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Professor Manuel Hernández
Essays Collection

Address: : 2012 Ernest St. Kissimmee, Florida 34741

Manuel Hernandez was born in Sleepy Hollow, New York in 1963. He completed undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and finished a Master�s in Education from Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY) in the Bronx in 1994. He has coordinated symposiums, produced and coordinated television interviews on the literature written by Puerto Rican and Latino/a writers from the Diaspora. He has done numerous presentations, workshops and seminars on how to integrate latino/a literature in the English classroom. In 2014, he participated in a TedxTalk (Connections) at Southern New Hampshire University. He is the author of three books, , Latino/a Literature in the English Classroom (Editorial Plaza Mayor, 2003), The Birth of a Rican (Imprenta Sifre. 2008) and Living the Kingdom with purpose (Imprenta Sifre, 2013). He is a Language Arts teacher at Osceola School District in Florida.

Integrating Culturally Relevant Literature:
A Validated Strategy in the Teaching of English

By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright

Integrating culturally relevant literature is a validated strategy in the teaching of English in Puerto Rico. However, everyday politics, crime, the economy and other national and international issues have taken the front seat of the discussion at local media roundtables. Globalization and advanced technological gains continue to position English as a universal resource of communication and socio-economic development. Focusing on the academic needs of students is making an academic difference in the teaching of English. The effective use of culturally relevant literature is the bridge that will help students connect with pathways of success in their academic quest.
According to information provided by the Department of Education in Puerto Rico, more than 80% of public schools in Puerto Rico are in “Plan de Mejoramiento Escolar” (Improvement Plan). The Content Standards and Grade Level Expectations (official Department of Education standards) of all subject areas were revised, and since 2007 public school teachers have been creating academic environments founded in academically sound based curriculum produced by teachers from the public schools and local scholars in all the content subject areas. Nonetheless, the Puerto Rican school population continues to diversify at a rapid pace, and students must be met with a clear present vision in terms of what to do and how to approach their academic needs.
The longest bridge in Puerto Rico is en route to Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. It is one of the most exhilarating drives in Puerto Rico. Culturally relevant literature makes that exhilarating connection to the teaching, appreciation and literary analysis of the American and British classics. The link of one towards the other not only makes sense but also provides the needed context and helps students to make a personal connection first before making the more formal drive to the academic literary highway later. In the English classroom, English as second language (ESL) students in Puerto Rico feel a lack of personal involvement, and there are no bridges to connect their cultural interests to English language development.
As an ESL teacher, I remember teaching Romeo and Juliet to a group of high level ESL students at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York. I myself could not understand the student’s lack of personal interest in the classic. As much as I prepared them for the literary event, they could not make the connection between their American immigrant experience, and the “star-crossed lovers” depicted in the tragedy. In Puerto Rico, classroom textbooks from K-12th grade are generally filled with characters, settings and situations that are distant from students’ everyday experience. How can students interact with their writing when their choices of literature are far away from their day-to-day reality?
Sustained research has validated culturally based literature as pivotal in the initial stages of “learning to read.” Prior knowledge helps students to construct bridges to make predictions and outcomes about the poem, story, essay or drama read in the English classroom. In a “learning to read” environment, pleasure and enjoyment form the initial jump-off point for further literary development. When students construct meaning from a personal standpoint, their engagement with reading develops smoothly, and academic success is just a step away.
Integrating culturally relevant literature incorporates Puerto Rican authors as well as other authors of Latino origin that are published in the current textbooks available in the English classrooms in Puerto Rico. During the current academic year (2011-2012), I have coordinated a Pilot Program titled, Integrating Culturally Relevant Literature in the English Classroom. Three English teachers (one K-6th, the other 7-9th and the 10-12th) worked with the current English textbooks, identified culturally relevant stories and established bridges to engage students and foster listening/speaking, reading and writing skills. The graphically portrayed and validated results (pre-post exams) have demonstrated sustained and increased academic results in participating students.
The Government has spoken out on its interest to promote effective and validated strategies in the teaching of English. The ongoing Pilot Program has confirmed the validity of integrating culturally relevant literature and its outreach to develop English language skills and improve academic results at the same time. To meet the demands of globalization and advanced technological gains, the academic needs of students in Puerto Rico must be addressed without delay. The Pilot and an Island-wide impact can make a difference in the teaching of English and provide students with gateways of success as well.