Are Your Reading Materials Culturally Appropriate for ELLs?

As a school library media specialist, I find keeping our school and classroom libraries relevant as our student demographics consistently change to be a challenge. We want our students to be engaged and develop a drive to become lifelong readers. As English language learners (ELLs) move towards mastery of the language, they need the strong support of relevant texts and effective teachers. Culturally relevant literature and nonfiction texts, combined with a focus on collaboration and comprehension strategies, results in students' feelings of self-efficacy. With this in mind, we need to consider our students and their families when we choose learning materials.

 Culturally Relevant Books Increase Reading and Understanding

Students who read culturally relevant books read better and read more. As culturally responsive educators working with diverse groups of learners, using literacy to incorporate their cultures and backgrounds into the curriculum through examples in geography, literature, world cultures, the arts and thematic units is important. Students take pride in seeing their heritage and culture taught in the classroom and take comfort in the familiar. This feeling then develops self-esteem and encourages all students to have greater understanding and respect for the unique experiences and contributions of different cultures.

When you provide content that is both authentic and engaging, learners of diverse backgrounds see their culture, race and ethnicity represented within the content available.  Likewise, learners of similar backgrounds learn about other cultures that are similar and different from their own. I love that myON’s core content and partnerships contributes thousands of culturally responsible and relevant texts to the ever-growing myON collection of authentic literary works.   

Tips to Analyze Reading Materials

These days, we find that our libraries are changing. Several schools are incorporating digital texts partnered with a print collection. This allows us to even the playing field for our ELL learners.  We can provide material that is not only culturally relevant, but also text that extends the school day, differentiates the level of instruction, and meets the needs of our students. With this comes the need to review the content of the material prior to using the text as an instructional resource. What should we consider?

1. Copyright date

2. Author’s background

3. Are there stereotypes?

4. What is the overall message?

5. Look for invisibility: What students do not see in their books can also teach them about who matters.

6. Language: Do the words imply a condescending tone?

I leave us with one statement to consider: Can your students see themselves and others in the texts you offer?  If not, it’s time to weed your collection and extend your library with culturally relevant material.

Laura Healy

Laura Healy is Library Media Specialist in Randolph Township, NJ. She previously served as an Educational Consultant with myON where she worked with educators both regionally and internationally.  She was one of six national winners for the 2011 Follett Challenge while teaching in Wayne, NJ. She can be reached via email.