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How to celebrate and embed meaningful diversity in your English classrooms
By Elly Lacey
04 Nov

Diversity has become a loaded word. Whilst on the one hand it implies a celebration of different people and perspectives, in our current climate particularly, it also comes with an inherent responsibility to represent those different people and perspectives too. In our English lessons we have the opportunity to do both so let’s harness the power of diversity and, most importantly, make it meaningful rather than just a box-ticking exercise.

Offering a diverse range of voices, styles and writers in the classroom is key to engaging pupils and creating an inclusive classroom. Providing an opportunity for pupils to read about positive role models that look like them, talk like them and behave like them changes their view of themselves and empowers them to use their own voice. Seeing those similarities and their lives represented by the words on the page, suddenly makes literature relevant. More importantly, they know they are seen, they are worthy of those words. Conversely, by noting the differences between their own lives and the experiences they read about, brings about understanding and hopefully social cohesion.

In the National Curriculum for English we are told that our pupils should ‘appreciate our rich and varied literary heritage’ but to achieve the coverage of so many voices can be overwhelming. You may fall into the trap of considering whose voice is more valid. More likely than not, however, just by being aware of the need, you may only need to make a few tweaks to your plans and know what is going to work for your pupils because you know them best. But of course, finding these new voices can seem tricky. For example, BAME and female writers have long been underrepresented in publishing but there has been a deliberate movement to include more of these vital and exciting voices, with some excellent recent releases in the YA category in both non-fiction and fiction. It may take some digging on your part, working closely with your school librarian (an expert resource!) and listening to your pupils but those buried voices are there and ready to use in your classroom, whether that is in a class reader, poetry, non-fiction, a visiting workshop or trip.

Key Stage 3 is a great time to make adaptations and additions to diversify your pupils’ reading. They are ready to take on new challenges in terms of subject matter and style as they become more aware of themselves and the world around them. It is also a chance to broaden their reading experiences before the rigours (and often narrow reading lists) of major exams. In a recent Teach First research paper it was acknowledged that pupils could go their whole school career without ever studying a book by a Black author (Missing Pages, 2020). This cannot continue. There are changes afoot, including a new specification from ISEB for 13+ but we can make a difference in our own classrooms. We have an obligation to our pupils, the leaders of tomorrow, to offer ‘a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually’ (NC, 2013) and meaningful diversity embedded in our English planning is a great way to fulfill this.

In English lessons we can embed diversity in an implicit way through our choice of class reading books and the various discussions and tasks inspired by that book. But we can also explicitly teach the context of said texts, alongside developing an empathy for characters and an appreciation of how that particular story or perspective is presented, as well as harnessing critical thinking skills. That’s a powerful mixture. Let’s harness that power.

To develop our pupils’ reading and writing skills, to support and stretch every child, for their wellbeing - diversity is crucial and necessary, and we have the responsibility and opportunity to provide it.

Elly Lacey is Head of English at Newton Prep School in London. She has taught English to children from age 8 to 18 but her particular passion is teaching at Key Stage 3. In the classroom, she endeavours to build children’s confidence and love of English through creative activities and cross-curricular links all inspired by the texts on the curriculum. Learn more about Elly here.

On 25th November at 3.30pm, Elly Lacey will be joined by Adisa the Verbalizer to host a CPD webinar to provide teachers with clear, practical guidance on making your English classroom more inclusive. We have carefully developed this course to support you in creating an inclusive classroom environment that helps to make all your students feel comfortable. Learn more about the webinar and register here.

The new Common Entrance 13+ English for ISEB CE and KS3 Textbook, eBook and Textbook Answers are for first teaching from September 2021 with first examinations from November 2022. Find out more about our new English for Common Entrance series, view a sample and order online here.

Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13 plus, CE 13+, Common Entrance, Elly Lacey, English, Entrance exams, Key Stage 3

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