Multicultural Literacy Program | UW College of Education

Multicultural Literacy Program

Using multicultural literature to increase reading engagement and comprehension for upper elementary students in Michigan

Dimensions: Content Integration, Equity Pedagogy

Title and Location:
Multicultural Literacy Program
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197

Contact Information:
Dr. Peggy Moore-Hart
Department of Teacher Education
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
(313) 487-3260/487-3185

Vist the Multicultural Literacy Program Web Page


Program History and Description

Program Components

Program Success

Program Replication



The Multicultural Literacy Program (MLP), a three year project funded by FIRST (Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teachers) of the U. S. Department of Education, was designed to address the needs of the changing racial and cultural demographics of school districts. The program used a wholistic approach to reading/writing instruction, integrating multicultural literature into the existing reading program to increase reading achievement and engagement.

Site-based staff development and parent involvement were important elements of the program. The results of a two year study in two districts, one culturally diverse and the other predominately Anglo, showed that attitudes toward reading, writing, and other cultures were significantly more positive for students using the Multicultural Literature Program than the basal program. In addition, students in the culturally diverse district improved their reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and total reading performance significantly more than comparison students using the basal reading program.


Program History and Description

The Multicultural Literacy Program was developed by Professors Barbara J. Diamond and Margaret A. Moore of Eastern Michigan University in 1989 through a grant from the Fund for Improving and Restructuring Schools and Teaching (FIRST) and implemented in the Ann Arbor, Inkster, and Ypsilanti districts in Michigan. The philosophy of the program is based on research findings that indicate incorporating the students' language and culture into the school program constitutes a significant predictor of academic success (Cummins, 1986; Campos and Keatinge, 1984) and can positively influence reading comprehension (Lipson, 1983: Mason & Au, 1990; Steffenson, Joag-Dev, & Anderson, 1979).

The Multicultural Literacy Program uses multicultural literature to implement process-oriented reading and writing instruction designed to increase academic achievement for students of color as well as heighten cultural awareness of all students (Diamond & Moore, 1992).


Program Components

Primary Goals

The primary goals of the Multicultural Literacy Program include the following: 1) to increase the academic achievement of ethnic minority and at-risk students; 2) to heighten the cultural awareness and understanding of all students; and 3) to provide enrichment opportunities for all students (Diamond & Moore, 1992).

Instructional Strategies and Materials

The Multicultural Literacy Program contains three main components: 1) multicultural literature, 2) a whole language perspective, and 3) the creation of a socioculturally sensitive learning environment.

The multicultural literature selections used in the program highlighted the contributions of Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans in a variety of literary genres, including traditional folk literature, song lyrics, poems, fiction, and informational books (essays, biographies, autobiographies). According to the program developers, multicultural literature is incorporated because it is meaningful to students, it affirms differences and shows common cultural connections, it develops knowledge of social issues and the need for action against injustice, and it contains factual information about diverse cultures (Diamond & Moore, 1992).

The whole language perspective incorporates integrated curriculum, uses tradebooks as texts, views reading and writing as processes, emphasizes oral language development, and supports cooperative learning.

A socioculturally sensitive learning environment emphasizes alternative social organizations for learning, recontextualizes learning, and views the teacher as a cultural mediator (Diamond & Moore, 1992).

Examples of multicultural literature-based activities teachers implemented within their classrooms include: interactive reading and writing activities, choral reading, Readers' Theater, mapping and knowledge generating activities, journal writing, interactive discussion, and responding to literature through drama, art, music, and folk dancing (Diamond & Moore, 1991).


Three school districts were involved in the voluntary implementation of the Multicultural Literacy Program over a period of three years, 1989 - 1992. These districts were in Ann Arbor, Inkster, and Ypsilanti Michigan and the schools contained a multiethnic population. Teachers in the program were voluntary participants.

Staff Development

The Multicultural Literacy Program incorporated a less prescriptive and more flexible staff development model. Key components included district commitment, voluntary participation, inservice workshops, and on-site support and assistance.


Program Success

A three year study (1989 - 1992) was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the program using comparison and treatment groups. During the first and second year of the program, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers in both groups received inservice instruction on current reading and writing strategies by district personnel and consultants. Teachers in the treatment group received instruction on methods and techniques for integrating multicultural literature-based activities with their reading programs. Teachers then implemented the multicultural literature activities two days a week or 1/2 hour per day in their reading programs. Project directors scheduled bi-monthly visitations to their classrooms to provide assistance, guidance, and constructive feedback. In contrast, most teachers in the comparison group followed the basal reading program five days a week.

Student Achievement

A variety of measures were used to assess achievement of students in the Multicultural Literacy program and the comparison basal reading group. Qualitative assessment data collected included student interviews, questionnaires, observations, oral and written language samples, and portfolios. Pre and post testing was also conducted on the vocabulary test of the California Achievement Test (CAT), a writing and reading attitude measure, and an attitude toward cultural diversity measure.

Three years of data (1989 - 1992) revealed the following findings:

Students in the Multicultural Literacy Program improved their reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and total reading performance significantly more than students using the traditional basal reading program (Moore & Diamond, 1990);

Posttest mean and gain scores were higher on the California Achievement Test (CAT) for students in the Multicultural Literature Program than the comparison students;

Attitudes toward reading, writing, and other cultures were significantly more positive for students using the program than those using the traditional reading program (Diamond & Moore, 1990);

African American students demonstrated greater gains in the Multicultural Literature Program than the mainstream students (Personal Communication, Moore, 1998):

The results of the Multicultural Literature Program on student achievement supports research by Au (1993) that formal assessment procedures used with students from culturally diverse backgrounds may not accurately reflect their literacy patterns.

Program Attributes

Program developers attribute the success of the Multicultural Literacy Program to the following factors:

1) Incorporating students' cultural knowledge into the literacy curriculum through the use of multicultural literature;

2) Cooperative learning techniques which particularly benefit students of diverse cultural backgrounds and motivate second language learners;

3) A constructivist approach to literacy learning;


Program Replication

The Multicultural Literacy Program lost funding from FIRST after the three-year study and was unable to expand at the rate originally projected. According to the program developers, the original participating districts in Michigan incorporated many aspects of the program into their ongoing curriculum (personal communication, Moore-Hart, 1998). Teachers involved in the pilot program served as trainers and peer coaches to teachers in the districts who voluntarily decided to adopt the program.

Program developers also coauthored a book, Multicultural Literacy: Mirroring the Reality of the Classroom, (New York: Longman, 1990) with a chapter on "Organizing and Managing a Multicultural Literature Program" that describes how specific components of the program could be replicated in other schools.



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