3 Questions to Help Students become Culturally Aware Readers & Thinkers
Empowering students to become culturally aware readers and thinkers is a key strategy for fostering welcoming and inclusive learning spaces.
To do this, students must first recognize the many pieces of their identity, their culture. Then, the students should learn about the culture of others. This is a key strategy because it encourages students to intentionally reflect on who they are and how they show up in this world. It allows them to reflect on the differences that make them unique and special.
Using this strategy also encourages important reflection on how all people are different. Differences are celebrated recognizing that it is our differences that make life interesting and fun. Learning about, and welcoming people with unique beliefs and behaviors fosters a learning space that develops culturally aware, creative and critical readers.
Developing culturally aware readers and thinkers may sound overwhelming, but there are three types of texts you can provide your readers and three simple questions you can ask your readers to begin developing their cultural awareness.
Three Types of Texts
Providing mirror, window, and sliding glass door texts is a phenomenal way to begin the process of creating a rich space for learners to develop cultural awareness because they are introduced to multiple narratives. An analogy presented by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, this provides a framework for categorizing texts with a culturally aware lens.
Mirror texts reflect parts of the reader's identity back to them. As the reader sees “themselves” in this way, there is an awareness of self; their beliefs, behaviors, and ways of being. Window texts allow readers to see the lived experiences and perspectives of others. As the reader sees this differing perspective an awareness of self in comparison to others begins to happen. Sliding glass door texts invite the reader to step into a new world or reality in their imagination. This experience allows students the opportunity to think more critically and lead with curiosity versus judgment.
Having access to window, mirror, and sliding glass door texts provides an essential resource for students to become culturally aware readers and thinkers. Simply providing these texts however, does not guarantee the development of cultural awareness and critical thinking. The next step in that process is intentionally asking guiding, open ended questions.
Three Anchor Questions
Consider using three simple, but effective anchor questions to have your students intentionally reflect on what they are reading and learning.
What did I learn about myself?
Whether a student is reading a window, mirror, or sliding glass door text there is opportunity to become aware of their beliefs and perspectives. Asking the students questions like:
“How is the main character's cultural background similar or different from my own?”
“What do I already know about the experiences, perspective, or cultural beliefs/traditions of the characters? What do I want to learn more about?”
“Would I have responded differently or similarly to __(a situation/conversation)__ as the character? Why? What would impact my response?
What did I learn about my peers? (local, national, global)
This question encourages readers to focus on other people’s perspectives, beliefs, and experiences. The student can learn about this in two main ways.
As students discuss the text in a whole or small group setting, they will hear differing opinions and perspectives. These perspectives are influenced by each student’s cultural background and lived experiences.
Before class let students know that their focus for the day is to learn something interesting about a classmate's thoughts on the reading. Provide some examples - “Today I heard a classmate say that (they) identified with (this) character because of a similar love for double dutch. (They) also explained what double dutch was. It was so cool!”
After class, ask students to jot down what they learned. This can be shared anonymously on a Google Jamboard* or on a handwritten exit ticket. As students become more comfortable sharing and celebrating their differing perspectives they may feel comfortable publicly telling what they learned.
The characters in the book may be “peers” with your students. What interesting fact did the student learn about “a peer” who lives in a different city, state, or country?
What did I learn about the world?
Students often need help connecting what they are learning in the classroom to the global impact. They may have limited perspective, thinking that THEIR world is THE world.
It is important for students to connect the dots between historical events, present outcomes, and future implications. Understanding this continuum can help them see that the world is full of ongoing stories of impact.
Students can begin to understand why their voice matters and how they can impact THEIR world and THE world.
Collaborative, Creative, Critical Thinkers
Intentionally providing and partnering mirror, window, and sliding glass door texts with the three anchor questions will allow you to guide your students on a journey to becoming more culturally aware readers and thinkers. Exploring text in this way will not only help foster a welcoming and inclusive learning space, but it will allow students intentional reflection about who they are and who they hope to become. Students answering these questions are encouraged to work collaboratively and think creatively and critically.
Learn more about developing culturally aware readers and thinkers on The Culture-Centered Classroom Podcast
For more tips on how to create a culturally aware classroom grab 5 Actions for Equity, Inclusion, and Cultural Awareness Checklist and follow @iTeachCustom on Instagram.
For mirror, window, and sliding glass door book recommendations, visit the Custom Teaching Solutions bookshop.org shop.
Jocelynn Hubbard helps teachers spark joy during the learning experience by creating an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment for ALL their students. She is the founder and managing director of Custom Teaching Solutions, LLC and host of The Culture-Centered Classroom podcast. She has 16+ years of experience in education as an educator, speaker, professional development creator and facilitator. Driven by a passion to see the diverse people of our world feel welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated, she provides training on becoming and remaining culturally competent. As a wife and mother of five, her goals include squeezing in time for exercise, finding moments of joy each day, and parenting each of her children as unique individuals.
*Google “Jamboard is a digital whiteboard that lets you collaborate in real time using either the Jamboard device (a 55-inch digital whiteboard that works with G Suite services), web browser or mobile app.” (https://support.google.com/)