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How to Reflect Your Students in Your Classroom Library

As Read Across America Day approaches on March 2, you may be thinking about how your school or class can celebrate and build literacy in your students. Read Across America’s theme this year is “Create and celebrate a nation of diverse readers.” Whether you teach in a globally-focused classroom, dual language immersion, or other type of classroom, it’s important that students have their experiences represented in literature. Your classroom library is an excellent starting point for students to see not only themselves but other cultures and backgrounds through books.

One way you can ensure students have rich, meaningful experiences with books is to conduct a diversity audit of your classroom library. If you have been teaching for a while, you have probably amassed quite a collection of books! A diversity audit will help you clearly see what you have in your collection and what you would like to add. 

When students see their own stories reflected in literature, it helps them feel valued and recognized in the classroom. Books give students windows into the experiences of others, building empathy and curiosity. Here are some tips for how you can expand your classroom library and build diverse representation in your collection.

Start by assessing what you already have

Knowing what is currently represented in your classroom library will give you a clear picture of what books to add to your collection. As you review your books, you can use tools like these questionnaires and checklists to see what perspectives and voices are represented:

If you see gaps emerging where there is little representation of a certain culture or lived experience, this is an opportunity to expand your library! Be intentional about adding to your selection where a perspective or voice is underrepresented.

You can also do a reverse diversity audit, in which you evaluate one aspect of representation in your classroom library. For example, you could see how many and what types of books you have that depict characters with learning differences or various types of family structures.

As you assess your collection, it’s also important to show different experiences within a culture and focus on more than one theme or idea. For example, the Latinx community should be represented not just through stories of immigration but many rich and varied experiences of different cultural backgrounds.

Strive to represent all your students through books

As you get to know your students and their families, you will understand more about their culture, heritage, and background. Part of creating a culturally responsive classroom is representing students’ experiences through literature.

Once you have a clear picture of your classroom library, you will be able to tell whether or not students see themselves in your current collection. This is a great starting point for a book wish list to grow your library. Strive to represent every student in your class through a text. This can be a book about their cultural heritage, a language they speak at home, their family situation, where they live, and so on. 

As you select new books, here is a checklist to help you think through whether or not a text is respectful, accurate, and authentic.

Let students travel the world through your library

If you are an educator in a Global Leaders school, students are experiencing different parts of the world through your instruction.

See how many different countries and cultures are represented in your library, and strive to represent as many voices as you can from the countries you study with your students. This is an excellent way to enhance a global lesson or unit of study. 

A diverse book collection will allow students to travel the world right from your classroom. Enrich their learning experiences and augment your instruction with different perspectives and cultural values. Your students will be more engaged and better able to make real-world connections to their learning.

Creating a diverse, culturally rich classroom library can seem daunting at first. Vetting each text is time-consuming but more than worth it in terms of your students feeling respected and valued at school. 

Use Read Across America Day as a starting point to expand your library and celebrate many voices and perspectives in your classroom. Here are more resources and ideas for diversifying your collection and encouraging literacy in your students:

How are you celebrating Read Across America Day with your students? Let us know on social media using #UnitingOurWorld.

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