Thoughtfully Choosing Texts in an English Classroom

Posted by Facing History and Ourselves Canada on May 10, 2021

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Choosing a piece of literature for your course is an important decision. Take a moment to reflect on the very small number of books you will have the opportunity to introduce to your students in any given year. Stories have the potential to help students understand different perspectives, question their surroundings, and build empathy in meaningful and communal ways. With such an important role to play, these are some of the questions we encourage you to consider when deciding how to develop a course and which texts to teach:

When reflecting on your course as a whole:

  • How will you sequence the texts to ensure students enter into and exit out of the content safely?
  • What are the literary lessons and the lessons about humanity I want my students to walk away with from this course?
  • Do I include diverse authors, identities, point of views, experiences and voices in my course? 
  • What might a tool like a literature equity audit reveal or affirm about the resources used in my course? 
  • How can I build intentional learning spaces where difficult texts and themes can be discussed? 
  • Do I feel prepared to address problematic words, derogatory words, racial slurs and difficult themes with intention and care in my classroom?

 

When reflecting on choosing a specific text:

  • What is my own relationship with the text?
  • How does this text fit into the overall course goals of my course?
  • Do characters from historically underrepresented and marginalized groups have agency and voice
  • Is the text - and any discussions and questions raised by it - appropriate for my students’ reading ability, developmental readiness and emotional maturity?  
  • Will this text connect students to individuals whose perspectives, experiences and values challenge and resonate with their own?
  • Will this text help to build bridges of commonality or understanding when confronted with difference?
  • How does this text act as a window, mirror, and sliding glass door for my students?

 

With these important questions in mind, we are left considering the place of some canonical texts in the classroom including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We support the growing number of school boards and teachers across the country who are evaluating these texts in their courses and in their place including books written by Canadian, underrepresented and/or diverse authors.To learn more about Facing History and Ourselves, US position on To Kill a Mockingbird click here.

Facing History and Ourselves seeks to help teachers create classrooms where all students can engage in deep exploration of self and society, gain new insight into themselves and others, and be empowered with tools and mindsets for agency against indifference and hate. This is why we are publishing this statement to support you in choosing resources that centre humanity, rights, diversity and value of diverse identities, cultures and civilizations.

 

Are you looking for more conversations about selecting and teaching texts? Do you want more help choosing texts? 

 

If you would like to talk further about this statement and how to apply this in your classroom please email us at canada@facinghistory.org

 

Links for Additional Thinking & Support 

  1. We hope this blog post by Ontario educator, Natalie Steele, on the importance of historical fiction to supplement hidden figures and to better understand the Black Canadian experience is helpful. The blog highlights a list of texts written by Black Canadian authors that explore topics such as identity, racism, religion, slavery, the diversity of Canadian culture, the power of storytelling and more. 

  2. In the following CBC video, Canadian writer and poet George Elliot Clarke shares his perspective, 

“I think there are many other texts that can be taught as opposed to To Kill a Mockingbird if the interest is antiracism. I believe it's important to look at other texts because we need to have a Canadian frame of reference. We Canadians are too ignorant about our own history and our own history of race relations… We also need to give some props to our Black Canadian and Indigenous Canadian writers who have created a whole culture of literature that deserves to be explored.”

 

Topics: To Kill a Mockingbird, Books, English Language Arts, English Classroom, Literature, English

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This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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