How to Create an Inclusive Classroom: Choosing Inclusive Teaching Materials

Guest post by Laurel Mendoza, MA, CCC-SLP, in partnership with eLuma Online Therapy.

Creating an inclusive classroom - Teacher reading to a group of smiling students

Diversity. Inclusion. Cultural sensitivity. As educators, we’re likely very familiar with these terms. Although we may acknowledge their importance, it is another matter entirely to ensure we are implementing these values by creating an inclusive classroom.

Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, part of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education, indicate that less than 28% of children’s books published in 2019 feature main characters from diverse backgrounds. This is in stark contrast to the actual demographics of the U.S. education system; Drexel University’s School of Education reported that in 2014, the number of minority students surpassed the number of white students. Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2044, more than 50% of the nation’s population will be people of color. 

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, children’s literature scholar and recipient of the Coretta Scott King Awards’ Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, says, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” By being represented in educational and day-to-day materials, people – especially children – feel acknowledged and validated.

What children do not see in their books also teaches them about who matters and who doesn’t in our society. Invisibility in their storybooks – as well as in their textbooks as they get older – undermines children’s affirmative sense of themselves and reinforces prejudiced ideas about people who are not seen.

Louise Derman-Sparks, anti-bias educator and author

Seeing themselves in books helps children with the vital skill of reading with comprehension and creates deeper connections with the material, improving learning both inside and outside of the classroom. We should remember that while it is essential for children to see themselves reflected in materials, it is equally as important for them to see the lives of people who are different from them depicted as well. Doing so facilitates a better understanding of the world around them, and ultimately an appreciation and celebration of diversity across all aspects of life.

Therefore, it is critical that we intentionally create and use materials that are representative of all populations, and not just in regards to race or ethnicity. Students of different religions, economic statuses, sexual orientations, gender identities, language backgrounds, abilities/disabilities, and family structures are just a few examples of other groups that are underrepresented in many of today’s teaching materials. As we source these materials, it is imperative that they are created by members of these underrepresented communities to avoid spreading inaccuracies and perpetuating biases.

Creating an inclusive classroom starts with you

Where do we start when we want to create an inclusive classroom? This process may look different from one person to the next, but likely it will start with recognizing our own biases and then confronting and working through them. Once we are equipped with a better understanding of ourselves, we can be more prepared to teach others. 

The following are a few practical steps you can take to foster inclusion and educate from a multicultural perspective:

  • Understand the harmful effects of underrepresentation.
  • Attend cultural sensitivity trainings.
  • Understand myths and misconceptions about diversity.
  • Consider your classroom makeup. What are your students’ backgrounds?
  • Engage in open conversations about diversity and inclusion with students and colleagues.
  • When choosing a book or material, consider the experience/expertise of the author. Are they writing based on authentic experience?
  • Check illustrations, videos, and other instructional materials to ensure they feature diverse characters or models.
  • Look out for stereotypes in narratives.

By providing culturally-responsive instruction, we respect the experiences of underrepresented communities, increase students’ empathy and open-mindedness, provide opportunities for growth and understanding, and encourage fellow educators to take responsibility to ensure we are not failing our future generations.

Further resources for diverse materials:

The Social Learning Platform has been a true life saver for me, both with time management (I can easily filter exactly what I need from a wealth of choices) and materials that are of exceptional quality and interest to students of all ages. I love how I can create folders of specific materials for each student and I can easily screen share and have the videos, games and worksheets on the screen for my students to engage with.

– A. Waldmann, M.S., CCC-SLP

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