In an interview with Education Week, Woodson explains her reluctance to use such a term, stating that “any kind of qualifier can be harmful because who we are is not static;” she goes on to explain how she, herself, would have been labelled a struggling reader back in the day, not due to an inability to read, but rather her ability to read as a writer. That is, Woodson was “reading slowly and deliberately and deconstructing language… understanding [the language] from context,” but when compared to her sister who excelled, she felt insecure about her own abilities.
Woodson wishes to use her platform as a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a two-time Coretta Scott King winner, and her standing as the 2015 Young People’s Poet Laureate to quell those insecurities for other young readers and writers. As she says, young people must be passionate about reading in order to facilitate the growth of the next generation of readers and writers.
But how do we get young people passionate about reading?
Well, “one of the first steps is to give young people access to relevant literature. If they don't have access to books that speak to them, then we are already failing them.” Through readily accessible books of diverse racial, economic, and gender backgrounds and books that include characters of different dispositions (because students are just as diverse individually as they are in other ways), educators can foster the development of avid readers. Movements such as We Need Diverse Books can provide that access to a wider array of literature.
Moreover, according to Woodson, one of the first steps in providing relevant literature to young people is to simply know them. If you know who your students are, you will be more well-informed about which books would be most compelling to your students. As Woodson suggests, these students have a right to “ask for the books they want. They should have books in their classroom libraries that mirror who they are. If they don't, someone is remiss.” By providing literature that reflects our students, we not only provide a mirror to their individual stories, but also a window to other opportunities. We can open their world to more than just the classroom.
As for schools which may not have the financial opportunity to purchase more books, Woodson recommends the First Book organization. This organization makes sure that all students have access to library cards. Access to books is the first step in the not-so-distant future of the next generation of readers and writers. As educators, we should wish to promote such growth.
Going beyond the scope of accessible, diverse books, we at TWIN-CS must also find a way to make bilingual literature accessible to our elementary school children. These children not only require books that will reflect who they are individually, but also need books that reflect the languages they speak at home, at school, and with their friends. The maintenance of a healthy social and emotional learning environment is pivotal in order to facilitate learning and inspire students to continue to learn. For our dual language learners (DLLs), our English language learners (ELLs), heritage language learners, our immigrant students or students from immigrant families, we cannot disparage their bilingual experiences and we would like to encourage more bilingual books in our classrooms!
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-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher