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From “Mirrors” to “Doors”: Why Students Deserve Diverse Texts Worth Reading

October 03, 2022

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In our recent webinar, Critical ways leaders can build a culture of belonging and achievement, our speakers, Dr. Tim Hudson and education expert, Ken Shelton, discussed how to provide authentic, diverse learning environments for students.

Shelton explained, “It’s about what voices are centered, what voices are represented, how are they centered and represented and what are the types of stories being told. […] My favorite metaphorical reference to this is Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors.

Are all students afforded the opportunity to get the mirrors; are they afforded the opportunity, when they get a better understanding and a sense of self, do they get the windows to learn about the accomplishments, excellence and lived experience of others? With the sliding glass doors, what are the opportunities to put yourself into the lived experience of another?"

In education, there has been a movement to intensify efforts to provide students with rich multicultural diversity in books, reading programs and in all areas of education. It's imperative to integrate a range of cultures, characters and experiences within instructional materials and beyond to ensure all students are represented. 

Dr. Bishop, widely considered the “mother of multicultural literature,” published an influential essay in 1990. In the book, she advocated for children’s texts that are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. When reading texts considered mirrors, students see themselves and their lives reflected. Windows, on the other hand, enable readers to gain an understanding and appreciation of experiences different from their own. Sliding glass doors allow children to enter the worlds they read about. 

But why do children (and adults) need diverse books? “It’s not just children who have been underrepresented and marginalized who need these books,” said Dr. Bishop. “It’s also the children who always find their mirrors in the books, and therefore, get an exaggerated sense of their own self-worth and a false sense of what the world is like.” 

 

Diversity in books 2018

 

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, half of all children’s books published in 2018 depicted white characters. But the real kicker? More books were published that featured animal characters than featured any people of color. 

Data on books by and about Black, Indigenous and People of Color published for children and teens compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/literature-resources/ccbc-diversity-statistics/books-by-about-poc-fnn/ Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/

At DreamBox Learning, Randi Bender is among the many content leaders determined to change that mindset. “Students deserve texts worth reading,” says Bender, Chief Content Officer at DreamBox Reading, where she leads a team of editors who write and comb through thousands of texts to find the perfect fit for the online reading program. “We look for content that respects and reflects the experiences and cultures of all children, especially those who have been historically underrepresented.” 

Bender and her team completed their initiative to double the number of texts in the program. They’re adding more content at all reading levels with a particular focus on diversity of content for Black students and students of color. Bender believes the impact will be significant. “Our high-quality texts help students build their knowledge about themselves, their classmates and the world around them – and discover the value and power of reading.” 

Learn more about DreamBox Reading here

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