Three Ways to Diversify Students’ Reading: Advice from Marley Dias

Three Ways to Diversify Students’ Reading: Advice from Marley Dias

When 13-year-old Marley Dias started to gain national attention last year, her mission was simple: collect 1,000 books in which black girls were the main characters.

In the process, she not only managed to collect over 12,000 books (and counting--her ongoing campaign has gone global), but she also succeeded in drawing many educators’ attention to the need for both “windows” and “mirrors” in classrooms, and the importance of having diverse reading lists at every grade, the lack of which she calls “an epidemic.

In an upcoming exclusive Newsela article, Marley tells us about her expanding campaign, how she stayed organized while writing her own book, and what she’s doing next to continue tackling the problem she set out to solve.

Marley was featured as one of Newsela’s Amazing Kids of 2017. A champion for both literacy and diverse voices in student reading, Marley inspires us to give every child the chance to see themselves -- and to see other people who perhaps don’t look like them or pray like them or learn like them -- in the articles we publish.

“The reason we are able to have kids that are articulate, who are able to be empathetic, have kids that are not ignorant and that practice love toward everybody, is because they are able to recognize that we are all different from reading these stories,” Marley says.

Here are three (Marley-approved!) strategies to help diversify student reading in your classroom.

1. Let Students Choose What to Read (When Possible)

One strategy for educators is exercising choice in what students read. It’s crucial to strike a healthy balance between your (and your students’) comfort zones and challenging them to see a new or different perspective. Marley encourages reading stories about different people as a way to combat assumption-making.

“A lot of the ignorance and the hatred that we see in the world comes from a place of not knowing about other people,” she explains. “So all they can do is make assumptions. By reading stories that include other people, we are able to get rid of those assumptions and learn the truth of who everybody is.”

2. Build a Diverse Library in your School

Moving from assumption-making to perspective-taking is one of the most important things we can help students do. One way to do this is by advocating for a diverse library at your school. We recommend speaking with your librarian about how you can help them research more titles or create a wish list. We have a responsibility as educators, but also as community members, to celebrate diverse stories and honor the lived experiences of all.

If you aren’t sure where to get started, Marley maintains a full database of the books she’s collected here.

3. Encourage Students’ Love of Reading

Getting students to put themselves in other people’s shoes isn’t always easy, though. Marley’s advice is to find ways to build students’ love of reading. It might take some creativity, but Marley thinks that there can be joy in reading for everyone, from the budding musician to the basketball enthusiast in your class. She wants teachers to show their students that “reading affects every other part of our world.”

“My mom would always make me read street signs, we would read lyrics to music… I’d watch movies and then we’d read the movie or find a picture book that’s similar to the movie,” she explains. In music, how we read lyrics. We write poetry which is similar to music. Even in basketball we can write plays, we can describe very specifically what’s going on in the game--showing how reading is a really fundamental part of enjoying and experiencing everything else around us.”

We applaud Marley’s work to celebrate the lived experiences of all students, and we hope to do our part, too. To that end, Newsela’s SEL Collection highlights perspective-taking and diversity as a key component of building students’ social awareness competency. For more information about this collection, visit this page.

Your students can also read all about Marley and her campaign on Newsela.

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How to encourage global citizenship? Start with reading engagement

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