Literacy Leadership Blog

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - "Belonging" in Literacy Education

Categories: Curriculum & Access, Early Literacy, Education & Teaching, Educators, General, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices

According to a National Center for Education Statistics study, 

“A teacher's expectations impact student success even
more than a student's own motivation."

Change is Necessary  

A lack of literacy impacts so many children, especially children of color where an alarming 82% of fourth-graders are not reading at grade level (NAEP Report Card: Reading). The inability to read well affects our academic potential, physical health, mental health, economic status, and so many life conditions. How can we transform reading instruction and put into place structures and processes for a systemic shift? Who can help smash the literacy divide? 

Learning Ally Literacy Thought LeadersPhoto of Dr. Sherril English sitting in a library of books.

Dr. Sherril English, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Teaching & Learning, Southern Methodist University of North Texas, shared her expertise in developing educators' professional knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

In this blog, Dr. English examines the concept of “belonging,” and the foundational importance of literacy in achieving equity in disadvantaged populations. View her full presentation on-demand to grow your thought leadership. Plus, hear classroom practical strategies in DEI from Dr. Miriam Ortiz, an educator and researcher, and Telissha Wesson, a teacher practitioner. 

Growing a Teacher Force in DEI

Literacy is an iterative process. It requires teachers who are knowledgeable in the science of reading, ongoing professional development, DEI training, and individuals who will 'lean into' the discomfort of their beliefs. Dr. English encourages us to recognize our internal biases, and says, "DEI may require schools to grow their own teaching force. Many schools are moving forward now to make that happen.” 

Tapping Cultural Wealth

For students to "be" learners, they must "see" themselves as learners. “They are not blank slates when they come to class,” says Dr. English. “They bring experiences -- good and bad. They have unique knowledge, skills, and abilities learned from their communities - often referred to as "cultural wealth."  

Helping students make the connection and feel like they belong is not easy. We have to commit to knowing who our students truly are. What are their backgrounds? What racial stereotypes surround them? What experiences do they bring to the learning process? How do they view the world and their own potential? Is there trauma? Cultural wealth may not fit the "norm," but acknowledging each student’s "funds of knowledge" is extremely beneficial for learning. Dr. English recommends storytelling as a  common form of communication students of color and Latinos use for critical reflection. 

Representation Matters

In addition to storytelling, authentic literacy experiences will engage students in rich discussions and activities. “Use culturally-relevant books,” she adds. "Oral language is important for students to say what they believe in their own voice. They need to see themselves in stories, so fill your class libraries with diverse stories that reflect their backgrounds and cultures. Give students affirmations about their potential and a sense of belonging. Encourage them to be independent thinkers.  


Checking Beliefs at the Door 

To gain a sense of themselves in the global world, students need more opportunities to read, write, discuss, and identify themselves through literature. If you use culturally-responsive pedagogy and disciplinary literacy in your schools and classes,  and recheck your assumptions at the door, you will transform reading achievement.  

Attacking the literacy problem isn't easy, but we can do it together with a new understanding about how we learn, social and emotional considerations, DEI training, and language-based instruction in the science of reading. And don’t forget daily reading practice! 

Gone are the days of thinking that boys are better at STEM than girls or sending struggling readers out of the general education classroom due to low reading ability. Focus on word comprehension, cognitive processes, and executive functioning skills.. Understand their cultural wealth because a sense of belonging will last a lifetime. 

If you want to grow DEI in your schools, Dr. English references the Texas Comprehensive Center and AIR resource that offers summary reports to create a DEI mission. 


Are you ready to become a literacy leader? Register now for Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia June 9-10, 2022. This event is tailored for you! Network with literacy experts, grow your knowledge, and improve “Literacy-for-All” learners.

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