Many educators across the country are making the shift and replacing their classroom library with more culturally relevant and responsive literature. However, simply filling your shelves with diverse books is simply not enough! Now, it is crucial for educators to ask themselves- How can I use the diverse books in meaningful ways to empower student learning?
Be more thoughtful about how you introduce books to students
According to Linda Sue Park, you have 10-15 seconds to introduce a book during a book talk, with your goal to appeal to the vast majority of students. During that time, it's important to "Center" the book versus "Othering" the book. Linda Sue Parks gives an example of "Othering" as "I'm so excited for you to read this story! It takes place a thousand years ago in a place far from here where people live completely different from us. It's fascinating and you're going to love it!" This teacher's comment is enthusiastic; however, it often pushes the reader far away when they already don't see themselves in the book . When a teacher "centers" a book and makes it a universal human experience, students can often relate to the situation even if the characters and setting look different than their own. For example, a teacher could say, "Have you ever wanted something really bad, where you would do anything to get it? Here's a story of a boy who would do anything to get what he wants. Does he get what he wants? Well, you'll have to read it to find out. This type of response "centers' the book introduction, so the majority of students could relate to wanting something so badly that they would do anything to get it.
Move Toward Critical Dialogue With Students
In Tiffany Nyachase's article, Teachers as critical guides in the moment, she refers to teachers as "critical guides of critical dialogue." Now that teachers have diverse texts, they must move beyond simple structures and norms for 'productive' dialogue to a dialogue that transforms, disrupts and dismantles oppressive ideologies and structures". However, a teacher's role during the critical dialogue is not to take a neutral stance, but to create an environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed. Teachers also have to quickly mediate uncomfortable conversations that might arise from reading a text. The process of becoming a critical guide in your classroom takes time and is something that needs to start from the beginning of the school year with creating a safe space to empower students to find their own voices. More than ever, students are experiencing a tremendous amounts of trauma (loved ones becoming hospitalized and/or even dying, feelings of isolation, community violence, natural disasters, racism, abuse, anxiety, poverty, etc.) and using culturally relevant and responsive literature in the classroom allows students to explore heavy topics that they might not otherwise be prepared to encounter on their own.
When Choosing Diverse Books:
Choose books in which all children in your class can see themselves on the pages.
Choose books written and illustrated by people who look, speak, and live like your students.
Choose books where students can relate to people's situations (anxieties, physical challenges).
Be mindful of your purpose for using books-not every diverse book is great for teaching. Keep in mind what makes a high quality book (well written, well illustrated, offers numerous opportunities for readers to engage in meaningful ways).
Consider who your students are (knowledge, interests, experiences and strengths) when choosing books.
Involve students in the process of diversifying your book collection.
Take inventory of what you have in your classroom library and what can be replaced- Ask your students for their input.
Rethink your units of study (ie: when teaching the American Revolution, can you include other countries' revolutions?).
Got Diverse Texts? Now What? Teachers as Critical Guides in the Moment from ILA Resource Collection: Using Culturally Relevant and Responsive Children's Literature
Grace Enriquez's video on Why Careful Selection of Children's Literature Matters from ILA Resource Collection: Using Culturally Relevant and Responsive Children's Literature
Linda Sue Park's video on Thinking Critically About What We Read from ILA Resource Collection: Using Culturally Relevant and Responsive Children's Literature
Thomas Courtney's Virtual Literature Circles Create a Safe Space for Students from Edutopia