A recent report from the Education Trust found that students gain a lot from texts that include diverse groups of children represented in nonstereotypical ways. However, students of color, particularly Black and Latino children, don’t often get the opportunity to see themselves in texts.
In my experience, most classrooms and school libraries simply don’t have enough books that provide representation to students of color, and these texts tend to be supplementary to course content curricula at best.
The report examines racial and ethnic representation in the books used in U.S. curricula and finds that White authors and characters are overrepresented, and portrayals of people of color are often troubling: “When books included groups and cultures of color, they often used stereotypes, disconnected culture from individual people, or portrayed those groups as less than or unequal to others. And, when historical and social topics were included, they were almost always sanitized, told through a singular perspective, or disconnected from the structural realities that help students make meaning of the reading.”
Black books by Black authors with stories about the experiences of Black life should be in classrooms and school libraries. The same is true concerning other marginalized racial and ethnic groups. However, it’s not enough to simply have these books at your disposal and/or on display.
These books must not be watered down. They should accurately represent the diverse set of experiences and history of the racial or ethnic group(s) represented in the text. That happens best when the author of said text is of the same racial or ethnic background as the group being represented. Also, these texts must be an active part of the course content. In other words, they should be frequently used as part of lessons and in various forms of assessment.
Teachers may desire to do these things but be unaware of where to find these texts and how to integrate them within their already prepackaged course content. Here are a few tips to help teachers make these things happen in their classrooms.
3 Ways to Find Culturally Relevant Texts Written by Authors of Color
1. Visit a bookstore owned by people of color (e.g., Black or Latino owned). These stores can be found in city neighborhoods; some exist in the suburbs. There are also online stores, including Mahogany Books and Brave + Kind Books, as well as publishing houses owned by people of color, such as Con Todo Press and Chau Luna Books.
These establishments specialize in highlighting authors of color and themes specific to the experiences of communities of color. Teachers can find engaging texts for all ages that can be easily integrated into course content.
2. Collaborate with your school or district librarian, or the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) person in your school or district. If teachers are unfamiliar with any diverse books or resources to use for classroom content, they can reach out to school or district personnel who can assist with making recommendations. You can contact your school’s or district’s DEI director or curriculum supervisor to support you in these efforts.
3. Reach out to parents of color for suggestions found in their own collection of books for their child(ren). Parents of color may have their own set or collection of diverse books as it relates to their racial/ethnic makeup because of the limited options that the Education Trust report mentions. These parents may be able to offer recommendations on what texts you might want to use in your classrooms and why. They can also point you in the right direction—e.g., bookstores to patronize, authors to read, and resources to adopt.
But just having diverse texts in your classroom is not enough. Teachers should be able to use these materials to have students engage in rigorous higher-order thinking.
3 Ways to Prompt Higher-Order Thinking Through Diverse Texts
1. Don’t shy away from exploring themes rooted in social issues. Although some politicians say otherwise, exploring themes rooted in social issues is a great way to engage students and bring your content to life. Whether it’s climate change, systemic racism, income inequality, or mental health, social issues are connected to lessons on character, mathematics, reading, and writing.
Educators have the unique opportunity to teach students not only about said topics, but also about how to approach discussions on them with facts backed by evidence, sincerity, and civility. Observing the characters in books offers a safe way to do so.
2. Employ Bloom’s higher order thinking question stems to have students explore these themes further during reading times. Using Bloom’s framework gives teachers the ability to check for student understanding of what’s happening in the text and to assist students with unpacking the story and character action to explore the theme(s) that appear in the story.
Through this framework, teachers can introduce students to critical thinking tools to become thoughtful about what it means to both apply learned skills and consider the humanity of everyone. As teachers move up through each level in the questioning, opportunities arise for students to take ownership of their interactions with the text and for assignments and projects to build themselves.
3. Craft assignments and assessments that allow students to display their recognition and application of these themes. Teachers must be careful not to recycle rote evaluations of student learning. Utilizing the highest level of the framework gives students the opportunity to create and to be able to display their learning.
Student creativity can be channeled into a potential service learning project, where young people have the opportunity to pour back into their communities, which have poured into them their entire lives. Learning must present students with opportunities to not only apply learned skills, but apply them for the betterment of society.