Diversity & Equity

THE WHY: Diversifying your High School Texts and/or Classroom Library (Part 1)

If you teach English in high school you have encountered the weak reader or worse the non reader. If reading is a skill, then the only way to get stronger is to practice. But how can you convince someone who struggles, refuses, or even hates reading to practice.

The Why: The Movement

Students need to choose to read, they can not be forced. You need to give them material that is both engaging, and challenging enough, to improve their skills. Students are more likely to read books if they are current and the texts include people who look like or have the same lived experiences as them. This means students may not wish to read “the canon,” which is filled with people and stories that they can not connect with. Diversifying the texts used in classes, and moving away from the classics, has been a movement for some time. Hashtags such as: #we need diverse texts, #project lit, #disrupt texts, #own voices have been prominent on social media for sometime now.

According to #weneediverstexts or WNDT (We Need Diverse Texts “a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, nonmajority narratives in children’s literature”):

“…embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality…diversity, includ[es] (but [is] not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic/ culture/religious minorities.”

https://diversebooks.org/about-wndb/

It is important for all students to see themselves in the books that they read (mirrors), to see into the worlds of others (windows), and to develop empathy through sharing the experiences of others (sliding doors).

Rudine Sims Bishop wisely wrote:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)”

“Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors” MILLIE DAVIS NCTE
https://ncte.org/blog/2016/02/windows-mirrors-sliding-doors/

#OwnVoices is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group. Please be aware that it is always better to diversify by choosing own voice texts over texts written about marginalized people by others.

“There’s a long history of majority-group authors (white, abled, straight, cisgender, male, etc.) writing outside their experience to tell diverse stories. Sometimes the characters and stories they create are wonderful! But many times, they’re rife with stereotypes, tropes, and harmful portrayals.

“OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literature” by Kayla Whaley https://www.readbrightly.com/why-we-need-diverse-authors-in-kids-ya-lit/

But it is also important to be CRITICAL in the choices we make when deciding what texts to include. #DisruptTexts “is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve. It is part of our mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.” According to, two of the founders, Jillian Heise and Julia E. Torres:

It is a moral imperative of our work with children that we ensure all children can be affirmed and seen in the books that we read to them. These are what Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop calls “mirrors.” It is also a moral imperative of the work we do with children to ensure that they are able to see others who are not like themselves and understand their place within the larger global society in which we live. This is what Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop calls ‘windows.’ Curating inclusive collections and making decisions on what books to include and exclude must take into consideration these two moral imperatives of our work as educators. It also must be recognized as a keystone of our obligation as educators to first do no harm. So, the decisions we make about which texts to include in our classroom communities must serve a purpose of supporting all students and all of our society.”

“Going Beyond Diverse Collections” By Jillian Heise and Julia E. Torres https://www.follettcommunity.com/s/article/Going-Beyond-Diverse-Collections

The article above includes resources to help you choose texts with a critical lens, including this document: how to critically analyze books for representation.

Choosing a variety of texts is only the beginning to ensuring equity in your English classroom. Ultimately #disrupttexts’ mandate is to go beyond diversifying text choices and move towards system wide changes that ensure equity for all.

Inclusive practices are those that guarantee the perspectives and contributions of all people—especially of diverse backgrounds who have been traditionally marginalized such as LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and people of color—are given equal recognition, attention, and care in all learning environments. 

Inclusive practices consist of both curricular materials and teaching methods. It assumes that because the aim of education is to empower students, decisions regarding curricula or methods are always political in nature. When our teaching practices are not inclusive, we perpetuate systemic inequalities.”

“How Inclusive is Your Literacy Classroom Really?” by Tricia Ebarvia https://blog.heinemann.com/heinemann-fellow-tricia-ebavaria-inclusive-literacy-classroom-really

The above article includes 8 questions (PDF) you can ask yourself to ensure that not only your texts are inclusive but your practices are too.

Looking for more resources to help you with equity check out the Empowering Educators for resources. You can also view the video of the timely “Empowering Educators | A Convening on Racial Equity in Education” conference, presented by the American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC), from the summer. The conference included an open mic discussion between keynote speaker Jason Reynolds (award winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) and facilitator Christine Platt (managing director of the ARPC). A session on “Practical & Actionable Guidance for Educators” by Liz Kleinrock (award winning educator) and Julye Williams (founder of Project 2034) and a session on “The Importance of Antiracist Teaching” by Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy (a professor and Dean of School of Education at American University) and Dr. Amanda Taylor (award winning educator, an assistant professor and Director of the School of Counseling at Brooklyn College).

Now that you understand why it is important to think about equity when selecting texts to use in your classroom. How do you do it?

Read the next article in the series: The How: Diversifying your High School Texts and /or Classroom Library (Part2)



Interested in other blosgs about Equity, see:

Creating an Inclusive Online Classroom: Part 1-Getting to know your students

Why can’t my high school English students read?

Part 1-Overview: How to teach high school student’s how to read: 5 Part blog series

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