#DiversityinLit looks broad-minded
Suha Yassin, Pearson’s lead for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, describes how she feels #DiversityinLit functions for young readers: ‘Some stories we read help us learn about our own or others’ cultural heritage. Through these stories, we build tolerance, appreciation, and value in the differences.’
As a child, Suha remembers reading stories set in different ages and parts of the world, but today gaps remain for many young readers who do not see themselves represented in literature. The result? They may not consider themselves and their families as being worthy of space on the page.
Suha explains: ‘The value of literature for children and young people is enormous. Literature is a key tool not only in helping with the development cognitive skills, literacy and communication, but it impacts and influences how young people see the world. It’s not just about ingesting information, it’s about reflecting and forming your own opinion too.’
Farrah Serroukh, learning lead at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, feels the same way. She is eager to champion high-quality books that ‘offer a breadth and range of representations of life, experiences and stories.’ She continues: ‘These stories can implicitly and explicitly serve as affirmation for marginalised readers, challenge prejudice, and broaden the collective knowledge base.’
Indeed, diversity in literature can positively impact families and whole communities, as well as learners themselves. As Suha puts it, ‘We should not underestimate the significant role that parents, carers and families can play as allies.’
#DiversityinLit looks celebratory
When asked what #DiversityinLit looks like for her, Katy Lewis, Head of English and Drama at Pearson, responded: ‘It is the recognition of the ways in which each person is unique, and a celebration of the variety of characteristics which make us who we are. In the context of an English Literature curriculum, it looks like a broad range of narratives, characters and writers which reflect the diversity of learners.’
When readers of all ages see characters that reflect similar lives, backgrounds and characters as their own in the books they read, it can have a momentous effect on how they view their own place in the world – and how they come to understand the other members of their community. Without diverse literature being widely accessible, many students will miss out on opportunities to step outside their own experience, and broaden their learning horizons.
Diverse literature also offers young readers a wide range of texts to choose from, meaning more opportunities to find the book that gets them firmly hooked on the pleasure of reading – and celebrating the power of the written word. It’s a deeply important life-skill to develop, as Katy explains. ‘It is well recognised that reading for pleasure has a positive impact on learners’ academic achievement,’ she says. ‘The better we can provide young people with a wide range of texts, the better we can hope to find the one that engages and inspires them to read because they want to, not just because they have to.’
#DiversityinLit looks multi-dimensional
The earlier readers encounter real diversity in literature, the sooner their reading supports the way they make sense of their lives and the world. It is therefore hugely important that educators share diverse characters written responsibly and with empathy.
Farrah Serroukh believes ‘characters and casts should be carefully observed, lovingly crafted, multi-dimensional and authentically depicted, allowing readers to see glimpses of themselves, their experiences and fascinations conveyed through story.’ She recommends that quality, inclusive literature should not be an optional extra for schools, but ‘an integral part of the mainstream reading diet.’
Katy Lewis also supports this view, arguing that set texts should be broad and varied. Farrah adds: ‘Quality, inclusive and representative children’s literature should offer portrayals of characters and casts of colour from a range of backgrounds and lived experiences across all genres and text types.’
#DiversityinLit looks through teachers' eyes as well as pupils'
If she had to pitch one single thing to best achieve #DiversityinLit, Suha Yassin thinks it would need to be teacher-focused. ‘The teaching workforce does not represent the diversity of learners,’ she observes. ‘More should be done to encourage people from historically marginalised groups into teaching, and into leadership positions within our schools.’ Why restrict diversity purely to books, when there remains so much room to bring a diverse range of educators into positions of influence?
In the meantime, Katy Lewis believes more should be done to engage existing school staff – and that more can be done by awarding organisations to encourage them. ‘We have to support the delivery of a diverse range of texts,’ she says, ‘creating additional materials so that they have the same level of resource as the more established texts. We must also provide training to increase text knowledge and teacher confidence.’
Suha shares that opinion, recalling examples of where she has seen #DiversityinLit flourish organically. ‘This has happened when educators and teachers have really seen the value of doing this for their learners,’ she reports, ‘and where they themselves feel confident and comfortable in teaching more diverse texts and choices. Whatever we decide to do we should put the learners at the heart, working in partnership with teachers to give them the support they need to make this change.’
#DiversityinLit looks limitless
Suha believes that, if we adopt true diversity in books, classrooms and curricula, ‘there are no limits to creativity, to imagination, and to learning.’
Katy Lewis agrees, describing the outcomes of keeping literature limited. ‘When readers only encounter a limited range of literature, it perpetuates the idea that literature is only about, or by, a limited range of people,’ she explains. ‘This not only has an impact on those students who fail to see themselves as having “literary merit” as characters and/or writers, but on all students who lose the opportunity to engage with narratives outside their own experience.
‘Awarding organisations need to be open and willing to make positive changes,’ she concludes. ‘We all need to listen to what learners and teachers tell us.’
Do you have something to say about representation? Join the conversation on social media with @PearsonSchools #DiversityinLit