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Support Diversity and Encourage Young Writers by Using Window and Mirror Books in Your Writing Workshop (Guest Post)

by Stacey Shubitz, September’s Guest Blogger

A powerful way for teachers to embrace diversity is through the careful selection of mentor texts. All students deserve to read mirror books, in which they can see themselves, and window books, in which they can learn about others.  This means teachers must have books that represent a variety of religions, races, and sexual orientations on classroom bookshelves during all months of the year, not just the ones with special designations (e.g., Black History Month, Women’s History Month).

Children need exposure to books that mirror their life experiences.  Classrooms with minority students need books with minority protagonists.  Children with same-sex parents need opportunities to access books with other children who are navigating the world with a family that looks different than the “mom, dad, 2.2 kids, dog, and white picket fence” scenario most books often show.  When children see their lives mirrored in books, it allows them to feel safe, thereby giving them permission to write freely about their own lives in the texts they compose. 

Window books allow students to learn about others since they provide children with possibilities for different types of characters and new plot settings in their writing.  In addition, window books invite children to imagine a world or lifestyle that’s different than their own, which may increase a child’s desire to research and write about other races, religions, or cultures.

Nearly every picture book could serve as a mentor text to help students become better writers. However, if you’re a teacher who only has time to do one read aloud a day, some books are better than others. In my forthcoming book, Craft Moves: How to Use Mentor Texts in the Classroom (Stenhouse, 2016), I recommend finding mentor texts that can do double―and even triple―duty in your classroom, thereby allowing you to use a text during read aloud time, which they can revisit during a writing minilesson and/or in a content area.

I’ve spent the past three years mining picture books that can be used to teach the qualities of good writing (i.e., meaning, elaboration, structure, voice, word choice, and conventions). However, every time I read a book, I looked at it through a lens of diversity because all children deserve to have mentor texts with characters whose lives are like theirs and those from which they can learn something new about the human experience. Here are 15 of my favorite fiction picture books – some of which I wrote lessons for in Craft Moves – I think you’ll want to have as window and mirror books for your classroom:

  • A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall
  • Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis
  • Eat, Leo! Eat! by Caroline Adderson and Josee Bisaillon
  • Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts and Lauren Castillo
  • Henry Holton Takes the Ice by Sandra Bradley and Sara Palacios
  • Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De la Peña and Christian Robinson
  • Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and Leslie Staub
  • Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez
  • Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece by Patricia Polacco
  • My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood
  • Sona and the Wedding Game by Kashmira Sheth and Yoshiko Jaeggi
  • Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown
  • Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo

Stacey Shubitz 2Stacey Shubitz is a literacy consultant based in Central Pennsylvania. She’s a former 4th and 5th grade teacher who has worked in the New York City and Rhode Island. Stacey is the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice (Stenhouse, 2010).  She’s presently editing her second book for Stenhouse, Craft Moves: How to Use Mentor Texts in the Classroom, which will be available in 2016. Stacey blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter at @raisealithuman. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family or experimenting with new recipes.

 

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kelly Soto #

    It is reassuring to see so many texts that can serve as these “windows and mirrors” for students today, and that the range of who these texts can serve is growing. Even in my own not-too-long–ago school experience, the amount of students who could find themselves mirrored in a text was very small- and maybe even more dangerously, the amount of “windows” that was available to these aforementioned students was next to nothing, and often led to a very narrow world view and a lack of empathy for their peers with different experiences than them. To see a growing body of literature that allows more students to see things from a new perspective is both reassuring and hopefully helpful for student engagement.

    Although windows are valuable, and should certainly be present in reading that students do, sometimes not having any mirrors at all can make other students feel insignificant or forgotten. When students feel that they are not represented in the classroom, they may sometimes not even feel valued or want to engage. By giving these students something that reflects who they are and shows them that they have a place in the classroom community, we are showing students that we value them and are inviting them to engage with the class and ourselves.

    Like

    September 28, 2015
    • You’re spot-on, Kelly! In order to make children — all children — feel valued, they must have mirror books!

      Like

      October 6, 2015
  2. alindvall #

    I appreciate your message that mirror and window books should be available to students year-round, so teachers must always stock their shelves with a diverse set of books and not only for special occasions. This is one of my first times hearing the term “mirror book” and “window book” since I am an undergraduate social studies education student, but the importance behind mirror and window books is easy to understand. Students accessing books that resonate with their personal life or their identity reminds me of how students can connect with social studies to take more of an interest in a topic; history is not only about dead white men, and similarly, books are not only about representing stereotypical characters/situations. I hope to utilize this knowledge of window/mirror books in my classroom.

    Thank you for the information—especially the list of books!

    Like

    September 24, 2015
  3. Iesha #

    I enjoyed that this post discussed mentor texts that represent a diversity in the classroom. There are times when students who are reading mentor texts feel as if they are left out because they cannot relate to the culture in the text or make a connection with the protagonist. I think by integrating more diverse mentor texts in the classroom, a teacher is not only creating connections with the students who are from different backgrounds but to the students who need to learn more about other cultures.

    Like

    September 24, 2015
    • I felt very left out of books when I was a child, Iesha. There were very few books with Jewish female protagnoists. Therefore, I made it my business to make sure my students didn’t go through the same thing when I was in the classroom. It’s my hope more teachers will jump on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks bandwagon when they’re building their classroom libraries and searching for mentor texts for writing workshop.

      Like

      October 6, 2015
  4. RJ #

    Window / mirror texts are so important! I do think however that you need to do more than just have them in the classroom. If you recognize which students would best benefit from a mirror text experience and then use that text as a course text it fortifies the safe feeling that you describe. Rather than letting students look through a mirror on their own, present the mirror to the class.

    Like

    September 20, 2015
  5. janiceewing #

    Stacey, this is a powerful message that really resonated with me. The book list is so helpful — several of the titles are new to me, and I’ll seek them out. I’m looking forward to reading your forthcoming book as well. Thank you for sharing your thinking with us!

    Like

    September 18, 2015
    • Thank you, Janice. I hope you enjoy the titles that are new to you. These are truly some of my favorites.

      Like

      September 18, 2015

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