goes to school. (A. Harrison, Illus.) Anne Schwartz Books.
Jeanne Gilliam Fain is a Professor of Education at Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Sarah Duncan is an Associate Professor of Education at Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tennessee.
Kathryn Hall is a second-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Alexandra Zuehlke is a fourth-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Denise Lancaster is a K-4 ELL Coach at J.E. Moss Elementary School
Molly Miller is a second-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Kahla Smith is a fourth-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Elizabeth Weisenfelder is a third-grade teacher at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Melissa Williams is the librarian at J.E. Moss Elementary School.
Authors retain copyright over the vignettes published in this journal and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under the following Creative Commons License:
WOW Stories, Volume X, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/stories/volume-x-issue-3-fall-2022/3/4.
WOW stories: connections from the classroom