Engaging Diverse Texts in San Diego

How can literature and nonfiction texts help students look through both “windows” to learn about other lives, and “mirrors” to reflect on their own?

On February 6, 2018, 40+ San Diego educators connected to CREATE, the San Diego Area Writing Project, the California Reading and Literature Project, the San Diego Unified School District, and other local schools shared a day of learning about adding diverse texts and voices to their curriculum. Emily Chiariello, an author of the Social Justice/Anti-bias Standards at Teaching Tolerance of the Southern Poverty Law Center, walked educators through learning to tap resources from the organization’s online Perspectives text library. Housed on the Teaching Tolerance website, Perspectives offers more than 500 texts from literature and nonfiction sources to add diverse commentaries on American experiences to any classroom.

Many of the educators present had joined a CREATE-sponsored visit to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance in December, to experience the standards first in the context of the Museum. Today, educators were gathered to consider how to take the diverse text library and new standards directly into their curriculum and San Diego classrooms.

In classrooms where not all American voices are typically heard or even present, literature and nonfiction texts can help students engage more accurate, full, and robust accounts of people’s lives. But texts have to be available, teachers noted – and teaching of those texts has to be skilled! “We have to ask harder questions about the texts we use — and how we teach them,” said one attendee.

“Perspectives” is a searchable database of literary and nonfiction texts. Teachers can build “learning plans” to engage students in critically exploring specific texts at specific grade levels. Lesson design can support students to explore particular questions about identity, diversity, justice and action while pursuing Common Core State Standards-aligned skills in writing, reading, and critical analysis. As one teacher put it, “These resources will help bring units I already teach, alive!”

Followup plans for implementing the Teaching Tolerance resources in San Diego included adding new content to ethnic studies lesson plans and IB curricula; tapping resources for activities inviting diverse voices into advisories, lunchtime meetings, and schoolwide unity activities; enlivening existing writing supports for students; and bringing professional development on the standards and Perspectives texts back “home.”

To explore the standards and texts, start here: https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources. The group will continue to communicate by email. If you want to join this work in San Diego, email micapollock@ucsd.edu.