For the Love of Literacy

By Laura Matheny, 7th grade teacher

Professor Rudine Sims Bishop speaks of what books offer a child’s development:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Click here to read the complete article by Professor Sims Bishop.

This metaphor has guided a great deal of discussion in recent years as teachers and librarians work to include books that can be windows, mirrors, and doors for all the students they teach.

I recently attended the National Council of Teachers of English conference. There are almost too many options at a given moment, with author signings, book talks, and sessions devoted to every aspect of language arts—a good problem to have. I wrote down or took photos of upcoming titles that sounded like great additions to the books we offer students here at The Philadelphia School, and I heard authors speak about the craft of writing books that our students enjoy—such as David Levithan talking about Every Day, a book our seventh graders read.

While participating in a roundtable discussion with other teachers about writing, however, I heard how much pressure public school teachers are under around standardized test scores and how much time they are expected to devote to drills, worksheets, and the rote formula of the five-paragraph essay. It sounded frustrating to have to focus so much on one set of test scores over the more important goal of instilling the joy of writing in students.

Later at the conference, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who’s a librarian in a K-5 public school. She talked about how she went to her supervisor about getting books focused on transgender children. Her supervisor replied, “And you’d have these on a special shelf behind your desk? Because I’m not sure they could go in the regular stacks, where anyone could see them.”

My friend left the conference with a number of resources to bring back to her supervisor about why books about transgender students should be available to everyone without needing to make a special request to the librarian for it. These experiences made me thankful that I teach at The Philadelphia School, where we recognize the importance of providing books that are mirrors, windows, and doors for all students.

The conversations my seventh graders had last year about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give were powerful for students who saw themselves in the protagonist, Starr, or students who identified more with Starr’s private school classmates. Our students benefit from regularly reading about the experiences of people like them and people whose experiences are different.

TPS students are fortunate to be in environment that nurtures diverse reading, as well as provides opportunities like the annual Book Fair to find a good read. We don’t limit student choices to books at a particular Lexile or only focused on a particular topic. Thank you to The Philadelphia School and the TPSA Book Fair for helping students nurture their love of reading!