Welcoming the world's children: building teachers' understanding of immigration through writing and children's literature.
It is difficult to be the one different from my sisters. Some boys at my old school made fun of me, calling me an "illegal alien." What is illegal about me? Only that I was born on the wrong side of the border? As for "alien," I asked the teacher's helper and she explained that an alien is a creature from outer space who does not even belong on this earth! So where am I supposed to go?
(Alvarez, 2009, p. 20)
In schools throughout the world, a Muslim child from Pakistan may sit next to a Latino child from Guatemala, and behind a Chinese child from Beijing. As immigrants, the world's children bring their languages and their cultural identities to their new schools, where they may experience cultural discontinuity. A key challenge for teachers is responding to the needs of these international students.
The United States and many other countries in the world are becoming increasingly diverse, culturally, ethnically, and linguistically. Based on census figures for 2010, the United States is composed of people from the following ethnic groups: 16.3% Hispanic or Latino (up from 15% in 2008), 12.6% African or African American, 4.8% Asian, .9% American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 72.4% white. In addition, 2.9% of the population reports that they are of two or more races (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).
North Carolina, where we conducted our research, has experienced a dramatic increase in ethnically diverse populations in recent years. "Between 1990 and 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the Asian population [in North Carolina] grew by over 125 percent and the Hispanic total surged by an astonishing 574 percent" (Stuart, 2006, p. 2). As of 2009, approximately 7.1% (670,647 people) of North Carolina's population (9,380,884 people) was born in another country (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011). Of the foreign-born population in North Carolina, 57.3% were from Latin America, 22.2% from Asia, 11.7% from Europe, 5.7% from Africa, 2.7% from other North American countries, and .5% from Australia or Pacific Islands (Migration Policy Institute, 2011). Within the public schools in North Carolina, the Hispanic/Latino population increased from .7% in 1989-90 to 10.7% in 2008-09, and the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased from .8% in 1989-90 to 2.5% in 2008-09 (State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, 2009).
In contrast, the North Carolina teacher population is not as ethnically diverse. This study focuses on teachers enrolled in the graduate level reading education program at Appalachian State University. They live and work primarily in a six-county region in western North Carolina. Only 1.8% of teachers in the region are African American, while 1.2% of teachers are of other ethnic backgrounds (the statistics are not broken down further). The remaining 97% are native-born Anglo Americans. Within that area of the state, .2% of students are American Indian, 3.9% of students are of Asian descent, 8.0% are of Hispanic/ Latino descent, 8.1% are African American, and 79.8% are Anglo American (State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, 2009). Additionally, significant numbers of children who have immigrated recently to North Carolina live in poverty, while the majority of teachers are middle class (Banks & Banks, 2010; Garcia & Cuellar, 2006; State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, 2009).
As the immigrant population of North Carolina increases, more and more teachers face the challenge of teaching children from multiple cultural backgrounds. National forecasts indicate that this trend will continue. It is projected that by 2040, one in three children entering a classroom in the United States will be an immigrant or the child of an immigrant (Suarez-Orozco, Qin, & Amthor, 2008).
A number of research studies indicate that many preservice and practicing teachers in the United States lack a comprehensive understanding of their own and other cultures, as well as of the predominant Anglo American culture of U.S. schools. Baker and McDermott (2000) note, "For the most part, white middle class teachers do not recognize how their world views contrast with those of people from different ethnicities and cultural experiences" (p. 16). Additionally, these studies indicate that a high percentage of white preservice teachers have minimal cross-cultural exposure. They often enter their teacher education programs with stereotypic beliefs about immigrants and are unaware that these beliefs may result in bias and discrimination when they enter the classroom as practicing teachers (Barnes, 2006; Clayton, 2003; Escamilla & Nathenson-Mejia, 2003; Gay, 2002; Sleeter, 2001; Swartz, 2003; Villegas & Lucas, 2002).
As a result, many teachers do not fully understand the needs of children who have recently immigrated. They may be unaware that it is necessary to understand the relationship between pedagogical approaches and culture in order to teach effectively. In addition, teachers are affected by the changing demographics in their classrooms.
Teachers' worlds are being remade by the encounters with students with whom they do not share a culture, language or national background. The specifics of their work have changed, their efficacy and ability to have an impact have been altered, their basic assumptions shaken about teaching and learning, and they too face a racially and linguistically altered community. (Olsen, 1997, p. 16)
Thus, teachers face multiple challenges in teaching children who have recently immigrated. Some welcome this new diversity and strive to make schooling effective for all students. They seek to adapt the curriculum and instructional approaches as needed. However, others are frustrated and struggle to find teaching approaches that will meet the needs of students from other countries.
James Banks, one of the leading proponents of multicultural education, states, "Teacher education programs should help teachers attain the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to work effectively with students from diverse groups as well as help students from mainstream groups develop cross-cultural knowledge, values, and competencies" (Banks & Banks, 2010, p. vi). The inclusion of English language learners in regular classrooms and implementation of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 give impetus to promoting multicultural education for teachers (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008; Trent, Kea, & Oh, 2008).
How multicultural education should be taught in schools and colleges of education is a matter of debate in scholarly literature. Some teacher educators believe that multicultural education should be taught in separate courses, while others maintain that multicultural topics should be included in every course and field placement within teacher preparation programs (Garcia, Arias, Harris-Murri, & Serna, 2010; Gay, 2002; Irvine, 1997; Ladson-Billings, 1999). As a result, many classroom strategies have been used in schools of education in efforts to broaden teachers' attitudes toward cultural diversity.
Some teacher educators have found that reading and discussing multicultural children's and adolescent literature is an effective strategy to help students understand cultural diversity, develop empathy for newly immigrated students, and understand the life-changing effects of living in a new country (Jetton & Savage-Davis, 2005; Nathenson-Mejia & Escamilla, 2003). Other educators conclude that reading and reflecting upon realistic children's and adolescent literature help teachers understand their own cultures (Norton & Norton, 2010). Educators also observe that by reading contemporary multicultural literature and becoming involved with book characters, students have the opportunity to learn vicariously about many cultures, countries, and immigrant experiences. Reading this literature also may prompt readers to examine stereotypes and explore their own feelings, beliefs, and personal experiences in relation to their new knowledge. This process is enhanced when students engage in guided book discussions with peers and instructors (Howrey & Whelan-Kim, 2009; Jans-Thomas, 2009; Smith et al., 2001).
Reading and studying multicultural literature has the added benefit of introducing teachers to books they can use to teach their own students in the classroom (Ada, 2003; Brindley & Laframboise, 2002; Harris, 1997; Nathenson-Mejia & Escamilla, 2003). While it is vital that teachers understand the experiences of students who have immigrated, it is also important for classmates of these students to develop cross-cultural awareness.
As a teacher educator (Connie) and an Instructional Materials Center Librarian (Margaret), we asked ourselves what we could do to assist graduate students enrolled in an advanced children's literature course to work effectively with their elementary school students who had immigrated to North Carolina (our home state). All of the graduate students in our class were practicing teachers. We decided on a two-pronged approach. First, it was logical to require graduate students in a children's literature course to read fiction and nonfiction children's books about the immigrant experience. Dana and Lynch-Brown (1993) indicate that multicultural children's literature allows the reader to experience different cultural settings, develop understanding of and appreciation for cultural diversity, and gain insight into the emotions and thoughts of children. Second, we believed that if teachers researched and wrote an immigration story, it would help them understand the changes their students were experiencing as they adjusted to school and daily life in a new environment. We asked teachers to write a children's story about immigration, choosing one of three alternatives: research immigration experiences, based on that of one of their ancestors; interview a friend, colleague, or student and write that person's immigration story; or create an imaginary immigration story, based on research.
Profile of Teachers in Graduate Course
The students discussed in this article were public school teachers working toward a graduate degree in Reading Education. The first class, taught on the main campus of Appalachian State University during the summer of 2009, consisted of nine students: six elementary teachers, one middle school teacher, one special education teacher, and one high school teacher. All taught in the western mountain region of North Carolina. The second class, taught in spring 2010, consisted of 22 students: 20 elementary teachers, one middle school teacher, and one high school teacher. This class was taught at an extension site in a small city in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. The teachers in these two classes were representative of the teacher demographics discussed above. There was one Hispanic teacher, one African American teacher, and one teacher from England. The other teachers were of Anglo American heritage.
Selected Children's Books on Immigration
The Immigrant Experience
Bial, R. (2009). Ellis Island: Coming to the land of liberty. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Fleischman, E (1997). Seedfolks. New York, NY: Joanna Coder Books.
Herold, M. (1995). A very important day. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books.
Hobbler, D., & Hobbler, T. (2003). We are Americans: Voices of the immigrant experience. New York, NY: Scholastic Nonfiction.
Pomeranc, M. (1998). The American Wei. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman and Company.
Tan, S. (2006). The arrival New York, N-Y.. Arthur A. Levine Books.
Applegate, K. (2009). Home of the brave. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Ashabranner, B. (1999). The new African Americans. New Haven, CT: Linnet Books.
Draper, S. M. (2006). Copper sun. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Feelings, T. (1995). The middle passage. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Grant, R. (2002). The African-American slave trade. New York, NY: Barton's.
Hoffman, M. (2002). The color of home. New York, NY: Phyllis Fogelman Books.
Kurtz, J. (2005). In the small, small night. New York, NY: Greenwillow.
McKissack, P, & McKissack E (2004). Hard labor: The first African Americans, 1619. New York, NY: Aladdin.
Thomas, V. (1997). Lest we forget. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.
Williams, K. L., 86 Mohammed, K. (2009). My name is Sangoel. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Williams, M. (2005). Brothers in hope. New York, NY: Lee & Low.
Brown, J. (2004). Little Cricket. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.
Currier, K. (2005). Kai's journey to Gold Mountain: An Angel Island story. Tiburon, CA: Angel Island Association.
Ho, M. (2003). The stone goddess. New York, NY: Orchard Books.
Lee, M. (2006). Landed. New York, NY: Frances Foster Books.
Lord, B. (1984). In the year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. New York, NY: Harbor Trophy.
Na, A. (2001). A step from heaven. Asheville, NC: Front Street.
Recorvits, H. (2003). My name is Yoon. New York, NY: Frances Foster.
Say, A. (1993). Grandfather's journey. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Shea, P. (2003). Tangled threads. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Yep, L., & Yep, K. (2008). The dragon's child: A story of Angel Island. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Avi. (2003). Silent movie. New York, NY." Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Blumberg, M. (2003). Avram's gift. Bethesda, MD: MB Publishing.
Cech, J. (1991). My grandmother's journey. New York, NY: Bradbury Press.
Gift, P. R. (2000). ivory Ryan's song. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.
Hazen, B. (2002). Katie's wish. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Hesse, K. (2008). Brooklyn Bridge. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.
Hesse, K. (1992). Letters from Rifka. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
Hest, A. (1997). When Jessie came across the sea. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
McGill, A. (1999). Molly Bannaky. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Meltzer, M. (2002). Bound for America: The story of the European immigrants. New York, NY: Benchmark Books.
Nobisso, J. (2002). In English, of course. New York, NY: Gingerbread House.
Oberman, S. (1994). The always prayer shawl. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Paterson, K. (2009). The day of the pelican. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Polacco, P (1988). The keeping quilt. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Woodruff, E. (1999). The memory coat. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Alvarez, J. (2009). Return to sender. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Argueta, A. (2003). Xochitl and the flowers. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press.
Bunting, E. (1996). Going home. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Calhoun, M. (1996). Tonio's cat. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books.
Flores-Galbis, E. (2010). 9a miles to Havana. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Garza, C. (1996). In my family. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press.
Jaramillo, A. (2006). La Linea. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Jimenez, E (1998). The circuit: Stories from the life of a migrant child. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
Jimenez, E (2001). Breaking through. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Johnson, T. (2001). Uncle Rain Cloud. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing.
Pellegrino, M. (2009). Journey of dreams. London, England: Frances Lincoln Children's Books.
Perez, A. (2002). My diary from here to there. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press.
Ryan, P. (2004). Becoming Naomi Leon. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Ziefert, H. (2003). Home for Navidad. New York, NY: Walter Lorraine Books.
Middle Eastern Immigration
Bunting, E. (2006). Onegreen apple. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Figueredo, D. (1999). When this world was new. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books.
Rosenberg, L. (1999). The silence in the mountains. New York, NY: Orchard Books.
Schanzer, R. (2000). Escaping to America: A true story. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Senzai, N. (2010). Shooting Kabul. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Wolf, B. (2003). Coming to America: A Muslim family's story. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books.
Children's Literature on Immigration
Our first purpose for reading children's literature about immigration was to increase teachers' understanding of the immigrant experiences and the issues these children encounter in public schools. Our second purpose was to heighten teachers' awareness of children's literature about historical and contemporary immigration. Class readings were selected based on the following criteria: accurate reflection of the immigrant experience; a strong, authentic story line; well-written language; and quality illustrations that supported the story (Harris, 1997; Huck et al., 2003).
Figure 2 Regional Immigration Books Asia Yep, L., & Yep, K. (2008). The dragon's child: A story of Angel Island. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Laurence Yep and his niece Kathleen S. Yep tell the family immigration story of 10-year-old Gim Lew Yep's arrival at Angel Island with his father in the early part of the 20th century. Shea, p. (2003). Tangled threads. New York: Clarion Books. Mia and her family left Vietnam and spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the United States. The story provides insights into the Hmong culture through the eyes of a young teen experiencing electricity, plentiful water, and American shopping for the first time. Eastern Europe Hesse, K. (1992). Letters from Rifka. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. A young girl chronicles her escape from Russia and immigration to the United States through a series of letters. The authorities separate Rifka from her family and detain her, first in Belgium and later at Ellis Island. Paterson, K. (2009). The clay of the pelican. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Paterson tells the contemporary story of a family from Kosovo escaping Serbian military, moving through a series of refugee camps, and finally ending up in Vermont, where they are sponsored by a church. Africa Draper, S. (2006). Copper sun. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Amari's life changes the day white men enter her African village, killing her family, and marching her in chains to a slave ship. This book provides an honest, in-depth look at the horrors of the slave trade and the dangers for escaping slaves. Applegate, K. (2009). Home of the brave. New York, NY: Square Fish. Applegate writes this powerful story of Kek, a Sudanese refugee boy, as a series of narrative poems. Joining his aunt and cousin in Minnesota, Kek experiences snow, American grocery stores, and a washing machine for the first time. Central/South America Pellegrino, M. (2009). Journey of dreams. London, England: Frances Lincoln Children's Books. Set in Guatemala during the political uprising of 1984, this story follows one family's escape from the military regime. They are separated during their journey, but eventually find sanctuary in the United States. Jaramillo, A. (2006). La Linea. New York, NY: Roaring Book Press. Written by a middle school teacher in California, La Linea is a story drawn from the experiences of many of her young students who crossed the border between Mexico and the United States to join their parents. Miguel and his sister Elena encounter many dangers and hardships, as well as the kindness of a few strangers, along the way.
For the first assignment, each teacher read three children's books on immigration from a list of 62 fiction, nonfiction, and picture books compiled by the authors (see Figure 1). Students critiqued the books and shared their learning in an online discussion forum established for class discussions.
By reading this literature, the teachers learned about the factors that cause people to emigrate, the adjustments that immigrants must make to a new culture, and the cultural differences among immigrant groups living in the United States. In response to reading these books, one teacher, Lauren, wrote:
[Reading these books] helped change my perspective on the way I view immigrants in regards to some of the struggles they encounter. Many people [who] live in the United States would not do what the immigrants do for work, and to survive. The books we read made me realize that they are here and working hard, and not necessarily living the American dream.
The stories reminded another teacher of an incident that happened several years earlier:
I was a Title I teacher for many years in an elementary school. We received many newly immigrated Hispanic students into our school. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for those children to come into a school where they cannot communicate with others and cannot understand even basic English. I think of one memorable moment that really bothered me. A male Hispanic child was being verbally disciplined by a female teacher. She was getting angry with him as she talked because he would not look at her. She continued to yell at him to look at her. He began crying and ended up in the office in trouble.
These comments encouraged the teachers in the class to share other experiences about working with immigrant children and their families. It appeared that our teachers were becoming more sensitive to the immigrant experience.
For the next reading assignment, we divided the class into four groups. Each group read one historical and one contemporary immigration story from the same region of the world (see Figure 2). The teachers discussed each set of books within their groups and presented a short skit or dramatic reading from the book they read. We discussed these stories in relation to the implications for working with children from immigrant families today. The discussion expanded to include the significance these stories held for understanding our own ancestors' emigration.
When asked which books had the most influence on her thinking, Elyse, a teacher whose grandparents had emigrated from Mexico, wrote:
Reading La Linea as a part of our class assignments had the greatest impact on me, as I was learning about my family's story at the same time. Reading what those young teens went through on their quest to make it to the States was amazing. I had never heard a story like that so vividly portrayed, and it really made me consider what my own family experienced.
Writing an Immigration Story for Children
As a culminating assignment, we required the teachers to write an immigration story, choosing from among the three options described above. We encouraged teachers to use the children's literature they had read as mentor texts, conduct research from print and online sources, and draw on primary sources, such as interviews with family members. Most teachers chose to write a personal or family immigration story. Teachers located information about why someone might have left their country of origin and relocated to the United States during a certain period of history.
The evening we introduced the project to the class, Margaret, the Instructional Materials Center Librarian, presented genealogical research tools available through the university's databases and public websites (see Figure 3). We also discussed oral history research and the use of children's literature as mentor texts in story writing. We emphasized the importance of historical research to help students understand the reasons for immigration and the difficulties that immigrants faced after reaching the United States.
After we introduced the databases and genealogy websites, the teachers quickly became involved in their research. Some teachers used their break time to call a parent or grandparent to confirm names and dates they wanted to investigate. Several teachers, who had strong family documentation, such as books written by relatives or detailed oral histories, were able to write stories based on verifiable information. Most of the teachers, however, lacked background knowledge of their ancestors' immigration experiences. In those cases, they chose the approach used by Patricia Reilly Gift in Nory Ryan's Song (2000), Karen Hesse in Letters From Rifka (1992), and many other writers. They began with a kernel of a true story and created historical fiction about a person immigrating to America. Gina wrote:
The thought of researching my family history had never been of interest to me. When I started this project, I called two of my aunts who had done some research. In talking with them, I learned that they had traced our ancestors back to a certain point and were unable to find any more information. I gathered names and started inserting information into the ancestry database. I was able to trace back relatives to the early 1800s. I called my aunt again, and she helped me connect the pieces.
Shannon based her story on an anecdote she had heard from her grandmother. She was able to confirm the name and dates of her great-grandmother's voyage from a ship's manifest.
In late October, just as the weather was turning cold, we boarded a ship called the Cassel to Galveston, Texas. The voyage was long, Maggie cried a lot when the boat rocked. I was terrified at what would be on the other side of our voyage. I had heard good stories about America, but I knew nothing about it. And what about this man I was to marry? I rocked Maggie to sleep at night in our small, cramped cabin. Then I lay awake imagining what America would be like. I cried many tears for the life I had left in my dear Germany, my mother, sisters and my dear Wilhelm. I had not even told my mother goodbye.
One teacher, a Lumbee Indian, had a unique story to tell, based on her grandmother's recollections:
"Well, Tracy Jane" she said to me. "My daddy told me that we are not really Lumbee Indians at all. Some have wondered over the years how that a typical American Native could have long straight black hair, high set cheekbones and thin lips. Then all of a sudden these groups of people in Eastern North Carolina were saying that they are Native Americans and some of them have traits of African people. Honey, let me tell ya'll something. The American Indians are no more a pure race of people now than anyone else."
Some teachers chose to invent a story based on research and the style of the children's literature they read. In the afterword of her immigration story, Julie wrote:
I took interest in the stories of Irish immigrants after our literature circle activity in class. Of the three different stories we heard, the story of the Irish was the one I had never really been exposed to, and the stories we heard in class piqued my interest. I decided to use this as an opportunity to find out more about these stories.
Angela created a journal to tell a fictionalized story:
September 20, 1741
It was on this day that America did not seem to hold the hope and promise that I so desired. Last night we began to feel the wrath of those furious clouds. Rain pelted down, winds moaned as if warning us to turn back. Our ship Europa stood strong. The furies of the winds and rains lasted for two days, testing Europa's courage and mine. Luckily she brought us through safely.
Two teachers wrote about friends who had emigrated from Mexico. Taking the perspective of her friend, one student wrote:
While growing up, I would see people come back from America with money and nice cars, so I decided I wanted to one day get away from Mexico and live in America. I knew it was hard to get to America without help, so I was determined to find a safe way to get there.
Some teachers expressed enthusiasm for the way the project helped them understand their own family's immigrant experience. One teacher summarized the meaning the project held for her:
Writing this story is one of the best things I have ever done in my own life, and not because it was a class assignment. I felt like it totally changed the way I viewed my family. I learned some things that are not necessarily pleasant, but also found a new respect for my grandparents and the life they lived. It was because of their willingness to be brave and to go to a new place that I feel like I am where I am today.
Another teacher wrote from a child's perspective of listening to her grandmother tell their family immigration story:
My Nana taught me who my ancestors were. She taught me why my ancestors immigrated to America before it was America. She taught me how my ancestors read their Bibles and thought for themselves. She taught me how hardworking they were, how skilled they were, and how they wanted to learn. They were brave. They were especially stubborn about one thing: they wanted to be free!
Our goal for this project was to help teachers learn about the immigrant experience so that they might effectively teach students who have immigrated to the United States. This project helped both the teachers and us to understand the impact that reading children's literature and writing a children's story about immigration can have on teachers' knowledge and dispositions. We found that a number of teachers developed a clearer understanding regarding the stages of immigration and the obstacles encountered when children move into a new culture. Amy's reflection, below, exemplifies the increased sensitivity toward children who are recently immigrated:
After reading The Circuit (Jimenez, 1997), in particular, I became much more aware of how the actions of the teacher affect the student. I try to be more patient and understanding with my immigrant students. I try to imagine how they feel and how lonely they must be. I also am more tolerant of my immigrant parents, realizing that they have risked much to have the life and freedoms that I have.
Figure 3 Immigration Project Research Resources www.ancestry.com provides access to census data and voter lists; immigration and emigration records; birth, marriage, and death records; military records; and newspapers, periodicals, and links to other genealogy databases. www.familysearch.org provides access to birth, death, census, and church records; and links to other websites that include African American, Jewish, and Hispanic genealogical resources. www.ellisisland.org provides information on individuals who entered the United States between 1913 and 1924. www.cyndislist.com is a web-based bibliography of resources for genealogical research. This resource is a good starting point for research on Native American, African American, and Asian ancestors. http://accessgenealogy.com lists genealogical resources by state. It also contains many links to Native American genealogy resources.
Teacher education programs must continue finding ways to expand teachers' knowledge of world cultures. Researchers have demonstrated the power of multicultural children's literature to facilitate teachers' understanding of their students' backgrounds (Dana & Lynch-Brown, 1993; Jans-Thomas, 2009; Jetton & Savage-Davis, 2005; Margerison, 1995; Nathenson-Mejia & Escamilla, 2003). Freeman and Lehman remind us that reading multicultural children's literature is a way to learn about other cultures, "... to bring people together, to travel the globe, to bridge our differences, and to rejoice in our common joys and triumphs" (Freeman & Lehman, 2001, p. vii). In Connie's class, reading immigration stories helped teachers live in the stories that they read, and project what they read onto the experiences of the children in their classrooms. Moreover, it gave them the opportunity to reflect upon their personal beliefs and feelings about immigration in relation to this literature.
We expanded the multicultural literature model to a focus on literature specifically about immigration. Through story writing, we attempted to sensitize teachers to the needs of immigrant children and families by personalizing the immigrant experience. For this project, some teachers chose to write a family immigration story, others wrote a friend's immigration story, and still others invented a story based on research and imagination. All teachers conducted research about the reasons their characters might have left their home countries during a particular time in history. This helped them understand the effect of immigration and the challenges of moving to a new country and school culture. The teachers learned that even though the time of immigration and country of origin may be different, the difficulties and challenges families face are similar. This personalization of the immigrant experience helped the teachers gain greater compassion for children and families who have immigrated recently.
We will continue this project with future graduate children's literature students in western North Carolina. Additionally, it would be beneficial for teacher educators from around the United States and in other countries to replicate this project to determine if it is as effective in other geographic areas. Our hope is that the approaches described in this article will expand the understanding of the immigration experience for many teachers.
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Children's Literature Cited
Alvarez, J. (2009). Return to sender. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Gift, P. R. (2000). Nory Ryan's song. New York, NY: Delacorte.
Hesse, K. (1992). Letters from Rifka. New York, NY: Holt.
Jimenez, F. (1997). The circuit: Stories from the life of a migrant child. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
by Margaret N: Gregor and Connie Green
Margaret N. Gregor is Instructional Materials Center Coordinator and Assistant Professor, Belk Library and Information Commons.
Connie Green is Professor, Reading Education and Special Education, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina
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|Author:||Gregor, Margaret N.; Green, Connie|
|Date:||Aug 15, 2011|
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