Curriculum as Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors

This is the second post of a four-part series on making curriculum relevant, meaningful, and adaptable (link to the first post). This article focuses on the curriculum as a series of windows, mirrors, and sliding doors. A special thanks to Erica Buddington for sharing her insights on this (and much more) in our recent podcast conversation. 

In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published an essay about the importance of providing young readers with diverse books that reflect the “multicultural nature of the world” in which we live.

In the essay, Dr. Bishop coined the phrase “Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors” to explain how children see themselves in books and how they can also learn about the lives of others through literature (read the entire essay here).

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of a world 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 or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

As a former middle-school and high-school English teacher (and Director of Learning), I’ve been a part of a number of curriculum revisions that sought to bring a variety of multicultural books and authors into the classroom.  However, when I spoke with Erica Buddington (CEO of Langston League), on the most recent Backwards Podcast episode, we chatted about some of the mistakes I made along the way, as well as the important work Erica is doing at Langston League to make curriculum (not just books) mirrors, windows, and sliding doors.

Listen to this episode of The Backwards Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or directly on Libsyn.

Creating Curriculum With Purpose

Erica Buddington is the Founder/CEO of Langston League. a multi-consultant curriculum firm that specializes in teaching educators to design + implement culturally responsive instructional material and professional development. Their clients include Google Code Next, Medgar Evers College, Harlem Children’s Zone, Movers & Shakers, Achievement First Schools, Reconstruction US, and many others.

Erica has been a Brave New Voices slam champion, HBO Def Poet, and spent a decade in the classroom. Erica is also the author of four books and has been featured on The Steve Harvey Show, Forbes, Buzzfeed, Black Enterprise, and more.

We had the chance to talk with her about curriculum, her current work at Langston League, and her Decolonized Youtube series.

The focus of Erica’s current work with Langston League is to create mirrors. To be specific, a curriculum full of mirrors.

And as Dr. Bishop goes on to say in her essay, this work is for all of our students:

Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. 

So, how do we do that? How do we create a curriculum that goes beyond programs, textbooks, and  “standards” that often lead schools right back to those same programs and textbooks that support test-prep?

As we mentioned in our previous post on “testing culture”, this is hard work. Most of us are just trying to stay afloat right now in education. We’ve seen many of these issues that have been present for a very long time bubble to the surface even more during the pandemic.

Not only is it hard work, but it also takes serious time to develop an adaptable curriculum.

It takes take to develop meaningful performance tasks. It can’t be solved by buying a program or singular resource. As ASCD points out, the most notable successes occur in schools and districts whose teachers build their own admittedly imperfect curriculum.

Erica explains in the podcast how they start the curriculum work at Langston League by getting to know the community the curriculum is being created for. They work with the community, with the students, the families, the educators to create a curriculum with a purpose.

Every school should have a different curriculum because every school community is different.

This doesn’t mean that resources can’t be used across schools and communities, of course, they can. But, if we want to create a curriculum with a purpose, we must first define what the purpose is of the learning experiences we are crafting K-12.

This would follow what McTighe and Wiggins outline in their Understanding by Design framework, and why Stage 1 of the curriculum design process is so important:

  1. Identify Desired Results: These are the transfer learning goals that drive the assessments we will use as well as the choice of resources, texts, experiences, etc that will guide the process.
  2. Determine Acceptable Evidence: How will we know our students understand? How can they share their learning? What does this look like? What performances and products will reveal evidence of meaning-making and transfer? What additional evidence will be collected for other Desired Results?
  3. Learning Plan: What activities, experiences, and lessons will lead to the achievement of the desired results and success at the assessments? How will the learning plan help students of Acquisition, Meaning Making, and Transfer? How will the unit be sequenced and differentiated to optimize achievement for all learners?

Identifying Desired Results is where you can take the expectations of the state standards and combine that with your goals and purpose as a community of learners. Each of these questions should have different answers depending on your purpose and community:

  • What long-term transfer goals are targeted?
  • What meanings should students make?
  • What essential questions will students explore?
  • What knowledge & skill will students acquire?

As Buddington points out in our conversation, this process takes time. However, Langston League has seen tremendous success with its process of creating mirrors. 90%+ of students that take part in their workshops and engage with their materials request their organization again.

And that is what we are looking for in a curriculum. One that serves as windows, mirrors, and sliding doors for all of our students. One that supports the local community and the greater global good. One that starts with a purpose and ultimately leads to authentic, meaningful, and relevant learning experiences across grade levels, subjects, and classrooms.

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