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Culturally Competent and Sensitive Lesson Curriculum Books for Educators

10 Educator Books Highlighting Effective and Inclusive Approaches to Core Subjects, Electives, and Art-Centered Courses for Learners in Kindergarten Through High School with Rachel Werner

Creating an equitable learning environment is a matter of much debate around the United States. Critical race theory, transformative justice and police-free schools are a few of the contentious topics affecting the academic perimeters students encounter daily—and Madison is no exception. Teachers, librarians, school counselors and administrators are trying to provide support for children and teens from diverse backgrounds. But how to best do so is not always clear. This is particularly problematic when one considers the majority of published pedagogical primers and instructional texts have been (and continue to be) written by hetero, cis White men.

“Founder and president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, famously said, "You can't be what you don't see." Edelman's quote touches on a critical barrier to BBIPOC folx: a lack of representation in public and free charter schools' lesson plans, curriculum and staffing. As Edelman has said before me, education plays a significant role in the framing of our students' identity. Even though BBIPOC children will make up 52 percent of K–12 students by 2021, post-analysis found BBIPOC folx only made up 20 percent of all teachers,” explains local writer and certified teacher Charles Payne.

“Sadly this information, in addition to the perceived achievement gap in K–12 education, is striking. For all students, a new take on the school curriculum might help narrow these results. I have helped several schools earn higher passing percentages using a culturally responsive curriculum. My own experience in public and free charter schools truly exemplifies the difference that a frame of relevance can have on a student's interest and achievement in education,” he states. “Regardless of how much progress we have made towards inclusive, representative education, there's room for improvement—especially when emerging research suggests that there is much to be gained by increasing our efforts.”

The following titles provide useful insights on crafting an effective, inclusive approach to core subjects, electives and art-centered courses for learners in kindergarten through high school.

You can also find all these recommendations and more on our Bookshop page.

Critical Race Theory in Education: A Scholar's Journey

Author: Gloria Ladson-Billings | Publisher: Teachers College Press

This collection of essays written by renowned education theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings is divided into three sections—Critical Race Theory, Issues of Inequality, and Epistemology and Methodologies—which delve deeply into her astute knowledge as a teacher and researcher.

Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy

Author: Gholdy Muhammad | Publisher: Scholastic Teaching Resources

Language and literacy professor Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s introduction to crafting learning modules based on a “Historically Responsive Literacy Framework” has sample lesson plans, plus questions teachers and students can use to explore self-identity.

Culturally Responsive Teaching in Gifted Education: Building Cultural Competence and Serving Diverse Student Populations

Editors: C Matthew Fugate, Wendy A. Behrens, Cecelia Boswell | Publisher: Routledge

Educational advocacy is demonstrated through a variety of real-life examples in each essay written by a different K-12 professional. The three sections, Culturally Responsive Practices; Race, Ethnicity, and Culture; and Gender, Sex, and Sense of Self, are followed by an implicit bias survey for teachers at the end of the book.

Culturally Responsive Teaching for Multilingual Learners: Tools for Equity

Authors: Sydney Snyder, Diane Staehr Fenner | Publisher: Corwin

Taking stock of the unique challenges multilingual learners face academically and socially at school (then outlining culturally compassionate tools for success) is the focal point of this enlightening text written by Diane Staehr Fenner, Ph.D. and Sydney Snyder, Ph.D who run SupportEd, a female-owned company committed to “empowering English learners and their educators.”

How the Arts Can Save Education: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Instruction

Authors: Erica Rosenfeld Halverson, Ellen Weinstein | Publisher: Teachers College Press

“The primary way we can make our classrooms inclusive for all children is to develop culturally sustaining teaching practices, '' affirms author and UW-Madison professor Dr. Erica Rosenfeld Halverson. “And the arts are the best way I know to engage kids and teachers with the cultural resources they bring to their learning.”(*Tune in for a virtual conversation on this topic hosted by A Room of One’s Own between Halverson and president of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education president Ali Muldrow on November 10.)

Overcoming Cultural Mismatch: Reaching and Teaching Diverse Children

Author: Abigail Fuller | Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

This book contains content both for classroom teachers and school administrators attempting to address inequities on a micro- and a macro-level. Author Abigail Fuller’s professional background is in special education and K-12 administration.

Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation

Authors: Shane Shafir, Jamila Dugan | Publisher: Corwin

Scholars and leadership coaches Shane Safir and Jamila Dugan unpack an alternate model for measuring academic achievements in low income areas and/or schools with predominantly diverse student populations by re-evaluating district policies and what types of data is assumed to have qualitative value.

Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices

Author: Lorena Escotta German | Publisher: Heinemann

Specifically honing in on middle schools and high schools, award-winning educator Lorena Escoto Germán explains how student-driven and community-centered actions are a key component to fostering a learning culture in which social justice can truly start to take root.

The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students in Writing Workshop (And You Can Too!) A Must-Have Resource for Teaching Writing Workshop in Grades K-12

Author: Kwame Alexander | Publisher: Shell Education

Newbery Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander shares writing prompts and presenting exercises meant to engage young writers in authentic self-expression. The appendix also contains a plethora of his “quick tips” and real-life narrative from other teachers’ who have tried the activities Alexander outlines.

Unpack Your Impact: How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture-Centered Curriculum

Authors: Naomi O’Brien, LaNesha Tabb | Publisher: Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated

Teaching social studies at the elementary level can be difficult when outdated or historically inaccurate materials are still in use. How to build an inclusive curriculum that kids can relate to is described by primary education vets LaNesha Tabb and Naomi O'Brien using real-life scenarios and socio-emotional learning techniques.

Diversifying reading and learning materials should also extend beyond K-12 lesson planning. "At Madison Public Library, we believe that it's important for all children to be reflected in the books they read and the educational experiences they have. We've focused on making sure our collection is diverse and the books we highlight through our website, story times, programs or social media reflect children of different races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations and abilities,” shares Tammy Ocampo, who is head of youth services at Madison Public Library. “Through partnering with community groups and organizations, we've expanded our programming to include culturally sensitive and specific programs for youth of color, youth with different abilities, and youth of all genders and sexual orientations. As a public library, our focus is less on curriculum and more on the needs of individual children and families, helping every child in our community find the right book at the right time right here on our shelves or in our catalog." A huge undertaking, yet well worth the effort, as it will positively impact Dane County residents for years to come.

Additional resources:

Racial Equity Resources (compiled by Madison Public Library)

Diversity Statistics Book Search (curated by Cooperative Children’s Book Center)

About the Author:

Rachel Werner is the founder of The Little Book Project WI, a bi-annual community arts and nonprofit printmaking collaboration. Her literary writing and craft essays have been published by Off Menu Press, Digging Through The Fat and Voyage YA Literary Journal. A selection of Rachel's recipes are also included in Wisconsin Cocktails (UW-Press, 2020)—and her poetry in the anthology “Hope Is The Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic” (The Wisconsin Historical Society, 2021).


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