The Missouri Reader Vol. 40, Issue 3 - Page 29


Research-based literacy instruction directs educators to value and connect content to students’ background knowledge. Moore (2012) described the approach of Constructivist teachers regarding student prior knowledge: “The teacher makes sure he or she understands the students’ preexisting conceptions and guides the learning to address them and then build on them” (p. 9). In reading, the students’ prior knowledge has a decisive impact on how they relate to a book, their motivation, and their engagement with the activity. Al-Hazza (2010) elaborated on student background knowledge: “A reader’s personal store of prior experience, background knowledge, cultural expectations, and personal interpretations shape meaning from the written word – in essence – the reader’s response to the written word is what impacts the meaning of the text” (p. 63). Efficient teaching builds on student prior knowledge and on personal connections. Teachers from several grade levels use the text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections as reading strategies. The understanding is that if students can make connections with the text, they will be more likely to internalize the meaning of what they read. Good readers can make personal connections with the books they read. “Students need to make connections between literature and their everyday lives. Children need to receive affirmation of themselves and their culture through literature, and to be able to connect text to self in order to promote greater meaning” (Colby, & Lyon, 2004, p. 24).

As teachers, we should ask ourselves if all students in our classrooms can find themselves in the books we read to them. Could our kids see their parents and grandparents in the stories we read and love? What happens if students cannot relate to the stories they read? Children will adapt to overcome their barriers. They will learn how to read…they will write their own stories; however, why should we foster such barriers? Why should we limited their world to only ours? How will students learn to truly represent themselves through writing if they cannot see that they are worth to write about? Imagine if students would write stories celebrating their diverse friends as characters? Imagine if they had historical knowledge to write about their African American friends’ saga to equality? Imagine if our students’ speeches persuaded readers to defend not only their own rights and interests, but also the rights and interests of their diverse friends. Multicultural literature allow all learners to see themselves as valuable members of the classroom community.

Practical Applications in My First Grade Classroom

The task to accommodate students’ backgrounds in the classroom and to incorporate scaffolding through student-centered activities may not be easy, but it can create a safe, diverse, yet unified learning environment. Rather than ignore a student’s roots, a teacher should use that student’s prior knowledge on which to build. Scholars such as Vygotsky, Piaget, and Erikson were initial guides to cognitive development and teachers should continue to research ways to provide students with a high-quality and culturally relevant education.

Earlier this year, I was looking for ways to transform my Writers’ Workshop. I was facing some challenges regarding my writing lessons. I had some gifted students who were having difficulties with writing. They were perfectionists, and they could spend an hour looking at the paper without writing one word down. They were great kids and the issue was not defiance. They were hard workers! I decided to interview the kids in order to find what was causing the problem. The answer I had from some of them surprised me…they were bored! I love writing and this thought broke my heart! I decided that I needed to change my instruction. I needed to make the Writer’s Workshop meaningful to all my students…but how?!

I teach at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, in which we teach interdisciplinary units of inquiry. One of the units was asking the students to analyze how illustrations enhanced the comprehension of the text. Because I had been using multicultural books at every opportunity I had, I knew two important things that my students loved: (1) my students loved to learn about other people’s cultures and experiences, and (2) I knew that my first graders loved to illustrate their own stories.

Read and Feed Book grants provide books for distribution to children in schools/ school districts which qualify for Title I Feed assistance, as documented and approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  Read and Feed Book Grant applicants must be members of the International Literacy Association, the Missouri State Council of the IRA/ILA, and a local council in Missouri.

If you would like to apply for a Read and Feed Book Grant, please contact the Grant Chairperson, Jodi Rozbicki at

or use the link below: