Children's Literature: culturally responsive teaching

This weblog is a project for Education 642, Children's written and oral genres, a course for elementary education students at UNBC (Prince George, BC). Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for students to experience how literature "opens up worlds"-- the social, emotional, imaginative, spritual, the cultural and the aesthetic.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hi everyone, I am going to try and put a URL in this post that will, I hope, hook up to a traditional African American song called "Follow the drinking gourd".

Its a song that was mentioned on a teacher web page that discussed ways of using the book "Night John" with students. As you know, the central premise of the story is that all slaves are forbidden to learn to read; one of the reasons is of course, that they could use this skill to help themselves escape.

The song "follow the drinking gourd" illustrates how knowledge was passed in other ways; according to the website I visited, the song contains directions on how to head north, following along particular landmarks at particular times of year.

In case you want to visit the website, I'll insert the web link here: link

And here is the weblink where you can listen to the tune of the song:

I hope they work! (I'm crossing my fingers!!)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good morning class!

OK, now that I have your attention....

I got an interesting email from Heather Empey in the UNBC Education library. We were talking on the phone yesterday about issues related to reading and children's literature and got to talking about the differences between boys and girls reading preferences (something Curt also mentioned on his blog, Thanks Curt!)

She knew of some interesting web sites, so I am reproducing her email here to you might want to try out a few and let us know what you find.

The Guys Read site is created by Jon Scieszka (well known for boy inspired children’s literature J) It is at Another site to check out for children’s literature is which allows you to search children’s lit by theme, etc. Also of interest might be the Lexile Framework for reading ( ). Lexiles are a measurement of the difficulty level of a book that you can use to match to the grade or reading level of the student. I use it all the time to pick books for gifts for my nieces and nephew. You can search by lexile or by book.

You might also want to check out some of the many links off the ERC site.
- Go to the Library home page (
- Click on Education Resources Centre in the center box
- Click on Subject Specific sites or may Literacy Links

Also, I have attached a list of some books that might be of interest to you. If you would like, you can sign these out and bring them to your class for the students to see.

Talk to you later.

By the way, I took the list that heather attached and am circulating it to you all via email later this morning. Cathy

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

OK, first, for you fellow humorists/politicos, Rick Mercer's blog is now linked to the mainpage of this blog.

Secondly, I still have not got my audio blog to post... I think I am going to have to re-set my password and try again. Anyone out there with any ideas on what the problem could be? The system says I have successfully recorded the post, but it doesn't appear anywhere on the page so that you can see/access it. I don't see a "help" page anywhere, so any advice you might offer would be appreciated.

Thirdly, I thought it might be useful for me to reflect for a moment on some of what I've been thinking about since our last class and its focus on social justice in children's literature. And I'd also like you to feel free to comment on this posting by responding to some of my questions or musings on the topic.

One thing I am never sure about is how much of what I espouse as central to good teaching practice is already well canvassed by other teachers in our program. For example, the social justice question: for me, the role of social advocate and acting as an educator for social change is a central function of teaching. The obligation to represent the many expereinces and identities of the children we teach in order to have a fully inclusive classroom has been part of my own pedagogical beliefs for some time. As some of you know, my own research is centered in issues related to social justice, activism and student learning. But, if it is a topic already dealt with in a substantial way by another instructor, then I don't want to duplicate that effort, but simply add to your base knowledge by considering how children's literature and story telling might be tools for enacting this curriculum in your classroom. So anything you could offer in the way of advice about this point would be very useful to me.

One of the writers that has impressed me in thinking about social justice issues and our orientation to them as teachers is a person called Dei. He wrote in his 1996 book "As a society we can address questions of social justice, equity, and power sharing by first understnading ourselves and how we see our social obligations and responsibilities". For me, this means doing a lot of self reflective thinking, asking critical questions, and looking within my self to identify my own assumptions about race, ethnicity, gender, ability/ disability or other forms of "difference". And as teachers, we are one of the primary tools used by society to ensure such equity is achieved.

As teachers, however, we have the additional responsiblity for knowing how our own belief systems influence our teaching choices and how this reinforces particular understandings; or if it fails to adequately consider how our own priveleges as white, middle class Canadians are continuously represented in the curriculum (hidden and overt). As we began the dialogue in class yesterday about what equity means and how it might relate to our pedagogy and decisions as teachers, I felt the beginnings of a very powerful conversation that I hope you will continue to reflect on and consider as you prepare for your own teaching career. This is an ongoing process, not one that happens all at once. It often means asking hard questions of ourselves, and trying to see through the eyes of others how our words and actions are interpreted. It means being open to considering how issues of power, privilege, domination and tradition act as barriers to the full inclusion of "others". Gary Howard (1999) says it well: "We cannot hlep our students overcome the negative repercussions of past and present racial dominance if we have not unraveled the remnents of dominance that still lingers in our minds, hearts, and habits... We can't teach what we don't know, and we can't lead where we won't go... The function of education is to inculcate into the minds and hearts of each generation those fundamental values and principles that defind our unique character as a nation. The transforming function of education, on the other hand, is to critically interpret those founding values in light of ever changing social realities and to continually challenge the discrepencies between our stated beliefs and our national behaviour" (p. 4-5).

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

OK, so something has gone wrong with my audio post. I am going to try it again tonight, and see if something shows up on my blog later tonight. Keep watching!

Also, some of you may know I am a bit of a political animal: and so I am posting a wonderful picture from Rick Mercer's blog that is a wonderful commentary on the current federal election... I highly recommend Mercer's blog if you like satire. Its a lot of fun!


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

And now for something completely different... I am going to prepare an audio blog and post it for you to try out. I was quite intriqued with the possiblities that this technology offers: for example, you can use this feature as a way of keeping your blog up to date even when you are unable to access your computer. It relies on that "old fashioned" technology, the phone!

My purpose is to engage you in the "orality" of our course: as you know it is referred to as "oral and written genres". As we discussed briefly in class, we tend to confine our beliefs about literacy to reading and writing standard texts, and give less emphasis to the practices of orality. Of course, oral communication is central to our day to day lives, but it tends to have less of a formal emphasis in most classrooms: in fact, it is an assumed skill that students are expected to have. It is the interpretation function of orality that might be of most signficance to us as teachers: remember in the article, "The three robbers" how the verbal clues were central to the teacher becoming much more conscious of the cutlural and social interpretations of the children in her class? Attending to oral conventions then, could be a very important way of understanding some children's experiences, and then using this knoweldge to adapt our instruction for enhanced learning.

For this first post however, I'm going to read some poetry to you. You might want to consdier how my reading tone, phrasing or other features of this oral reading affect you as a listener. How does listening to poetry differ from listening to a fictional narrative? Do you use different skills? Do you bring a particular "mind set" about poetry to the listening that effects how you respond? Does poetry evoke the same feelings for you as other genres of literature?

I'm not sure exactly where on my blog this link will show up, so you may have to look around a bit to find it. As noted earlier, this is a bit of a technological experiment, so I expect I'll get better over time. If anyone else wants to experiment with oral posts, please feel free. I'd be really itnerested to see what creative uses you can make out of this feature of


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What stories or experiences with literature have inspired you? What stories did you fall in love with as a child? Perhaps you remember oral stories told to you by a parent, family member, friend or teacher. Most of us have powerful memories linked to stories: sometimes because they helped us to explore an imaginative world, sometimes because they remind us of special people or special times in our lives, sometimes because we connected in a very personal way to what we have read.

I am hoping that you will take a moment to reflect on some of your powerful memories about children's literature as a part of your first blog entry. Choose a story and a story telling experience, and then share with us what made this a memorable event. Was it the language of the story? The theme? A memorable character and/or situation that you connected with? The illustrations? A deep emotional or personal connection? A favourite author? What was happening in your life at that time that made it particularly poignant or meaningful? Did hearing/ reading a story motivate you to try other stories or authors? In reflecting on this previous experience as a teacher candidate, why do you think unpacking the social and cultural contexts might be important to our thinking as teachers? How might it connect with our goals of encouraging and promoting literacy?

I have two very strong memories linked to story telling. The oldest is remembering how my mother would tell stories to me when she tucked me into my bed at night. The stories came from the quilt on my bed: each piece of fabric had a story about my family. I would pick a different fabric piece each night and ask my mother to tell me about it; she would begin by saying where the fabric had come from, and then tell me something about the person or what it represented. I don't remember the specfics of each story: sometimes it would be about a dress my mother had worn when she was younger, or a story about me, when I had been much younger, prompted by a piece of red flannelette or ginham. My most powerful memory is of the warm and satisfying experience of being under a cozy blanket while my mother told stories exclusively to me. In a family of five children, having time with my mother made me feel very special.

The first novel I remember (and have re-read over and over) is called James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. The fantastic characters were so much fun, but perhaps more important was the courage of a small boy faced with what seemed to be an overwhelmingly hurtful life without love. I remember reading in the small attic space that had been converted into a bedroom for me, so engrossed in reading subsequent chapters that I read with a flashlight under the covers rather than go to sleep. I made remarkable pictures in my head of the creatures: the centipede in particular-- aided by the voices I created as I read... the tone, tenor and speaking patterns that helped define the nature of each character. To this day, I have not gone to the now popular movie because I don't want to give up the images and feelings I have about these long favourite story characters. I've read all of Roald Dahl's books: reading James and the Giant Peach got me started on an author that kept me entertained and engaged for many, many years. When I began teaching, James and the Giant Peach was the first story I chose to read outloud to my students: and I believe my love and passion for the story was conveyed to my students too. On more than one occasion I can recall being "talked into" reading more chapters... one day we spent an entire afternoon reading from the novel without realizing it until the final bell rang!

Here's a memorable part of the story, right near the beginning that really caught me and engaged me from the very start:

James: What are they?
Old Man: Crocodile tongues.
James: Tongues?
Old Man: Long, slimy crocodile tongues boiled in the skull of a dead witch for 40 days and 40 nights. And, the gizard of a pig, the fingers of a young monkey, the beak of a parrot and three spoonfuls of sugar, and then, let the moon do the rest.

Can you imagine the image of the crocodile tongues, wriggling and moving in the bag that James is given? It still gives me goosebumps when I read those words and imagine what those tongues might look like in the bottom of the bag...