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February 26, 2021
LANSING – Over 1,900 Michigan educators joined national and state literacy experts yesterday to learn how to increase the amount of diverse literature available to students and how to use the materials for instruction and student engagement.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) hosted the free virtual conference for educators and administrators: Building Mirrors and Windows: Children Seeing Themselves and Others in the Literature that We Teach. This conference culminated a month-long focus on diverse literature by MDE for African American History Month.
Student engagement with literature increases in part as students see themselves in their literature. There is a power to children seeing themselves (mirrors) and others (windows) in their reading, said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice.
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"Reading is so much more than technical skill. It's engagement with kids through the power of words," Dr. Rice said. "As literacy advocates, we know that words matter. As diversity in literacy advocates, we know that voices do, too. What we read and who we read—with children—helps determine whether, how much, and with what passion, our children will read, too."
The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad, an associate professor of language and literacy at Georgia State University and a nationally respected speaker on diversity in literacy. She has served as a classroom middle school teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach, curriculum director, and school board president.
Dr. Muhammad shared that when she asked teachers to describe the students of color in their classrooms, "the story always started with despair or something deficit of what the system of education caused them to be and not who they really are.
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"Importantly, the story never started with genius," she said. "All our students are genius. Sometimes their genius is not measured in state assessments, curriculum and instruction. Our students are genius. Genius is not a word that is reserved for a selective group of people, and to teach a genius we must show up as genius every day for our students. But why do we have this deficit way of approaching black students? This is not a political agenda. This is a human agenda."
Dr. Muhammad taught that with every lesson and unit plan, teachers must ask themselves: "How am I cultivating students' identity and helping them to learn anything about themselves, or people who are different than them?"
The conference included ideas of how to provide children with a variety of inclusive literature to read inside and outside the classroom, and strategies for educators to engage all children in reading by using books that provide kids with mirrors and windows to their world.
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