19th May 2000 at 01:00
MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE IN THE CLASSROOM. Edited by Joan Goody and Kit Thomas. NATE pound;4.50 (pound;5.50 non-members), 50 Broadfield Road, Sheffield S8 0XJ.Tel: 0114 255 5419.

It isn't often that you want to recommend a piece of educational literature to the Home Secretary, but someone really ought to buy Jack Straw a copy of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom. Better still, perhaps he should sit in one of the English lessons it describes. Then he would realise that refugees and so-called economic migrants have added greatly to the UK's cultural diversity.

The book features 14 accounts of work carried out in English lessons from Years 5 to 12. Some were funded by the Arts Council or the Gulbenkian Foundation. But many were the result of everyday good classroom practice.

The topics covered range from ways to teach the ghazal (a middle-eastern poetic form) by Sue Dymoke, head of English at West Bridgford school in Nottinghamshire, to introducing multicultural fiction and poetry to a Year 5 class in Bodmin, Cornwall.

Here teacher Michelle Fox introduced the work of writers such as John Agard longside ongoing work on the Cornish language. This example illustrates the imaginative ways in which pupils' literary diet can be enriched, and their awareness of language and literature extended, through texts from around the globe.

But it also demonstrates the role of pupils' knowledge in the classroom. The work of Kit Thomas and Deborah Barkham, from George Orwell school (now the Islington arts and media school), a mixed comprehensive in north London, makes this point even more clearly. Both use pupils' own knowledge, and that of the local community, of literature and narrative conventions of other cultures to extend the understanding of their peers.

This book provides an invaluable starting point for anyone wanting to break away from traditional classroom fare. Many of the writers give reading lists and offer suggestions for funding and alternative sources for texts. But above all this book provides a snapshot of the wealth of resources that the global heritage of our pupils provides - of what can be achieved if we see diversity as an asset rather than a problem.

Bethan Marshall

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