Equity and Inclusion has always been central to building trust with my students. In striving to be a fair educator and instructional coach with high expectations, I am constantly seeking new ways to create belonging in the classroom for all my students. Here are some examples of how I have learned to center equity and inclusion while teaching literacy:
Use curated text sets and choose articles for students to read that build empathy. At the beginning of the school year, my team of digital resource coaches added the Newsela diversity and inclusion text sets to our Units of Study plans. I love this lesson spark that builds upon an article about what it’s like for students with disabilities to navigate school. Instead of just reading the article, students can engage in guided activities and gain content knowledge with supporting videos, all while building empathy and literacy skills together.
Give students agency by letting them choose topics of interest in the “Latest News” section. When special events hit news headlines–elections, holidays, major events–I used the “Latest News” section as an opener for the day to help students stay grounded in learning. Letting students choose what they’re most interested in and having peer to peer discussions on those topics are great ways to build empathy among classmates and keep students engaged in what they’re reading.
SEL Connections build bridges between the novels students are reading and social and emotional skill-building. My school’s social workers have shared SEL connections with teachers to help infuse our anti-bullying curriculum with literacy practices. For example, ELA teachers can explore diverse cultures, stories, and authors through curated novel studies that amplify themes of relationship-building and respect for others.
Leveled Spanish texts, available to English Language Learners, builds inclusivity. My colleagues and I have used Newsela texts in Spanish with English Language Learners whose first language is Spanish so they can engage with relevant content that’s accessible to them. These leveled texts also highlight to all students that there are multiple ways to read and learn based on your native language.
Sit down with Cultural Advocates, or other members of your community to discuss which articles resonate with them and their culture, and could be beneficial to your students. During Black History Month I met with our Director of Equity and Inclusion to discuss and edit a choice board activity and talk about how it would positively impact the students of color in our district. Their consulting helped ensure that the choices provided to students were more equitable and representative of their own backgrounds and histories.
Finally, the best way to incorporate teaching in a culturally inclusive way and to represent all students is to continue to learn yourself. As an educator I encourage you to read Newsela articles to inform yourself of current events and explore cultures and perspectives that are different from your own. Be willing to challenge your current beliefs and practices, and speak to others about their experiences, especially people from different backgrounds.
Literacy skills are best taught when students are fully engaged with the content they’re reading. Content that is relevant to them and reflective of their backgrounds will not only create a more equitable classroom, but it will engage students who are too often left out of the typical stories that are taught in the classroom.