By Middle School Head Teachers Margot Stein and Nicole Watson
As educators who possess multiple identities and perspectives, we know that our students also fall along this spectrum—whether those identities and perspectives are seen or unseen. We believe that we have a responsibility to provide our students with opportunities to access these identities and perspectives so they can see themselves and learn about others. Literature is an excellent vessel for this work.
Middle school literacy teachers often spend hours in search of the right books for their groups. If they don’t have the time to read through each one, they may choose books that are considered tried and true. Although these familiar texts have value, they rarely fall into the category of “Own Voices”—books by authors from marginalized or underrepresented groups who write from their own perspectives and experiences.
With the support of the MMFS PA Grant program, we created a comprehensive, annotated list of recently published Own Voices books for teachers to include in their classrooms, using the library database libib.com. Through this project, we hoped to support and encourage teachers to include more Own Voices books in their literacy curricula and classroom libraries.
In order to accomplish this goal, we first needed to take the time to research and select several Own Voices texts at various reading levels. We then read each text and wrote a brief synopsis, along with detailed recommendations for what types of readers would be able to access the text. We included an analysis of vocabulary, sentence structure, plot complexity, maturity level, length of chapters, print size, etc. In addition, we also included a recommendation for which reading comprehension skills could be taught while reading each book. During this year’s faculty orientation, we presented the database to our colleagues across all divisions. We provided recommendations, spoke about best practices, and instructed them how to navigate and add to the database. We believe that this tool will not only support teachers this school year but will continue to grow as teachers are encouraged to add their own recommendations, experiences, and new texts to the database. We hope that this will be a community tool that will grow and shift with our learners and faculty.
We are so grateful to the MMFS Parents Association for the opportunity to do this work. Their continued support of faculty professional development has led to so many amazing additions to our school community that will continue to uplift our mission and enhance the learning environment for students.