Our guest author today is Dr. Courtney Hattan. Dr. Hattan is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Literacy Education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University.
Knowledge is inarguably crucial for reading comprehension. What students know, including their academic knowledge and personal experiences, will influence what they understand and remember from texts. Therefore, recent efforts that call for building students’ knowledge base during elementary literacy instruction are important. Attention to knowledge-building enriches the conversation about reading science and helps bridge the research-to-practice gap. However, what’s missing from some of these conversations is a consideration of whose knowledge matters and what perspectives should be centered in the texts that students read.
In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop stated that students need to read texts that serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Windows expose students to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, while the sliding glass doors provide opportunities for students to be immersed in those new worlds and perspectives. Mirrors allow students to see their language practices, histories, and values represented in the characters and experiences that are communicated through texts. Providing students with multiple perspectives allows them to consider various points of view, grapple with potentially conflicting information, and draw conclusions about what they believe to be true.
I would therefore encourage educators to consider whose knowledge is valued in school settings. Are students only exposed to books that are designed to maintain dominant authorities or power structures? Or are they also exposed to the voices of people who come from historically minoritized communities? These questions are especially important in light of a recent study by Rigell and colleagues, which found that one knowledge-building curriculum centers whiteness in its text selections and instructional supports. Given the value of providing all students with both windows and mirrors, educators would do well to interrogate the texts and curricula they put in front of students. This can help ensure that all students have opportunities to read texts that amplify the experiences, joy, and valued knowledge of people who come from historically minoritized communities. We can shift the canon of texts and ideas that are typically shared with students.