Influence of Diversity on Adolescent Literacy

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

The classroom of today is one of diversity and multicultural awareness. Teachers have the power and the responsibility to provide learning opportunities leading to literacy for all learners.

Why Inclusivity is Important

Cultural literacy involves recognizing what we know about the ethnic history, family background, and language of ourselves and others. Perhaps if both teacher and students all had the same cultural background, it would be easier to ensure inclusivity. If cultural traditions, shared childhood experiences, and family heritage were similar, teachers could assume they understood each student's way of seeing the world.

In American public schools today, this is certainly not the case. American society has opened up to include people - and their children - from many countries and areas of the world. Both teachers and students bring a rich mix of traditions and cultures to the learning experience. The challenge for teachers is to know our own cultural background in a conscious way, and to create classrooms that nurture and use the backgrounds and knowledge of our wide-ranging student population.

First Steps

Many English teachers feel somewhat overwhelmed at the dichotomy of teaching Standard English in order to help students succeed using English while still supporting the varied linguistic backgrounds of their students. One way to begin the process of honoring cultural diversity is to give students opportunities to explore and share their particular experiences in the classroom.

Teachers must realize that all students enter the learning situation with a full history of family and cultural information. It is important not to think that the students we teach are empty vessels waiting to be filled up with the information we offer them in school. Literacy builds on the way that students have been conditioned to view the world through the lens of their cultural legacy.

Childhood Memories
childhood experience

So if each student is already ''full'' when they arrive in the classroom, how should teachers negotiate the difference between students' levels of literacy and what they need for success in the larger world? Let's look at some ideas.

Diversity in Adolescent Literacy

Of course, we all realize that in spite of cultural differences, most adolescents share similar experiences and concerns. Readings and classroom activities that ask them to explore relationships, identity, and planning for the future will cut across cultural differences to a large extent. Still, the teacher should be aware of how different cultures view teenage intimate relationships and friendships, and what various cultures expect of young adults.

In the English classroom, we have a specific opportunity to offer and promote young adult novels that focus on diverse cultural experiences. Teachers can sensitively use multicultural literature to make all students aware of cultural differences.

Freedom to Choose Fictional Books
choosing books

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