Learning Onward

Reshaping Teacher Focus for Meaningful Impact on Children's Well-Being & Learning

Taking a Critical Look at Books and Media

As school systems turn their attention to specific priorities and interventions that address returning to full-time in-person school, our aim in this paper is to name initiatives and areas of focus that will have the most meaningful impact on children’s well-being and learning. We will:

Read Alouds serve many purposes in classrooms. They can:
  • Increase comprehension by allowing children to access texts that they cannot yet read on their own
  • Promote reading when children become interested in reading books they have heard read aloud
  • Create community by allowing children to hear the same book and discuss it together as a powerful bonding experience
  • Build knowledge of the world by expanding access to topics of interest and opening new curiosities.
  • Encourage perspective taking and empathy by helping us look at the world through different points of view
  • Foster awareness of our own and others’ identities
  • Expand vocabulary by developing a curiosity about and a willingness to play with language
  • Spark purposeful talk through reading books worth talking about, providing safe spaces for children to wonder and asking questions, to listen to and building on the ideas of others.

Knowing your children and having a good set of criteria will help you find the very best books for them.

However, when we mention the word “text” we want educators to think broadly about the text children view in their classrooms. A text is any stretch of language that can be understood in context. It may be as simple as 1-2 words (such as a stop sign) or as complex as a novel. Literacy means more than being able to read, write and discuss written texts in Dominant American English. Children are able to (and need the skills to) read the world around them and make sense of information coming from many different sources and – in many cases – in different languages and variations of English as well.

If we dig deeper into understanding Multiple Literacies, we learn that we must:
  • Use a diverse assortment of text and media to build children’s knowledge and provide a variety of ways for children to interact with information.
  • Give children opportunities to learn visual literacy, including the ability to understand, interpret, evaluate, and create visual images including illustrations, photographs, videos, infographics, etc.
  • Help children develop textual literacy by discussing and interpreting books and texts. We can model for children to read and write with criticality to understand racial and social justice implications in texts and challenge ideas, when needed.
  • Give children support finding, evaluating, analyzing, critiquing, and creating those different sources of information. If the information is digital, we can teach children to understand how important the source of digital information is, and how to spot bias and non-credible information, and how to create material that is credible and non-biased.

With that understanding we want to make sure we are choosing texts and media that are:

Are worth discussing

Affirm children's identities and experiences
Sustain and build language and vocabulary
Having weighed the experts’ ideas about high quality literature and conducting your own evaluations, remember to note your children’s responses to the books and media you choose.
  • Did the children find the and illustrations engaging?
  • Did the book make the children feel?
  • Did it surprise them?
  • Were children excited to discuss the book?
  • Did children react to parts of the book you didn’t anticipate

Knowing your children and having a good set of criteria will help you find the very best books for them.

As we evaluate the texts and media we use in the classroom, we can ask ourselves the following questions:
  • How does your content “measure up” to the criteria around discussion, identity, and vocabulary?
  • Do you have text or media that you are excited about sharing?
  • Do you have a popular book/material that you think is problematic?
  • Do you have a book/material you are not sure about?
  • Who is represented and how in the text or media that you are evaluating? Who is left out?

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The success of CLI's mission rests in our collaborative partnerships with school and district leaders and educators. Next year, CLI is launching a new webinar series on Equity in the Elementary School Classroom for leaders and educators.
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