Recently, I was asked by a friend about her kindergartener’s literacy progress. As I was giving her advice, we had a conversation that reminded me of the importance of literacy, especially for our students of color.
English Literacy is vital to one’s function in America – you need literacy to fill out a college application, to read a menu, to drive and follow the road signs, etc. Currently, many institutions have marked our nation in a “literacy crisis”. This is apparent by the “gaps” in literacy between racial groups in our school systems.
The Racial Justice Gap in Literacy
There is a consistent gap being reported between the literacy scores of our students of color and the literacy scores of our white students. In addition, many schools are seeing gaps in the reading performance between our students of color and white students even while using less-biased forms of measuring literacy. The gap has been dubbed an “achievement gap” before and now institutions are recognizing it as an “opportunity gap”.
Yet, I want us to think about it as a Racial Justice Gap in Literacy. There are definitely opportunities that students of color are not given. However, the “gap” in literacy is not just due to a lack of opportunities, but due to the need for racial justice in our school systems.
There are many things that are required to have racial justice in our schools and society (i.e. removing standardizing testing, racial equity teams, implicit bias training, etc.). But for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on only two things that all educators, librarians, and families can do: empowering students through high expectations and adding color to literacy.
High Expectations – Gotta Have Them!
It is so important for us to have high expectations for every child, especially our children of color. Often, due to implicit bias and cultural stereotypes, people will have lowered expectations for our children of color. That is NOT okay! As educators, families, and librarians, we are often the gatekeepers to literacy. Therefore, we need to work through our biases and ensure that we have high literacy goals for our children!
Some things to try to help you have high expectations for your children of color include:
- Self-Education and Self-Reflection: Reflect on your identity and your potential biases. Educate yourself on different perspectives, cultures, and races by reading books by authors of color. Some examples include: Between the World and Me, Hapa and Other Lies, and Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (a fiction YA novel).
- Collaborative Literacy Goal Setting: Educators and librarians, meet with families and students to their literacy goals together. Then, continue to update families and track the progress together. Families, discuss the goals with your students and track them at home with a sticker chart. Make sure to ask your child’s teacher for updates.
- Shoot for a Year and a Half: A good rule of thumb for everyone is to shoot for a year and a half of growth in every student! So, when you are deciding on your expectations, look at their current literacy levels and add 1.5 years of growth to get that student’s literacy growth goal. Families, advocate for this in your child’s education.
- Encourage High Expectations in All Languages: Make sure to encourage fluency in children’s’ first language as well! Children who speak English as a second language should be empowered in their first language. Research has also proven correlation between the strength in a child’s first language and the strength in their second language.
Add Some Color to Literacy
Another aspect of closing the Racial Justice Gap is diversifying the book choices in our schools, libraries, and homes. If we want our students to reach our high expectations in literacy, we need them to see themselves in literacy. When we increase the multicultural literature children of color experience, several things happen: (1) they experience cultural empowerment, which will lead to generalized empowerment; (2) they become more interested in their books and are more motivated to further their literacy; and (3) we show them that they belong in the world of literacy.
Therefore, add some color to literacy through your book choices! Check out our Book Reviews page to get some ideas for books to add to your library and read aloud lessons. In addition, there are actually decodable readers (books that practice phonics skills) to help you add some color in the way you teach decoding words to your children. One of my favorite decodable reader series is the King School Series by Townsend Press. These books are based on grade-level phonics that feature diverse recurring characters. If you do not have these books, please buy them so all of our students can see diverse characters when learning phonics.
It is a small start, but it is worth it if we can eventually see the Racial Justice Gap close and every child succeed in literacy. Comment below with what you do to close the Racial Justice Gap in literacy!