Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest post by Betsy McEntarffer: "Getting Culturally Accurate and Positive Books in the Hands of Students and Teachers - One Idea that Works


Editor's note: I am pleased to share this post by Betsy McEntarffer of Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. A few weeks ago, Betsy and I were writing to each other about children's books with Native content. She mentioned one of the ways she and the Library Media Staff work with teachers. I asked her to write it up for me. The work Betsy describes is important for two reasons. First, they offer teachers works in the multicultural category that they believe accurately reflect the population the book is about. Second, when they learned that teachers needed more than the positive lists of books, they developed a "not chosen" initiative that, she writes, really helped teachers see things they weren't seeing before. Betsy writes below: 
"Many visitors told us when they studied these examples and read the rationale used for their reviews, they could clearly see how students would be adversely affected and felt these materials were excellent learning opportunities." 
Their model is important. Thanks, Betsy, for sharing it with me, and I hope others try it out!
_______________________

Getting culturally accurate and positive books 
in the hands of students and teachers – one idea that works.
Betsy McEntarffer

Like other educators in Lincoln, Nebraska, I’m interested in ensuring that all of our students have books and other materials in which they can see themselves and their lives positively and accurately mirrored. As a fairly large school district of over 35,000 students and with a diverse population of students from over 40 different countries speaking 50+ different languages, communication is the key to sharing information about those books and materials with all.

Before relating all the events leading to such a diverse and caring community, let me say that neither my journey nor the school district’s began with such wide diversity. I’m a white, middle class girl from the midwest who now works as a secretary for Staff Library Media Services of Lincoln Public Schools. Of course, there have long been schools in the district with diversity, but not in the part of town where I lived nor in the schools I attended. This was not intentional (at least not on my part), it was the way the population of our Midwestern college town was divided. I didn’t have any close encounters with persons of another culture until a small group of refugee families moved into the area where I worked as a library aide in my children’s elementary school. As I became acquainted with Assad, Nasifah, Yuriy, and Tuan I discovered that our library collection couldn’t supply them with books with which they could identify.  Not only were the geographical books on their home countries old and out-dated, but we had no stories with Afghan, Russian or Vietnamese characters.  Actually, I did find one book for Yuriy by Frank Asch that was in the Russian language. It’s about a colony of mice concerned with the arrival of a cat: Here Comes the Cat! = Siuda idet kot! [Scholastic, ©1989]. In my naivety I thought he would be thrilled and while he was kind of tickled to see his own language the story didn’t excite a 10 year old.  At the same time, when Assad looked at me with very sad eyes and said “nothing in Farsi?” I knew our collection and my knowledge needed updating.  I learned that I wasn’t alone and that others were concerned about incorporating the diversity of the community, country and the world into our schools.

Twenty years ago a group of students from Norfolk, Nebraska lobbied the state legislature to infuse multicultural education into the K-12 curriculum of schools in the state. LB 922 and LB 27 eventually became law and required the Nebraska Department of Education to design a process of evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of multicultural programs. As a result, Rule 16: Rules and Regulations for Approval of School District Multicultural Education Programs was written. In 2003 Rule 16: Multicultural Education was rolled into Rule 10 and became part of the schools’ accreditation process. The bill states: 
“this act, multicultural education shall include, but not be limited to, studies relative to the culture, history and contributions of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. Special emphasis shall be placed on human relations and sensitivity toward all races.”
As the law was being discussed in 1992, a group of media educators from Lincoln Public Schools voluntarily gathered to discuss how best to meet the evaluation guidelines of Rule 16 that impacted school libraries. These guidelines are:
  • How adequate is the library/media center’s collection of multicultural resource materials for staff?
  • How adequate is the library/media center’s collection of multicultural resource materials for students?
  • How adequate is the process for selecting appropriate multicultural education curriculum materials for the core curriculum? [which often uses library/media center materials]
  • How often does the library/media center use multicultural resource and reference materials for displays and special presentations?
  • Are there specific guidelines or procedures in place regarding the acquisition of additional multicultural materials in the library or resource room?
They decided to form the Library Media Services Multicultural Book Review Committee to provide students with quality literature that mirrors the lives of all our students, especially those of under-represented cultures. What they envisioned to communicate this work has now evolved into MOSAIC, a yearly display of some the best, most recently published culturally-related books available to children and youth.  Grade leveled portions of each year’s MOSAIC travel to schools throughout the year so students, staff and parents can see them. The committee of current and retired educator reviewers continues to read and make recommendations for books that will comprise the content of the next display. Their reviews and comments as well as those from professional sources are inserted inside each book. Titles from each yearly MOSAIC form a Multicultural Collection, housed at the district office, which provides books for all schools, students and staff, to read and use. Since school librarians use this display as a collection development tool, 35,000+ students and over 2000 staff members in all 56 schools and other special programs of our district benefit from this collection.  Lincoln Public Schools may not have been the first school district to develop plans to serve all children but we were catching up fast.  So was I as I helped coordinate the MOSAIC displays while serving as a volunteer of a Fair Trade Organization. Then I became a secretary for the district’s Library Media Services department and discovered so much more that I did not know.

Three years ago as the committee was discussing the increase in availability of better and more inclusive books for children and youth, they also noted that teachers and support staff were still confused and uncertain about how to identify accurate and positive cultural content in those resources.  As a result, a collection of ‘Not Chosen for MOSAIC’ materials was begun. Books that were poorly reviewed due to questionable or incorrect content both in text and illustration, were clearly marked and displayed in addition to the excellent examples. Again, reviews and rationale for the book’s exclusion from the display were included in each title.  

The reaction was instantaneous. Many visitors told us when they studied these examples and read the rationale used for their reviews, they could clearly see how students would be adversely affected and felt these materials were excellent learning opportunities. The ‘not chosen’ books are kept for teachers to use as a compare/contrast activity with students or for use with University classes, teacher and librarian training, and other learning opportunities. We have one community college instructor who regularly uses them with her children's literature class. To be sure there is no confusion, an additional note is inserted in each book stating “This book is used for presentations by media staff as a poor example of Multicultural Children’s Literature. Please read the rationale for this poor rating as presented inside the front cover of the book. It is recommended that students/staff compare and contrast this material with the excellent examples of Multicultural Children’s Literature from the Multicultural Collection.”  We inform the school librarians in each of our schools about the books we exclude from the display. It is their choice whether to have the materials in their school library collections.  I am proud to be a part of the Library Media Services Multicultural Review Committee and thrilled that it is ‘my job’ to help our Library Media Specialist coordinate and facilitate their work.

Of the books in this collection that include American Indian content the rationale given for the reviews is often taken from Debbie Reese’s ‘American Indians in Children’s Literature’ blog or from ‘A Broken Flute’ and the ‘Oyate’ website and used with their permission. We are indebted to these dedicated advocates of positive children’s literature for their expertise and willingness to share their knowledge.  I am indebted to them as well, for now I certainly realize how much I have to learn and I’m thankful to have the opportunity.

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Link: Library Media Services, Lincoln Public Schools
 

4 comments:

Jodyth said...

Could you post links to your MOSAIC resources? Thanks!

Karen Stanley said...

Betsy not only "gave us fish", she "taught us to fish" to satisfy our hunger for books that would feed our minds and souls for a lifetime. Her commitment to this task has enriched media collections, curriculum development, teacher knowledge, and student lives far beyond Lincoln, NE. I cherish my memories of working with her.

Betsy McEntarffer said...

Karen, thanks for the kind comments - we miss you around here.

Betsy McEntarffer said...

Jodyth
It has taken me awhile to figure out just how to get you to be able to use this link. The list for this coming fall’s MOSAIC is not yet complete so I’m directing you to the 2011 MOSAIC titles. (There is no way to link to our entire Multicultural collection at this time) Go to the following site and click on MOSAIC 2011 Annotated Bibliography. You should get a pdf of all 345 titles and their reviews.
Betsy
http://docushare.lps.org/docushare/dsweb/View/Collection-167923