In the summer of 2020, I did a curriculum audit to reflect upon which voices in literature were being amplified and honored in my classroom. I knew it would reveal several white male authors, but until I saw it clearly displayed in a pie chart, I had no idea just how many. Even after working for years on adding diverse ELA curriculum to my British Literature class, my color-coded chart still looked like this:
This meant that 69 percent of the time my students were reading white male perspectives. This same summer, my ELA department worked to shake up our curriculum. It was our year to adopt textbooks, but instead, we were allowed to order new diverse books. I cannot take credit for this change. This was the result of a passionate vice principal, a supportive central office, and a dedicated ELA team. I am just the only one who happens to have a blog, so that’s why I’m writing about this process. It is my goal that this reflection will inspire you to do your own curriculum audit and hopefully help you make some changes to increase the diversity of authors’ voices in your classroom.
After a lot of heart work and head work, here is what my curriculum audit looks like now:
This chart is better and more dynamic for sure, but I still see room for improvement. White male authors are still centered in my units. Here’s the questions I asked myself after completing this year’s chart: Can I work to move some of the classic literature over to the pairing side? Can I add more Indigenous voices? Can I squeeze in another unit not centered around a white male’s perspective?
These questions lead to a detailed and powerful reflection that guided us toward a new curriculum that is WILDLY more diverse than previous years. It was fresh, poignant, engaging, relatable, and academic. I felt good about it and still do, but I can also see that there’s room for growth.
How to make your own curriculum audit
Watch video here:
Download free template here: Diverse ELA Curriculum Audit Template
Step 1: Open up a PowerPoint or Google Slides document.
Step 2: Insert chart > pie
Step 3: Open up connected Google Sheets
Step 4: Edit to fit your criteria.
Here is the thought process behind my counts: With each unit, I have a main text that we spend the majority of our time on. I weighed that side 3x higher than the pairings because they take less time and are centered less than the main text. My units typically take 3 weeks to complete so that’s another reason I used the number 3.
Other ways to count would be by days. In my state, there are 180 days of school. I spent 15/180 days on Beowulf and about 5 days on the various pairings throughout.
NOTE: It’s important to only count diverse perspectives that are portrayed positively. To simplify this process, I counted only the authors, not the characters in the text.
Reflecting on the results of your diverse ELA curriculum audit:
If you have a negative reaction to the results, consider what actions you can take to effect change. Maybe you can use it to start a conversation in your ELA department. Possibly you can inquire about what funds are available to purchase books. Perhaps you can use the curriculum representation audit to write a grant or Donor’s Choose for diverse books. Maybe you can use it as a catalyst to work within your area of control (more below).
If you are already on the right path, consider how you can continue improving. Maybe share your diverse ELA text selections to inspire others. Perhaps hone your chart even more by gathering data on ability portrayals, body types of characters, or other areas where they may be more room for diverse perspectives. Or level up to outline Social Justice Standards.
No matter what your reaction and reflection are, it’s important to note that adding diverse perspectives to your ELA curriculum does not make you or your curriculum anti-racist and anti-biased. Tanesha B. Forman explains here:
In addition to making sure all students are represented positively in our curriculum, what else can we be learning and doing? This post is a great start: A TO Z ANTI-BIAS/ANTI-RACIST MICRO MOMENTS
How to navigate action obstacles in creating a diverse ELA curriculum
There’s nothing worse than realizing something needs to change, getting fired up to take action then facing so many obstacles that you give up. For this reason, I have listed several barriers teachers face when making a change in their ELA curriculum and ideas on how to navigate these obstacles.
Obstacle 1: Not enough funds to purchase diverse books or resources
What if you don’t have funds? First of all, this is the epitome of harm done by underfunded schools. I absolutely DO NOT believe that teachers should have to fund their own classrooms when it comes to essential items like inclusive teaching tools. With that said, I’m realistic. While it is free and doable to add diverse parings to prescribed curriculum, the cost of completely overhauling ELA offerings is not financially attainable for most public schools. For us, foregoing the MASSIVE COST of textbook adoption allowed us to revamp our curriculum for the better. I am grateful and so are my students. If you think your ELA department might consider swapping out textbooks for diverse books, then start the conversation NOW. Oftentimes textbook selections are made in haste because busy teachers do not have the time to preview as rigorously as they would like. Also, I believe that some states require textbook adoption and purchases so you will need time to research the legal options you have.
If you are looking for ways to make change immediately, then start with one book you want to add, write a detailed letter about why you want to add this book (use your chart for a visual!), and ask your admin for funding options. Some schools do not allow Donors Choose, but they may have other ideas if you ask.
Lastly, think outside the box (of books). Podcasts are FREE. My best and most diverse unit of the year was Dolly Parton’s America, and you can read all about it here: Teaching Dolly Parton’s America Podcast
If you want to learn more about planning a podcast unit, this post will guide you: How to plan a podcast unit for middle school and high school
As for finding free curriculum, here are some sources:
Lit C.I.R.C.L.E Decolonize your Curriculum website which offers FREE teaching resources like The Short Story project that introduces students to a number of different short stories, all written by people of color and a unit study for The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison.
Additionally, authors like Angie Thomas will often provide FREE teaching guides so be sure to check their websites for resources!
Obstacle 2: You have no control over your curriculum
What if you have a prescribed curriculum? First ask yourself the same question I asked myself: Is your curriculum set, or is it your mindset? In other words, have you had uncomfortable conversations with those who set the curriculum? Have you had a meeting with your admin? Have you asked to substitute just one book?
As a person who avoids confrontation and unconformable conversations at all costs, it was a mindset issue for me. I could have done more.
However, if you are truly not in a position where you can make improvements, then pairings are your only option until change happens. You can read how I use pairings here:
Lastly, you can stock your classroom free choice library with diverse books and promote free choice reading on a daily basis through book raffles, book talks, reading time, etc. Here is a great blog post on how to rethink your classroom library: Classroom Library Ideas: Finding What’s Missing
If you do not have the funding to stock your shelves, then introduce the gift of a digital library card. Our school librarian signs up our students each year and teaches them how to use the digital checkout platform, but you can read how a classroom English teacher achieves this here: 5 WAYS TO USE OVERDRIVE (& HELP YOUR STUDENTS READ MORE)
Obstacle 3: You have no time to make new diverse ELA units
What if you don’t have time? Teachers, especially English teachers, are already working to their max capacity. How in the WORLD are they expected to create all new units when they can barely stay afloat with the units they’ve taught for years? My answer for team leaders and academic coaches is to ask what would be manageable for your English educators. You might have a group that is HUNGRY for change and willing to do whatever it takes (PLEASE compensate them if they work over the summer or after hours). Or, you might have a group that is willing to tackle revamping or replacing just one unit a year.
I recently got a request to do a guest post for Abena with Diversity in Mind, and you can read how I’ve slowly worked year after year to enhance, elevate, and enrich my units over time. Read it here: Culturally-Responsive Classrooms: An Interview with Ashley Bible
One last note and plug, Teachers Pay Teachers is a great place to find new unit material. For example, if you are adding a diverse novel in verse such as The Crossover, Booked, or Swing by Kwame Alexander, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, or Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, can use my novel in verse template to plan out your activities. I made this universal novel in verse vault that already has the work done for you. Just add one or more of these engaging and inclusive books and you are set.
And here’s a list of my secondary ELA cohorts to shop from:
Obstacle 4: You or your coworkers feel that certain classics are non-negotiable
What if you can’t bring yourself to replace a white male author classic for a more inclusive option? I saved this toughest obstacle for last. As an English teacher and literature lover, I get it. It’s hard for me envision a world where students can’t have a conversation about universally referenced classics like The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, or Animal Farm.
Here’s how my team approached this issue:
First, the teachers I work with met and talked about which classics they were willing to cut. As you can imagine, opinions vary wildly, but ultimately, cuts were made.
Next, teachers worked through moving the classics they wanted to keep. For example, Lord of the Flies was moved out of 12th grade British Literature to 9th grade freshmen English. The goal was to move the classics based on reading levels and themes while ensuring each grade level had room to incorporate new diverse books.
Then, teachers spent months researching and reading to come up with diverse titles that would fit their curriculum needs.
Some chose to do pairings such as Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption with To Kill a Mockingbird or Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed with Into the Wild or The Harlem Renaissance with The Great Gatsby. Others chose books based on skills and interest levels. For example, we got several new diverse novels in verse as I mentioned above.
Change is tough. It takes a lot of work, but it’s always worth it. My parting advice on creating a more inclusive and diverse ELA curriculum is that instead of thinking about what you are giving up, think of what you will gain.