Curriculum Work Includes Books About Diverse Characters

Posted by Thomas DeLoughry on 11/14/2018

 

A new school year means hundreds of new books in the District’s schools for young readers to enjoy, but this year’s selections are the results of a coordinated effort to better reflect changing demographics in the United States. 

“We looked at our libraries with a new lens,” says Grace White, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, in explaining the process that media specialists in all the schools undertook after learning more about the importance of having books that better reflect American society and the lives of the young readers themselves.

 

Diversity Workshop logo  

A workshop at School Library Journal helped media specialists analyze books in Wyckoff’s schools.

White credits Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor of education at the Ohio State University, with popularizing the metaphor of mirrors, windows, and doors to express what books mean to children. The Wyckoff District, White says, wants the books in the libraries to reflect the lives of students while allowing others to peer into experiences that are different from theirs with the hope that all of these literary experiences will open new doors for students.

Media specialists in the District attended a workshop at School Library Journal in the spring and then White attended a meeting at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Mass., to learn more about the topic. The result is that many of the books purchased this year will be mirrors and windows for Wyckoff’s readers. “The librarians are doing a great job of finding different kinds of books that represent all kids,” White says.

Superintendent Rich Kuder says many of the new selections are not about the struggles of a child with disabilities, famous people of color, or about holiday celebrations in a particular religion. Instead, they are more likely to be an ordinary story about losing a tooth or taking a field trip and the character involved is in a wheelchair, for example, or wearing religious clothing, such as a hajib. “This is who we all are,” Dr. Kuder says. “This reflects our society and the diversity that exists in our country.”

White says Phil Bidner, a children’s book author known for his emphasis on the diversity of characters, will talk with elementary school faculty in the spring to generate more interest in using books that better reflect changing demographics. This focus is consistent with ideas that Dr. Derrick Gay has brought to Wyckoff through his professional development presentations about cultural diversity last year and again in 2018-2019.

Media specialists say teachers in their various schools have had a chance this fall to see many of the newly purchased books and children are signing them out as well. Trisha Noble at Sicomac describes the feedback as “encouraging” and Jessica Telesmanich at Washington says she’ll be incorporating some of the newer books in her lessons this year.

Other Wyckoff faculty were busy this summer on other initiatives for the new school year. Art teachers created the new Studio Art program in the elementary schools, which is based on student interest rather than abilities. The ETV studio at Eisenhower was rebuilt, while new technology classes related to coding and prototyping were developed. Professional development was also provided to teach newer staff members about Responsive Classroom and the Reggio Emilia approach to early education. Principals also set up book clubs to involve faculty in learning about important education-related topics.

 

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