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The Importance of a Diverse Classroom Library

By Jerie Blintt
 | Oct 20, 2020

ImportanceofaDiverseClassroomLibrary_680wLiterature introduces people to worlds they have never set foot in, which is why it is so important for classroom libraries to be full of diverse stories that reflect students’ backgrounds and cultures. Students seeing themselves in the stories they read to foster a sense of belonging, recognition, and most of all, validation, is crucial—representation matters.

Students also need to read stories that show experiences other than their own to expand their worldview. Teacher Natalya Gibbs believes that early exposure to diverse literature forms understanding students who can relate to people of all walks of life. Even as learning has shifted online, the ethos of a diverse library can be carried over and adapted to the virtual classroom.

An introduction to different worlds

It is in this time of disruption and uncertainty that educators should encourage independent reading, says elementary literacy specialist Marie Havran. Having students take turns sharing their favorite books and current reads not only introduces the entire class to different authors, genres, and books but also gives you insight into where students are and what they like to read. You can then craft reading plans based on what students have shared, including related readings or books that could help fill in the gaps. Considering possible issues around book access, educators can use numerous resources that allow students access to diverse books: audiobooks, the International Children’s Digital Library, or even conducting read-alouds of books.

Proactive engagements with the text

Learning does not stop with the act of completing a book. Lively discussions and activities around their reading can help students process and absorb the lessons taught by the books they encounter. This is especially true in the current global situation, because many students learning remotely will have less access to books. Reading should be proactive and, as such, HP’s tips for communicating in a virtual classroom includes engagement through creative classwork. This can be done by reading books to students over a video stream and asking them to discuss the books (also reducing the need for students to have physical copies of the books).

Using literature helps to spark students’ interest when it is made personal and when it has a correlation to current events. Educators can create guiding questions that tie characters’ actions or story plots to what is happening in the world today.

A lesson in empathy

In addition, educators should involve students by connecting stories with their own lives. Ask students how they felt reading the stories or inquire what they would do if they were in a certain character’s shoes. An article on the BBC Future website about reading fiction describes how these questions help readers to identify with characters and evaluate their actions, desires, and goals instead of their own. This may facilitate deeper connections with the books read and train students on critical thinking and empathy early on.

With the state of the world today, reading diverse literature can help us push for changes that go beyond the classroom. Multicultural literature and a diverse classroom library, even at an elementary level, reflects the stories and narratives of those whose voices have not traditionally been heard.

Most of all, creating a diverse classroom library for students’ growth can make readers of today the leaders of tomorrow.

Jerie Blintt is an avid reader who is passionate about bringing technology and literature to the forefront of every classroom. When she's not writing about the latest innovations, you'll likely find her meditating in her local park.

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