Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 4: Research and Discovery - An Na, Edwidge Danticat, Laurence Yep, and more
Authors and Literary Works
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Text Sets
'Where I'm From' Poems
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Teaching Strategies
Text Sets


Text sets are resources of different reading levels, genres, and media that offer perspectives on a theme. By collecting materials ranging from fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to maps, charts, historical documents, photographs, songs, and paintings, teachers can add voices and perspectives to the study of any complex issue. This is especially important in classrooms where the whole class is using a single textbook or novel. Putting together a text set also provides all students -- regardless of reading level or learning style -- with a "way in" to a subject. Because even competent adult learners seek out "easy books" to learn about a new or complex topic, providing picture and children's books in a text set gives everyone a means of connecting to or understanding some aspect of a larger subject. In addition, picture and children's books effectively present important content in a short period of time. Students can usually read a picture book in one class, whereas longer texts require additional time.

Text Sets in Kathryn Mitchell Pierce's Classroom

At the beginning of a unit, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce creates text sets that include multiple baskets of resources for small groups of students to explore. Each basket concentrates on one aspect of the topic, immigration -- such as "leaving/journeying" or "home/fitting in" -- but contains materials ranging from stories to poetry to picture books. Pierce allows several days for her students to read, discuss, and write informally about the text sets. Her goal is to provide them with multiple viewpoints through which to examine immigration. She includes, for instance, perspectives of voluntary immigrants, involuntary immigrants (e.g., slaves), and resettled Native Americans. She also seeks to steep her students in general immigration issues -- historical and contemporary -- to contextualize their literary discussions.

Pierce says she tries to "stack the deck" when she assembles text sets. "I fill the classroom with books and materials that are bound to present cultural conflicts and stereotypes and assumptions right up front," she says. "I create a space in the classroom where kids feel comfortable entertaining ideas and raising questions when they're not sure about the answers, and where the questions and the answers might be somewhat controversial... Most materials -- both curriculum materials and most novels that are easily available on immigration -- present part of the story: they highlight an Anglo-European view of what happened in immigration. I try to bring in a broader, fuller perspective."

Pierce's texts sets include books written in English and Spanish. Most are children's books, which Pierce chose, she says, because they are short, full of visuals, and can flood her students with information very quickly. In Pierce's class, the students explore text sets for several days; then they can choose a longer book to study in small groups.

Tips and Variations for Using Text Sets

  • Teacher educator Jerome Harste echoes Pierce in encouraging the use of text sets as "a way to have books rub up against other books and start wonderful conversations." He notes that by having multiple books in the classroom, "you have the opportunity to really hear different people. And it's important, because if we lose sight of the people behind the books, we then don't challenge what's being taught."

  • Harste encourages teachers creating text sets to go through a process he calls "planning to plan," or thinking about a theme from many perspectives. For an immigration study like Pierce's, for instance, he suggests asking, "What would a psychologist want us to know about immigration? What would a geographer want us to know? A sociologist? An anthropologist?" Teachers can add other perspectives. For instance, in thinking about immigration, how might the perspectives of a mother, a sister, and a daughter differ? Teachers should ask themselves: "Whose story isn't being represented in the materials I've found? How can I add this voice/perspective?" Harste further suggests that because English teachers' role expands as we understand "literacy" to include the ability to read cultures, Web sites, and the like, our text sets should include nonwritten materials such as maps, artifacts, music, and art.

  • Teachers can begin with text sets, as Pierce does, or introduce or return to them later. Pierce also uses them to help her students explore new questions or to revisit ideas. However they are used, teachers should provide time for the students to choose and read their books, then share what they have read in small groups, in writing, or with the class. The students should not merely synopsize, but should make connections between books and find patterns. The text set process, Pierce says, "sets the stage" for deeper study, and helps students "move from initial stereotypes and presuppositions to broaden the pool of talk."

Benefits of Using Text Sets

  • Text sets provide multiple perspectives on complex issues. They show students that there are different "truths" and thus emphasize the importance of questioning dominant interpretations.

  • Text sets give learners of different abilities, styles, and interests a "way in" to the material.

  • In classrooms where the only class set of materials is a textbook or a single novel, text sets can enrich the curriculum without great expense.

  • Using text sets in small groups, as Pierce does, encourages students to see different perspectives from which to debate issues.

  • Since text sets allow students to find questions about a larger topic, they begin an inquiry-based investigation effectively.

  • Text sets develop students' ability to "read" multiple forms of texts and images. They support synthesis, application, and critical evaluation.

  • The multiple selections in text sets provide an opportunity for intertextual reading; students make connections between texts, reflect on texts they've previously encountered (including movies, television, etc.), and construct new knowledge through shared discourse.

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