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The importance of Multicultural Literature by Kamaria Webber, Year 1 Teacher at Woodhill Primary School
The Inspire Partnership has the benefit of autonomy when crafting our curriculum and can therefore select culturally relevant content that educates our children to think more critically and ethically. Our classrooms are home to a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and religions, which as educators we can draw on to enhance a global understanding amongst our children.
"Including literature in the curriculum that explores diversity, enriches children’s experiences in the classroom and provides opportunities for rich conversation"
- (Yenika-Agbaw 2013)
As part of my MA research study, I had the privilege of joining a panel discussion, focussing on the benefits of multicultural literature for primary learners. Being a literature enthusiast, I was very keen to participate in discussions around how best to increase the selection and use of diverse and global texts in the classroom, to create a more equitable learning environment.
Teachers play an important role in ensuring they create a culturally responsive classroom that is inclusive of all cultures. We are able to develop strong relationships with children, and show an interest in cultural differences to facilitate an inclusive learning environment.
“Using picture books that show characters from all backgrounds, helps our children at Woodhill relate to the stories we read together.”
Sarah Huxley - Lead practitioner, Phonics & Early reading, Woodhill
Multicultural literature can be used to promote awareness, acceptance and respect for human differences and convey ideas of citizenship. Within our partnership, we have the privilege of creating learning journey’s centred around a core text approach. This provides the opportunity to use literature as a tool to encourage children to think critically about world issues and to celebrate diversity.
What can we do as Teachers?
- Engage the next generation of readers and writers through connecting them with books that accurately reflect our society
- Support children and families to read books from an inclusive range of creators to educate our wider communities
- Discuss themes and topics within multicultural texts to deepen our substantial knowledge and avoid tokenism
Dyches (2017) conducted a study on the teaching of multicultural literature to urban students and found that the literature classroom acted as a powerful space in which to disrupt bias and prejudice because the teacher was not afraid to adapt teaching to present counter stories to the curriculum and create multicultural discussion.
The “mirrors and windows analogy” is a great way of emphasising how multicultural books provide children of ethnic minority groups the opportunity to see their own experiences in books (mirrors). It also offers children from predominant groups the opportunity to learn about unfamiliar experiences and cultures through books (windows).
Representation of all cultures within children’s books emphasises the point that reading is not just a tool to build literacy, but an important way for children to understand their place in the world. The children we teach may not always have the opportunity to meet people from countries, cultures or religions different to their own, so books offer an introduction to these new and/or different worlds. I have found that through the use of Oracy time within our reading sessions, we are able to have open discussions where any stereotypes, prejudices and potential misconceptions can be safely unpicked and overcome to prevent stories becoming oversimplified or overgeneralised. Representation matters because it allows all voices to be present within children’s books, and creates a collective, inclusive voice that makes us more powerful as a community.
"During our topic of the Civil Rights Movement, I have found the use of multicultural literature beneficial when explaining to children the ideas behind Black Lives matters and similar events throughout history. My Year 6 class have been able to engage in open discussions and create a safe space where we can openly share our ideas and opinions.”
- Zain Farooq, Year 6 Class Teacher, Woodhill
At Inspire, we strive to enable pupils to think critically about world issues and to develop an awareness of the impact their actions can have on others. This encourages students to connect their lives to current contexts, understanding how they fit into the world and how they can develop their own character skills to make meaningful contributions to society. Multicultural literature provides the foundation for young learners in an ever-changing world, to learn how to become global citizens.
More than ever we need to focus on breaking down any barriers to listening and learning. It is paramount that educators are creating communities that ensure all children are represented, heard, and valued, to maintain openness within our Primary School communities.
“Through literature, children are able to build ideas and opinions about their cultures and roles within society. Multicultural literature is a powerful medium that can provide students with the opportunity to discover connections or disconnections with people whose experiences, culture, social and economic situations, and heritages that differ from their own. For many children this may only be feasible through multicultural literature that is obtainable from the school library or classroom
- (Robinson 2013).”