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Why Multicultural Literature In The Classroom Matters

Sarah writes about the importance of cultivating a classroom community where all students feel like they belong, and how the use of multicultural literature is a step towards creating such a community. She shares several important reasons why you should incorporate multicultural literature in your classroom.

Girl near window and mirror

In recent years, there has been an emphasis to use multicultural literature in the classroom in order to reflect the diverse makeup of a modern classroom. However, these books after often included in holiday or “cultural day” units. As educators, it is our goal to help students make progress in all areas. We teach our students grammar rules and math facts while also providing them with opportunities to be critical thinkers.

"In order to teach effectively, we must gain our students’ trust by fostering a community in which they feel like they belong. The use of multicultural literature in the curriculum shows students that they are not alone in their world."

Multiculturalism is not limited to ethnicity but includes differences in socioeconomic status, age, gender, and disabilities.

Here are some important reasons to incorporate multicultural literature in the classroom:

Multicultural Literature is a Mirror

Students need to see themselves in literature because it provides them with a reflection of their own culture. Good multicultural literature does not play into stereotypes but shows an authentic representation of a group.

Children may find power and authenticity in their own identity when they can identify with book characters who are like them.

As a special education teacher, I make sure that my students see themselves throughout the curriculum. Each year, I read Patricia Polacco’s semi-autobiographical book Junkyard Wonders which is about her time in a self-contained classroom. The children in the book overcome various obstacles that my students also face.

The first year that I read the book, my students became engaged in a deep discussion about their experiences in special education. They felt comfortable enough to offer their own opinions and be themselves. They were also inspired to build a plane like the characters in the book!

When we use multicultural literature, we create a safe and supportive environment for our students.

Multicultural Literature is a Window

For some students, the only way to experience another culture is at school. It is through text that they gain insight on cultures that they are not a part of. Children have opportunities to engage in discussions with varying viewpoints. Not only do they get to express their thoughts, but they get to hear the perspectives of others who differ from them.

After I read the book Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, one of my students revealed that she was just like the main character in the book. They both had fathers who were construction workers and both of their families had to worry about money after a project was completed. The other students caught a glimpse at a culture that was not theirs and they were able to empathize with a member of their community.

Multicultural literature is one way create a safe environment for all students. In order to use multicultural literature properly, we must be aware of its importance. We need to examine our own beliefs and create new ones so that we do what is best for our students. Children need representation of their own culture and experiences with others to become well-rounded people.

A healthy classroom community is one in which everyone respects, understands, and embraces their differences.

Below are a few books that have excellent representation of various cultures:

  • Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
  • Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
  • Tru Confessions by Janet Tashjian
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Chrisopher Paul Curtis
  • Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley

Here are some additional resources on how to choose multicultural literature for your classroom: Multiculturalism and Diversity and How To Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books.

What are your favorite multicultural books? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Sarah Walker has taught special education for the past 7 years. She has also been a reading specialist, instructional leader, and an adjunct professor. Sarah enjoys supporting teachers in the classroom and finding new strategies to help students learn. You can follow her on instagram @teachtasticbysarahwalker and on Facebook.

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