Ten Ways Reading New and Diverse Literature Changes Us as Teachers By Stephanie Affinito and Kris McGee
Today’s diverse classrooms demand teachers who understand the power reading holds to change students’ lives and the world around them. Our students deserve books that have characters and lives similar to their own. They also deserve books that help them think outside of themselves and provide windows into new cultures, ways of thinking or new experiences. We must honor the identities of all readers in our classrooms and this begins with a careful look at our own reading lives as teachers.
Teachers must be wide and voracious readers of children’s literature and have the book knowledge they need to put diverse books into the hands of all children. The National Council of Teachers of English recommends teacher educators support preservice teachers to build rich and deep knowledge of children’s and young adult literature over the course of their teacher education programs. They also believe practicing teachers must invest in their own reading lives and advocate for current and diverse titles in our classroom libraries (NCTE, 2018).
As literacy teacher educators, we are committed to helping teachers understand the importance of their own reading lives and introduce them to current and diverse titles to broaden their classroom libraries. Here are the top ten reasons we make deliberate efforts to do so:
- Boosts book knowledge to help teachers connect with the students in front of them: To help students find the right book at the right time, teachers must have deep knowledge of the students in front of him/her: who they are, what they like and what they experience. They must also have deep knowledge of children’s literature: the genres, characters and experiences of today’s students. By reading current and diverse titles ourselves, we can more readily recommend books matched to each student in our classroom.
- Helps teachers connect with their own reading lives and minds their reading gaps. All readers have preferences for what they like to read. Without careful reflection on their own reading lives, teachers run the risk of passing their own reading gaps onto their students and marginalizing others. Reading diverse titles broadens teachers reading palettes and models how their students might do the same.
- Introduces teachers to genres and authors that may not have experienced in their own schooling. The need for diverse books has been well-documented. These books were almost non-existent ten years ago when many new teachers were in school. By reading diverse books as part of a teacher education program or professional learning community, we ensure teachers have access to these books to then share with their students.
- Promotes advocacy for independent reading in the classroom. When teachers consciously attend to their own reading lives, they experience the power and enjoyment that independent reading can bring. When we experience that power firsthand, we understand the need to advocate for students to experience the same.
- Builds a reading community in our classrooms. Reading communities are built through conversations, sharing, and questions. A reading community is one filled with book talks, book debates, book sharing, and book dealing, practices cultivated more easily when teachers are readers themselves. Allow your class to start a conversation about books for the pure love of books.
- Provides safe places to begin tough conversations. Reading aloud diverse books in your classroom, allows you to safely begin those tough conversations that might reflect events in your classroom or in the world. Mixed, by Aree Chung, is a gentle book with a message of acceptance and living in harmony. Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, shares the message that we have the chance to be kind each day. Books make us think.
- Challenges teachers to find books that propose something different to them. When Gene Luen Yang was the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, his platform was “Reading Without Walls.” He proposed three challenges to us as readers: 1) Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live where you live; 2) Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about; and 3) Read a book written in a format you’ve never read before. By accepting the challenge ourselves, we can pass our findings along to our students.
- Celebrates different and diverse experiences. Sharing different and diverse books in our classrooms can lead to sharing different and diverse experiences. We can learn from one another and open our minds to new ideas and perspectives. This, in turn, allows us to build a community of readers who celebrate one another with respect, understanding, and compassion. Follow the movement on Twitter: #KidsDeserveIt @Kidsdeserveit and We Need Diverse Books at @Diversebooks.
- Creates rich, diverse, current classroom libraries. We need to keep our classroom libraries current, reflective of our times, and stocked. Scholastic (2018) states we should have 5 new books a year for each child in our classroom. We believe at least half of those new books should reflect diverse cultures and characters preferably written by diverse authors. Scholastic also reports 30% of the books in our library should have been published within the last 3-5 years. That ensures we are stocking relevant and current titles for our children to read. The new book, Game Changer: Book access for all kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, shares a myriad of ideas as to how we can get books in all kids’ hands. For educators today, a rich, diverse and current classroom library is crucial.
- Fosters a love of literacy. Giving ourselves permission to indulge in self-selected reading reminds us of the power it holds to build a reading identity. Regularly reading, especially current and diverse titles, fosters a love of reading, of learning, of growing as a person, of sharing our reading with others and love for ourselves as we find ourselves in the pages of a book.
We must make deliberate efforts to bring current and diverse literature into our work with teachers. By doing so, we ensure their reading lives are impacted in powerful ways, providing models and motivation to do the same for their students.
Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator at the University at Albany. She has a deep love for literacy coaching and supporting teachers’ reading, writing and learning through technology.
Kris McGee is an Associate Professor of Literacy at Frostburg State University in Maryland. She has been sharing her love of teaching and children’s literature for 29 years with children, pre-service and in-service teachers.