Dr Rudine Sims Bishop’s research in children’s literacy has been on my mind as of late. Many of us are familiar with the terms, mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors as they refer to texts that children read. Sometimes a text is a mirror in which students can see themselves and their lived experiences reflected back to them. This can be very validating for students to affirm their identities and connect with characters, themes, and ideas they find in text. Sometimes a book may be a window through which they can see someone else’s lived experiences and learn about others’ identities. At times, the right text can be a sliding glass door allowing students to step into a story, to build empathy, and understanding for other people as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about who gets to see that mirror reflecting back images of themselves in our classrooms. Whose identities are always affirmed and validated? Which children are always looking through a window at what is being celebrated as the ‘norm’ in the world?

We all know we need to have more diverse books. I can think of the books we read in school when I was in elementary – I rarely saw Asian families or mixed race families. I felt like I was always looking through the windows at how other families lived. This experience taught me how to ‘fit in’ in order to be accepted into the world. It showed me all the ‘right things’ to do and the ‘right things’ to talk about in class, but it also told my classmates what was normal and reinforced who should take up space in their world.

I had some great teachers back then, all trying to navigate teaching and learning with the best intentions, the recent research and the available resources at that time. We know that things have changed over the past forty years, but the need for diverse books in the hands of children who need to learn about themselves and others remains. Diverse books are necessary for racialized children or 2SLGBTQ+ children to see themselves reflected in that mirror, but they are also for children to learn about others, to open their minds about who belongs, and to have a real sense of the world outside of their own experiences.

As educators, text selection is one part of this journey. Looking critically at the books in your school library, classroom collection, read aloud books, student choice texts, and knowing the learners and families who share space with you adds another layer. Think about which voices and identities are taking up the most space and which voices and identities may be missing. Providing the opportunity to learn about others can help to break biases students are building about people and communities. It may build empathy and develop an understanding of lives outside of their own experiences.

It’s also important to think about the educator’s role in conversations. Engaging in diverse texts offers students the opportunity to see adults learning about others in a way that is respectful and models appreciation, not appropriation. Explicitly teaching how we learn about others, how we navigate our own biases, and modeling how we interact with texts is a great learning opportunity for students.

If you haven’t had the chance to learn about diverse identities, it’s a great idea to engage in that experience yourself. Try reading, listening, or watching something to learn about other experiences. Notice how you navigate texts, the emotions, or thoughts that you are having and what you might choose to say that would guide students through their own thought processes. It’s an ongoing practice to understand and work through having conversations with the students in your room.

Always remember to preview the texts you are interested in including in your literacy program. Know what some of those important conversations will be and the content that you are helping students to navigate and learn. It’s so important to be aware of whether you are offering a mirror, a window, or a sliding glass door to children and the different ways you can provide opportunities for discussions for each.


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