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How can I be intentional about building an inclusive learning environment?

august 11, 2020

As fresh faces enter classrooms this year, teachers have a brand-new opportunity to make a positive impact on the children trusted to their care. And while teaching the academic standards will always help prepare students for college and careers, intentionally fostering an inclusive classroom environment can have even greater implications.

A key component in creating a classroom where every student feels welcome and valued is representation. Even the most homogeneous classrooms represent a range of cultures and life experiences. If you want to be intentional about building an inclusive classroom, find ways to recognize and honor these differences.

Provide windows and mirrors

One away to achieve representation in the classroom is with text selection. The texts that we have available in the classroom need to honor “mirror” and “window” experiences.

Mirror texts are those that are highly relatable to a reader. He can see himself and his own life experiences represented within the character, setting, or plot. If the texts that are being used day in and day out don’t ever feel relatable to a student, the burden is on the child to stay engaged. When teachers cycle through texts that mirror the lives of individual students, ownership in learning naturally improves.

Window texts expose readers to people, places, and practices that they would otherwise never know about. In culturally diverse classrooms, as teachers are intentional about offering “mirror” texts to represent some students, the result will be “window” moments for other students. In less diverse classrooms, a carefully planned lineup of window texts can go a long way to honor people who are different than the kids on the class roster.

Recommended texts

There are lots of texts that could be used to represent mirrors or windows. During the 2019 Literacy Retreat, Kristina Smekens shared a helpful list of recommendations for texts at every level. Beyond those recommendations, the books listed below are particularly good at addressing culture, race, and ability.

Who Will You Be? By Andrea Pippen
This picture book addresses cultural differences and the notion that we all are a compilation of the people who came before us.

The Day You Begin – By Jacqueline Woodson
This picture book captures the feelings of what it’s like to be an outsider because you look different.

El Deafo – By Cece Bell
In this graphic novel, the author depicts her own experiences going to school with a hearing impairment.

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