Blogstitute 2017: Teaching globally to make a difference in the world

July 20th, 2017

 In our rapidly changing world, it’s important for students to be aware of their own cultural backgrounds, as well as those around them. In this post in our Summer Blogstitute series, Kathy Short explores what that means for teachers–how they can engage their students with global literature, how they can give their students opportunities to go beyond surface-level information about cultures. Kathy is the coeditor of Teaching Globally: Reading the World Through Literature.

Teaching Globally to Make a Difference in the World
Kathy G. Short

Kathy Short 2016Several times a day, I click on news headlines from around the world, dreading reports of bombings, kidnappings, diplomatic breakdowns, and deportations. These constant reminders of global instability and intolerance are discouraging and frightening. Sometimes it’s hard to retain hope in the future, given the current state of affairs. Yet teaching is all about hope and the possibility of changing the future by being present in children’s lives in significant ways. This desire for hope has challenged me to focus my work on how teaching can make a difference in children’s views of the world.

Teaching globally makes sense, given constant demonstrations of the consequences of close-mindedness toward those whose cultures differ from our own.  We can no longer close our classroom doors to the world because the world surrounds children on a daily basis through the interconnectedness of technology and global mobility. The world is no longer far away but integrated into every aspect of our everyday lives, affecting both our personal and professional well-being.

So what does that mean for us as teachers? I am part of a professional community, Worlds of Words, in which we are exploring curricular changes to open classrooms to the world.  We focus on engagements that invite children to develop intercultural understandings through interactions with global literature. Literature set in global cultures provides an opportunity for children to go beyond a tourist perspective—gaining only surface-level information about another culture. Literature expands children’s life spaces as they travel outside the boundaries of their lives to other places, times, and ways of living. They immerse themselves in story worlds and gain insights about how people in global communities live, feel, and think, developing empathy as well as knowledge.

Expanding our Classroom Libraries

A first step is to integrate more global books into our classrooms, but in order to do that we have to find the books. Although the number of books set in global cultures is increasing, they are still only a small portion of what is published for children. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 21 percent of the books published in 2016 featured a character of color. Although that amount is up from four years ago when the number was only 7 percent, it is problematic, given that 49 percent of the total population in U.S. schools is children of color and that the 21 percent are primarily multicultural books set in the United States rather than globally. Unless we search for those global books and bring them into our classrooms, the world in our books will remain white and American.

So, my challenge to you is to read global literature this summer and add new books to the old favorites you share every year. These resources can help you locate summer reading:

  • Award lists such as the Outstanding International Books from USBBY and Notable Books for a Global Society from the Children’s Literature and Reading SIG at ILA.
  • Book reviews in WOW Review on culturally authentic literature.

Be sure to note the cultural backgrounds of authors and illustrators to share when you read aloud or give a book talk. Children assume that books are authored by Americans as their default unless we tell them something about the author using information from the book jacket or located online.

Engaging Students with Global Literature

In addition to finding great new titles to add to your classroom, you also need engagements to invite students to thoughtfully interact with these books. Global books often focus on ways of living that seem far removed from children’s life experiences and contain unfamiliar stylistic features and names. One danger is that students will view this literature as “exotic” or “weird” and fail to connect in significant ways. The use of global literature can actually establish stereotypes and misunderstandings and lead to feelings of pity or superiority.

In Teaching Globally: Reading the World Through Literature, we provide multiple examples from classrooms of how teachers have engaged students and integrated global literature into their curriculum through four curricular components. These curricular components encourage students to develop conceptual understandings of culture, perspective, and action through a critical stance that supports the development of intercultural understanding.

Intercultural Framework

Intercultural framework

Understanding Our Own Cultural Identities

It’s hard to value or understand why culture matters in the lives of people around the world if we don’t first recognize that we have cultural identities shaping our thinking and actions.  Without that realization, we tend to see our culture as the “norm” and everyone else as “others” who are “different.”

Most of us start the school year with “Who am I?” activities for children to get to know more about each other. This year consider ways to go beyond favorites and interests to engage students in examining why these exist in their lives. One engagement we often use is cultural X-rays, an outline of a body shape with a large heart inside. Students label the outside of their bodies with visible aspects of their culture, such as language, age, ethnicity, gender, and religion, and the inside with the values and beliefs they hold in their hearts.

Other engagements include:

  • Collect artifacts significant to understanding who they are and set up museum displays.
  • Create neighborhood memory maps, drawing their neighborhood and labeling stories that are memories of events in this space and then reflecting on why these stories are important.
  • Mapping their life journeys using a range of formats to reflect changes over time.
  • Collect and share “remember when” stories often told at family reunions.

These engagements can be supported by sharing children’s books in which the characters reflect on their identities or tell stories from their lives, such as I Love Saturdays y domingos (Ada 2002).

Engaging in Cross-Cultural Studies

In-depth inquiry into a specific global culture can broaden students’ perspectives and help them realize that their own worldview is only one of many ways to live in the world.  A cross-cultural study needs to go beyond superficial aspects, such as the five Fs: food, fashion, folklore, festivals, and famous people. Students need opportunities to examine the complexity and diversity of a cultural community and the reasons why a particular food or tradition is significant. Without an in-depth study of a culture, students remain on the surface, never understanding that culture’s values and beliefs.

Consider whether you can change a unit in your curriculum to an in-depth inquiry into a particular cultural community that is unfamiliar to students or where you have access to resources.  Or you may be able to take an existing unit; for example, on the rainforest or water, and examine that topic within the context of a specific culture, like Brazil or Sudan. Gather fiction and nonfiction to support this inquiry and locate a novel, such as A Long Walk to Water, as a read-aloud.

Integrating Multiple Global Perspectives

Although an occasional cross-cultural study is important, literature reflecting a wide range of global perspectives should be woven into every classroom unit, no matter what the topic or curriculum area. Whether the classroom focus is family, conflict, the moon, or fractions, look for books that reflect a range of global perspectives. Otherwise, interculturalism becomes a special unit instead of an orientation that pervades the curriculum.

Pull out your curriculum maps and units for the coming year and search for several global books to add to each unit. Or select one or two units that have the most potential for globalizing their content and introducing global books, such as adding Families Around the World, A New Year’s Reunion, and Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji to a first-grade unit on family. Use the search feature for books on Worlds of Words (wowlit.org) or check the extensive annotated bibliographies in Reading the World’s Stories.

Inquiring into Global Issues

Difficult social, political, and environmental issues, such as human rights, pollution, hunger, poverty, refugees, and language loss, provide an opportunity for students to understand the local and global complexity of the world’s problems and to consider ways of taking action. These inquiries have the most potential to take students beyond talk into accepting responsibility as global citizens and taking action to create a better and more just world. Literature can play a critical role in helping students understand the root causes of these global issues so they can take action in more thoughtful ways. For example, reading Iqbal supports a deeper understanding of why families are forced into child labor that can be combined with nonfiction sources such as Stolen Dreams.

Go back to your curriculum map and units to see if there is a unit that has the potential to provide an in-depth study of a global issue that could lead children to action. Search for fiction and nonfiction global books that could help students understand the causes and act out of empathy rather than pity.

Taking a Critical Stance

Teaching globally should be framed within a critical reading of the world and the word.  Paulo Freire argues that we need to question “what is” and “who benefits” from things remaining the same as well as consider “what if” and new possibilities before moving to action. Students need to struggle with these ideas and issues, not just take a superficial tour of culture, picking up isolated pieces of information. It’s not enough for students to learn more about global cultures; they need to question power relationships and the status quo in order to make real change in how they think about and relate to people in their world, both locally and globally. A curriculum and literature that are truly intercultural offer both us and our students the possibility of transforming our lives and world.

 

Ada, A. F. 2002. I Love Saturdays y domingos. Illus. E. Savadier. New York: Simon & Schuster.

D’Adamo, F. 2003.  Iqbal.  New York: Atheneum.

Freire, P. 1970.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Goldsmith, A., T. Heras,and S. Corapi. 2016. Reading the World’s Stories: An Annotated Bibliography of International Youth Literature. New York: Rowan and Littlefield.

Li-Qiong, Y. 2013.  A New Year’s Reunion.  Illus. Z. Cheng-Liang.  Somerset, MA: Candlewick.

Park, L. S. 2011. A Long Walk to Water.  New York: Clarion.

Parker, D. 1997. Stolen Dreams: Portraits of Working Children. Minneapolis: Lerner.

Ruirs, M. 2017.  Families Around the World. Illus. J. Gordon. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Zia, F.  (2011).  Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji.  Illus. K. Min. New York: Lee and Low.

 

 

 

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tracy  |  July 20th, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    You make incredibly important points about making sure we are not presenting others’ as “exotic or weird” and the five Fs. When I taught 2nd grade I was hard-pressed to find resources that didn’t focus on food, festivals, holidays, clothing or famous people. I’ll be using the links you’ve provided for sure. Thanks for sharing!

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