Below are five strategies I either used or support to bolster diverse texts in the classroom that educators can implement.
1. The Reading Minute. Though developed for middle and high school students, elementary teachers can use Kelly Gallagher’s technique too. Choose an interesting book, but not one that students would typically gravitate to. Find a cliffhanger and read the passage for one minute but stop right before the reader finds out what happens. Students will sit on the edge of their seats to know what happens next. Then, watch the book fly off the shelf. Books I could not teach made great candidates for The Reading Minute.
2. Start a book garden and have students tend it. Plant the seed by suggesting one or two books by topic (e.g., family, challenges, or immigration). On a shared list, invite students to plant their own seeds, other related titles, or podcasts, and watch the book garden grow.
3. Build relationships with students’ families. Parents trust educators they know. During school events, host a “text forum,” and invite parents to a discussion. Listen to concerns and share the titles you teach, want to teach, and why. A conversation with parents will likely be more fruitful and encouraging than online debates and contentious school board meetings.
4. Ask students to write testimonials after reading a challenged book—what they learned, how they think, and why they think other students should read the text. Make these testimonials public, either virtually or in your classroom.
5. Contact legislators when state policy bans books. Coordinate with teachers, parents, libraries, and local efforts, like ACLU chapters, to oppose book bans.
Texts featuring a range of characters affirm students’ own experiences and understandings of who they are and expose them to people different from them, building bridges to understanding, empathy, and compassion. Educators are in positions to invite students to be full participants in the society they will one day lead, one populated and defined by richness in race, ethnicity, gender, and thought. Books are critical for preparing students to be part of a multicultural, diverse, pluralistic society.
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