A grant from Wichita State's College of Education allowed assistant professor Gayla Lohfink to conduct community-based research that ultimately provided multicultural books to students at McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School in Wichita.
Lohfink's research focused on kindergarten teachers and 54 WSU teaching candidate participants reading culturally-diverse literature to their classes. The books covered characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds; several contained Spanish and English dual-language text.
"I wanted to know how this particular practice affected pre-service and practicing teachers' pedagogical understanding and teaching practices," she said.
Lohfink said that an increase in cultural and linguistic diversity in USD 259, Wichita's public school district, is why research on the topic is important for students, teachers and schools.
Both pre-service and practicing teachers found that reading the books to their classes engaged students, offered them new information and provided a bridge for students and teachers to learn from each other.
"Their responses reflected how the books became more than just a literary work to be interpreted," said Lohfink. "They were a means for understanding human differences, changing attitudes toward others and social justice."
After reviewing the research findings, Lohfink said that teachers should implement cultural understanding into their own learning.
"Hopefully with continued, reflective research, curriculum transformations using multicultural literature can bring about needed social action changes in diverse elementary classrooms," she said.
The research process
In August 2011, Lohfink collaborated with McLean Elementary's school librarian and two teachers to determine the selection of books to be read in kindergarten classrooms.
"The teachers and I selected picture books with children and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds in mind," she said.
Because of the lack of multicultural children's books available at McLean Elementary and WSU's Ablah Library, Lohfink used grant funds to purchase reading materials for the research project.
About 80 books were donated to the McLean Elementary School library.
Lohfink's primary source of data consisted of the teachers' verbal and written self-reflections on two questions: "What did you notice about the multicultural picture book read aloud?" and "What was a noted strength?"
She also spent three months in the classrooms observing and participating in the readings.
Lohfink will present her research and findings at the National Association of Professional Development Schools Conference in February.