In 2017, 52 percent of all students enrolled in public schools were racially or ethnically diverse. By 2029, this number is projected to be 57 percent. However, in 2012, only 17 percent of the teachers in the US workforce were racially or ethnically diverse.
The question is, how can educators make sure that teaching and learning is effective and equitable for all learners, regardless of their individual backgrounds? And can instructional resources truly be designed for equity?
While the answer to both questions is “yes,” it involves fundamentally rethinking how we shape curriculum, and the problem is that there’s no single checklist or “one-size-fits-all” approach that will work for every district, school, or classroom.
However, there are numerous key characteristics of high-quality, culturally responsive, and sustaining resources that should be present in all instructional materials. Here are five principles that you’ll want to incorporate into your school’s effective and equitable instructional resources:
1. Culturally responsive resources should be authentic. They should represent a culture authentically, with all information and portrayals in the texts and images being accurate and believable. Some resources, for instance, present content through multiple characters, all of which possess different backgrounds and language abilities. These characters live in different parts of the world; have different skills and abilities; and are all emergent bilinguals (each has a home language other than English). The inclusion of these characters was no accident. We know that Emergent Bilinguals, like all students, thrive when they find a personal, emotional connection to the content that they’re learning.
2. They also must be realistic. The storylines should be relatable and should allow students from those cultures to find connections. This is important because kids will select characters that they can relate to. Accurate and authentic portrayals of diverse characters will often reveal social issues or problems that can speak to a variety of learners and connect them through a common lived experience. Research shows that learners and readers relate more to a story when the characters experience a similar life event as something they’ve lived through (e.g., an absent parent, racism, or loss).
3. Provide a culturally conscious ideology. The lessons should be conscious of different cultural beliefs and traditions and not infer or explicitly state sentiments of assimilation. At the end of the content, the characters should still retain their own cultural heritage, even if they’ve accepted that they need or want to learn about the dominant culture. Also consider the inclusion of diverse and culturally specific names. In my previous role as an English language acquisition teacher, I’ll never forget how my learners’ faces lit up when I said their names for the first time. I even had a few students that would tear up because they very rarely heard their names and almost never pronounced correctly in their mainstream content classrooms.
4. Make it relevant and engaging. Culturally responsive resources should be relevant and engaging and should also build upon the assets that learners bring with them. They should provide avenues and venues for students to engage in actions for social change and promote cultural competency. This is important because you really can’t appreciate the diversity of others if you haven’t learned to accept your own. For example, high-quality resources should document content that provides avenues for students to connect their learning to social, political, or environmental concerns and encourages them to contribute to change. They should include examples that represent relatable social issues of being far away from extended family, and the loss in a sense of leaving family when people immigrate.
5. Leave out the stereotypes and generalizations. Equitable instructional resources can’t include stereotypes, misrepresentations, generalizations, biases, or tokenism. At my company, we also put skin color categorization, gender/gender expression, gender roles, and family structure under this umbrella, and are careful to avoid stereotypes in any of these dimensions of diversity when developing equitable content. One way to identify the stereotypes and generalizations is by looking at your illustrations and text. Do all of the people and characters look white, except for those that look like they’ve been “colored in?” Do they all have very similar features or do some people have distinctive features? Also, could the characters’ race or heritage or gender be swapped without altering the storyline? These are some of the signs that it’s an ambiguous representation.
Not just set it and forget it
Ensuring equity in instructional resources is an ongoing piece of the curriculum development process. As a starting point, consider your personal values and those of your team. Through the conscious decisions of what resources, we provide our students with, we have the power to change inequity into equity in our instructional resources.
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