Culturally Responsive Literature and its’ Effect on Students

Mohr (2003) investigated the different choices Hispanic and non-Hispanic children made in selecting a book to keep to identify if multicultural literature was preferred by non-white students. Since it has been shown that reading motivation is tied to the student’s ability to choose their own books, this type of inquiry is important to show teachers what type of books they need to have available for their students in the multicultural classroom. For all students to succeed in reading, they need to be motivated and want to read. This type of study shows us how we can provide texts that will encourage that to happen.  To wit, the study states “if teachers expose students to a variety of books and can direct students to books that interest them, students will spend more time reading independently” (Mohr, 2003, p. 163).

There is an assumption that students most likely would respond to books that have characters of their own race, since girls mainly like to read books about other girls, and boys about boys (Mohr, 2003). But not a lot of research has been put into this field, and this study (along with others to follow) seeks to discover the literature preferences of minority student groups. Mohr was looking to find the preference of first grade Hispanic students, gender differences between and within Hispanic and non Hispanic groups, and what genres they would select.

Books were used to represent both genders, a variety of genre including fantastic and realistic fiction, biography, informational nonfiction, and poetry, as well as Caucasian, Asian, African American, and Hispanic characters, the English and Spanish languages, and themes of family, school, nature, history, and fantasy (Mohr, 2003). The total number of books was nine. The book selection criteria and final choices were approved by a children’s literature expert, a bookstore owner, and librarian. All were recently published with interesting illustrations.

The subjects (Mohr, 2003) were from a semi rural district in the Southeast. Ten first grade classrooms participated, totaling 190 students. Thirty percent were Hispanic, their number was 56. Half of these students (28 total) were limited in their English language abilities. Instructions for these students were provided in Spanish if needed. In the whole group and the Spanish group, 55 % were boys and 45% girls.

The study (Mohr, 2003) was conducted at the end of the school year so the students had nearly two full years of school experiences behind them to become familiar with books. No information was provided about their background experiences with literacy, and the types of books or literacy choices they had in their classrooms, an important omission by the researcher.

The researcher (Mohr, 2003) set up a table outside the classroom to show the books and have students select one. The students were able to choose a book that was then ordered and sent to them, so it was an authentic choice they were making. Students came out one at a time to pick a book, and if they agreed to (65% did), the students were interviewed on their choice. The questions asked were “Why did you pick this book to keep? Why is this one (book) your favorite one in this group (of books)?” (Mohr, 2003, p. 168). The interview questions were done while the next child was picking out their book.

Two of the classrooms were chosen to have all the books read to them (Mohr, 2003). 41 of the students (no information on their race makeup was given) had three stories read to them by the researcher for three mornings in a row. These children then selected a book in the same manner as the rest of the classes.

Results (Mohr, 2003) show that almost all of the children (84%) chose non fiction. The favorite was Animals Nobody Loves, by Seymour Simon, and was chosen by 46% of the children in the study. Two more nonfiction books, a poetry book There’s a Zoo in Room 22, by Judy Sierra, and a comedic nonfiction book What Moms Can’t Do, by Douglas Wood, were chosen by 34% of the students together. Less than 10 students chose the rest of the books, which included a biography of Abraham Lincoln and five multicultural fiction stories. The students who were read to chose non fiction to an even greater extent, 90% of this group chose nonfiction. This shows that Animals Nobody Loves was not chosen only for the interesting title, but for the content since students who had read all the books still chose it.

There were more boys that chose nonfiction than girls, but the majority of girls still chose nonfiction (Mohr, 2003). Ninety six percent of boys chose nonfiction, and 69% of the girls. It was near the same for the Hispanic group, where 97% of the boys chose nonfiction and 76% of Hispanic girls chose it, while only 62% of non-Hispanic girls did. This shows the possibility that Hispanic girls may be more likely to enjoy nonfiction than non-Hispanic girls. The order of preference for girls and boys both listed the three aforementioned nonfiction books as their favorites, but in opposite order. Boys enjoyed Animals Nobody Loves most, then What Moms Can’t Do, and finally There’s a Zoo in Room 22. Girls chose There’s a Zoo in Room 22 first, What Moms Can’t Do next, and Animals Nobody Loves third.

During interviews, students most often cited humor and the fact that they liked animals as the reason for their choice (Mohr, 2003). Although there has been an emphasis in the early grades on fiction, this study showed that non fiction is where major interest lies for a majority of young children. Many stated that they wanted to learn something from the book, and one stated that “you get to see the information… and you need this information” (Mohr, 2003, p. 172).

No Hispanic boys chose books with Hispanic characters, and only 3 Hispanic girls chose these books (Mohr, 2003). This seems to disprove the theory that students prefer to read about characters like themselves. Almost all the children chose animal books and not books with human characters at all. Perhaps if a study were conducted where there was not the choice of animal books, it might more clearly investigate this question.

An important critique of this study is the fact that these nine books may not be enough to cover all the different attributes that were selected. There might be too many descriptors to have clear lines between what students chose if one book was chosen to represent so many of the characteristics. I think though, for the children to choose there might have needed to be a more limited selection so it did not get too confusing or drawn out. I think if this was the case the researchers needed to limit the attributes they were analyzing in the books to much fewer than 18 different descriptors. Also, in the results the researchers reports that for one of the books that was chosen by the students as a favorite, “the combination of elements makes it difficult to determine why students preferred this book” (Mohr, 2003, p. 174). A reader may ask, why was a book chosen that did not have clear characteristics that could be analyzed? This only further emphasizes either the need for more books or less criteria.

The research (Mohr, 2003) here seems credible, but again I would like to see better defined books being used. Perhaps provide nonfiction books about Hispanic figures or issues related to that culture. Another way to make strides toward credibility could be limiting the selection to only fiction or only non fiction. The scope of the questions asked was too broad for the amount of books used. The fact that nearly half the students chose the same book makes it clear that students do enjoy non fiction, but it is unclear as to whether they preferred the book about animals or because it was in fact non fiction. The only fiction books used were about humans, possibly having animals as a main character in a fiction tale would have changed the results. Also, the only nonfiction with human characters was a biography of Abraham Lincoln, who did not represent the Hispanic culture. It is an interesting idea, but needs to be expanded upon with future research.