The sixth grade reading text,
Vistas in Reading Literature
(McDougal, Littell), presents an adequate culturally diverse selection of stories and poetry. Thus, this unit is designed for use during the last marking period of the year as literary, social studies and social development review. It is supplemental and not intended to replace district prescribed texts. The objective of the unit is to enhance the students' knowledge of cultures, genre and reading enjoyment through study of novels. The activities and lessons will serve as tools to review year-long reading objectives. Reading books of cultural interest will be an enjoyable way for students to review the skills required to analyze the individual components of a story.
Reading is a complex interactive process between the background knowledge of the reader and the novel. Comprehension takes place when the reader builds meaning between the novel and the reader's own experiences. The reader needs to engage in active thinking and use key strategies to build this meaning before, during and after reading. Hence, this unit proposes to provide the teacher with the key strategies to focus the reading instruction of a cross cultural study.
The major emphasis in the reading text throughout the year is placed on the elements necessary for a complete story. A story has several components --characters, setting, conflict or plot and theme. The questions the story answers are who, what, when, where, how and why. These are also the questions we attempt to answer when we examine a culture different from our own.
The three cultures that I have chosen for this study of novels are African American, Hispanic and Asian (Chinese). The criteria used for actual book selection were: promoting a positive image; presenting accurate, factual or believable material; exhibiting cultural specificity; and revealing strong three-dimensional characters. Positive images leave a lasting impression so the books chosen should reflect a positive image of the community or culture discussed. Accurate factual information can be enjoyable to read if presented in a fun manner. Stories written in the first person point of view are usually entertaining for students. The cultural references in children's material should reflect the authentic experiences and background of the culture discussed. Students should be able to see that the material is specific to them or those around them. The characters in books used should be well-rounded and fully developed, showing the multifaceted nature of people in general. The books outlined within this unit and those in the bibliography comply with these criteria.
The selections vary in length and degree of difficulty. Sharon Draper's
Forged by Fire
is the fictional tale of an African American young boy and his family relations during his childhood. Although many African American families are quite stable, this story takes a look at various factors that can and do effect many youngsters in urban environments; such issues as physical and drug abuse, criminal activity, alternative living arrangements and the myriad uncertainties that accompany poverty. Joseph Krumgold's
...and now Miguel
is the story of a twelve year old Mexican boy and his journey for respect. Universal issues of growing up, dreaming of responsibility, accepting challenges, and father/son relationships are explored from a cultural perspective. The setting, topics and bits of Spanish will be delightful for my Hispanic students. Ji-li Jiang has written a historical piece about China when she was twelve entitled
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
. The story details the changes within one family that occur when the government is in a state of turmoil. The location and governmental beliefs are so different students will be required to examine the geography and the society structure closely. Discussions about the process of change and its importance will be beneficial to adolescents experiencing their own "personal cultural revolutions".
The sequence of the novels was determined by the populations of the majority of my classes. This unit of study will follow closely behind a segment on Afro-American biographies. The cultural references to various time periods should be fresh in the students' minds. The social issues discussed in
Forged by Fire
will have been recently reviewed in the social development curriculum. The Hispanic novel should begin around the discussion of Cinco de Mayo to bring about a natural flow in the background information presented to the students. The Asian material is saved for last because this should be the most unfamiliar area to students requiring more guided pre-teaching, necessitating more geographical and historical information and more vocabulary introduction. The time period, however, will be familiar as the sixties and the Civil Rights movement in the United States will have been discussed in social studies and the African American history unit. Prior to reading each novel an appropriate picture book will be read to the students as a precursor to the longer study of the culture proposed in the novel assignments. Mention of past stories such as
Hatsuno's Great-Grandmother in the Vistas
text will also serve as cultural references for students. It was a story about an Asian woman in San Francisco who spoke no English and how she related to her surroundings and family with their American ways. These prior knowledge references should make the reading of the stories easier and more enjoyable for the students, thus allowing the comprehensive skills review to be a smooth transition as we read and compare novels.
The comprehension skills to be reviewed are time order; cause and effect; conflict; main idea; characterization; theme and mood; and setting. Comprehension is increased when unfamiliar or forgotten concepts and vocabulary are discussed prior to reading. Each of the stories has material conducive to time order study, particularly
Forged by Fire
: Gerald is three in chapter one and eighteen at the end of the book. Amazingly, the novel is only one hundred and fifty-six pages. The concept of cause and effect proves to be a difficult one for students to grasp in the text but chapter books give numerous examples and are very useful tools for reviewing and understanding the concept. Ji-li tells of her experiences between the ages of twelve and fourteen. The epilogue answers some of the questions students may have about her life after that time period and how she was affected by he events of those two years. This is a good example of how time order and cause-and-effect strategies go hand in hand. The following is a lesson plan that demonstrates the connections of the two strategies to a study of a novel.