How can we as teachers guarantee our increasingly diverse student body experience educational equality? In choosing a secondary American history textbook, one of the first criteria when ensuring a multicultural perspective is how far into book one must read before Christopher Columbus shows up. What criteria should we keep in mind for our English language learners when choosing materials?
When selecting materials for English language learners it is important to take into account the diversity of the districts in which we teach. Commercially produced materials for L1 Spanish students learning English would be inappropriate in a US school district largely serving L1 Vietnamese students. Likewise, materials produced overseas for Japanese junior high school students would be of little value for somewhere like the El Paso Independent School District. When selecting commercially available textbooks for use in classrooms, one must look out for who isn’t included. You may find yourself thumbing through an entire, multi-level English learning series and not finding depictions of people with disabilities, characters living in non-traditional nuclear families, people of color in positions of power or high socioeconomic status, or women in male dominated careers.
When selecting or creating materials for the ESL classroom, educators must ask themselves if the topics, artwork, photographs, and/or videos ignite student interest? Are the graphics bland? Is the text overly-sanitized? Do reading materials have characters who experience challenges to which students can relate? What a Greenwich, Connecticut AP Literature class finds engaging likely won’t be the same a freshmen ELL-majority literature course in Dearborn, Michigan.
Publishing companies that produce educational materials often make incredible sales pitches as they fight over the shares of meager budgets that individual schools and districts have for purchasing instructional materials. They may claim that their materials are suited for a seemingly infinite range of proficiency levels, every known learning style, and students of any home culture. Unfortunately, no single textbook or series will ever meet the instructional needs of all students. It’s up to educators to incorporate a variety of materials into the curriculum in order to ensure all students experience educational equality.
By keeping in mind the students we serve, we can choose and create materials that they will find engaging. Through careful, thoughtful selection, we can ignite student interest to provide youngsters with a foundation from which to build academic success. We can choose materials that provide positive portrayals of diverse groups of people. Our classrooms have students who come from neighborhoods in which the wealthiest person on the block is someone who dropped out and engages in illegal activities. From an early age, students coming from these dire environments must see that there are individuals out there that speak the same first language, that have the same cultural heritage, that experienced the same hardships growing up but were able to be academically and professionally successful.