Need to Know:
- Equity is a non-negotiable for instructional best practices.
- Considering where and how equity shows up (or doesn’t) in our literacy programming is every educator’s job.
- Access, representation, and choice can guide us to improve equity in the reading classroom.
A Closer Look:
Equity-centered education improves communities, challenges power and privilege imbalance, and strengthens the economy. Equitable learning environments bolster student self-concept and school culture.
Equity has a place in every part of the school day, including during and throughout literacy instruction. Often, reading curricula are designed to be equal, with whole classes learning from the same materials, through the same lens, and at the same pace.
The problem with this, as we have learned, is that equal isn’t always equitable (and it doesn’t always feel “fair”). Instead, equity means that each learner receives what they need to successfully participate in the learning day. By extension, each child has access to tools and resources to flourish in society beyond school.
With this in mind, what steps can we take to achieve more equitable reading experiences for all students?
Tip 1: Ensure Access
Students need hurdle-free access to engaging reading materials at school and home. Moreover, materials should be grade and level appropriate and should be supported by student-tailored instructional moves.
Cindy Jiban, in her article, Let’s talk equity: Reading levels, scaffolds, and grade-level text, summarizes the relationship between access and equity as:
- Equity = access to complex, grade level text
- Access = appropriate scaffolding
Thinking about access this way can help us meet the needs of diverse student groups, including multilingual learners and kids with special considerations. IDL Literacy Intervention, for example, supports learners with dyslexia and other learning difficulties by using a speaking-computer based, multi-sensory system to improve reading and spelling. Class or school-based initiatives like IDL can help dramatically increase reading equity.
Finally, fighting for equitable literacy access means doing our part to counter book deserts. Learn more about book deserts here, or view your community (and other global communities) on this interactive map!
Tip 2: Look for Representation
Equity in literacy instruction also means that students, including those of different races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities, see themselves reflected in books they read. Equally as important, those reflections should feature characters who are empowered, self-realizing agents of change within their world. Children’s book author and illustrator Eric Velaques says on the topic, “Once children see themselves represented in books, their existence is validated, and they feel that they are a part of the world.”
Representation also speaks to what we do with books that authentically reflect the diversity in our classrooms. For example, are these texts simply living on our bookshelves, or are they serving as catalysts for productive conversation? Are they integrated into our instruction in culturally responsive ways?
Another critical question: Who’s reading the books that feature diverse casts? (Hint: it should be all students). After all, research shows that “meeting” characters in literature who are different from us improves real-life empathy. "Storytelling is one of the easiest and most accessible approaches for teaching race, equity, diversity, and inclusion," writes Sydney Calcagno for Storytime Village. "Don't just tell children how important it is to respect, value, and honor our differences; help them be part of that conversation through the books they read."
Tip 3: Look for Choice
“Students’ freedom of choice is critical to promoting equity and literacy in the classroom,” say researchers from the University of California’s School of Education. “When students choose what they read, they are more likely to find books that represent their lives, interests, and personal desires and feel that they are autonomous and can self-regulate learning.” The study also links choice in reading to improved motivation and higher academic achievement.
So, what does choice look like in the context of reading-based equity? To begin, it calls for a broader definition of participation, says Learning for Justice. For example, readers may have a choice in how they demonstrate comprehension of a text. Learning for Justice recommends considering “active listening, written response, artistic response and involvement in small groups.” Students may also practice agency in determining where and how they read (for example: at a sitting desk, at a standing desk, in a reading nook, or as a small group). Or, they may be explicitly encouraged to self-advocate for the kinds of supports and frameworks that help them learn best.
How are you ensuring global access, authentic representation, and choice in the reading experience of your students? What else can you do to grow equity in your literacy programming?