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One World Lessons: Mirrors and Windows

In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia (K-3 Library Teacher) and Wendy Garland (1-5 Library Teacher) discuss their experiences with and offer diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, as well as includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection. 

Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. She has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and Listen Connect Empower blog.

Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels. Follow the Armstrong Elementary Library at @aeslibs.

Why Mirrors and Windows?

Our collaborative lesson planning began out of a common desire to include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work in our libraries. We searched the lesson plan database from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance) which gave us an excellent start by helping us understand what kinds of content and topics could be taught at the different age levels (i.e., identity, diversity, justice, action). 

However, the lesson plans did not have everything we wanted: lessons that could be taught in 25-30 minutes, both Social Justice Standards and AASL Standards, learning activities beyond discussions, and a quality inclusive picture book to center the lesson. We knew we could write and develop rich and engaging lesson plans ourselves.

Mirror and Window reading response, third grade

You may be familiar with Rudine Sims Bishop’s "Mirrors and Windows," which describes the ways books can reflect and share readers’ experiences. This is a wonderful way of thinking about the books you read. In the last few years, many educators have been using the idea of mirrors and windows to update library and classroom collections so that they provide opportunities for students to see themselves (mirrors) and to learn about others (windows) in the books they read. When students read various mirror and window books, they understand themselves better, understand the world better, and build empathy. 

For the first lesson, we decided to go one step further and explicitly teach students how to identify mirror and/or window “moments” in the books they read. Mirrors and Windows made an excellent first lesson as it connected to two of the key components of the Learning for Justice framework: identity and empathy. 

The Lesson

First, we needed to decide if we were going to teach mirrors in one class and windows in the next or if we were going to teach both at the same time. That depended on the grade level, student abilities, or time allotment. We used the vocabulary “moments” because we believe that a book isn’t just one thing to a reader. A book or story can act as both mirror AND window at different “moments,” and identifying a whole book as either a mirror or window can limit its potential. 

  • Essential Question: How can we see ourselves and learn about the lives of others in the books we read?
  • AASL Standards: Include/Create II.B.1 Interacting with learners who reflect a range of perspectives.
  • Social Justice Standards: Diversity 7 Students will develop language and knowledge to accurately and respectfully describe how people (including themselves) are both similar to and different from each other and others in their identity groups.

Pre-Read Aloud

We began making sure students understood the symbolism associated with real mirrors and windows so that they could then understand the more abstract concepts of the lesson. 

We discussed what a mirror is and what we can see in it.  The working student definition became “where I can see myself.” Next, we discussed what a window is and we identified what we could see through it. The working student definition became “where I see something other than myself.” 

Finally, we taught students hand signals for identifying “mirror moments” and “window moments” to use during the read aloud (Hand Signals poster here).

Read Aloud

The books we chose for this lesson all have some kind of universal kid appeal and all have been successful in our lessons. We used just one book per class but chose different titles for each grade. 

The patchwork bike

2018

by Maxine Beneba Clarke and Van T. Rudd

"When you live in a village at the edge of the no-go desert, you need to make your own fun. That's when you and your brothers get inventive and build a bike from scratch, using everyday items like an old milk pot (maybe Mum is still using it, maybe not), a bent bucket seat, and bashed tin-can handles. The end result is a spectacular bike, perfect for going bumpetty bump over sand hills, past your fed-up mum, and right through your mud-for-walls home"-- Back cover

Beautiful Life

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

2020

by Meg Medina and Sonia Sánchez

"The 2020 Jumpstart Read for the Record Selection (2.24 million readers) * An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book * A Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year * A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of the Year * A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year From Newbery Medalist and New York Times best-selling author Meg Medina comes the bittersweet story of two girls who will always be each other’s número uno, even though one is moving away. A big truck with its mouth wide open is parked at the curb, ready to gobble up Evelyn’s mirror with the stickers around the edge…and the sofa that we bounce on to get to the moon. Evelyn Del Rey is Daniela’s best friend. They do everything together and even live in twin apartments across the street from each other: Daniela with her mami and hamster, and Evelyn with her mami, papi, and cat. But not after today—not after Evelyn moves away. Until then, the girls play amid the moving boxes until it’s time to say goodbye, making promises to keep in touch, because they know that their friendship will always be special. The tenderness of Meg Medina’s beautifully written story about friendship and change is balanced by Sonia Sánchez’s colorful and vibrant depictions of the girls’ urban neighborhood." -- publisher

Any Child

At first, we found that students needed practice identifying mirror and window moments so as we were reading, we paused to think out loud, ask questions, and encourage the hand signals.

  • “This character lives in a mud wall house and I don’t so this is a window moment for me”
  • “Is eating ice cream a mirror or window moment for you?”
  • “This character has black hair. Is that a mirror or window moment for you?”

After prompting the students through the first several mirror and window moments, students were able to identify moments and use hand signals independently. We loved watching how students were excitedly responding to and participating in the story/read aloud. The joy, excitement, and wonderment on student faces when they discovered their own mirror and window moments was delightful. It was important to us to intentionally use books with BIPOC characters and varied representation as we wanted to ensure that every single student had the opportunity to find both mirror AND window moments. This ensured that every student felt seen and valued. This was a huge part of why these lessons were successful.

photo credit Michelle French 2022

Post-Read Aloud

We designed a variety of post-read aloud activities to reinforce the concept of mirrors and windows in a variety of modalities: 

  • Discuss: We asked everyone to share one mirror or window moment from the story. Sometimes we did a whole-class share, one student at a time; sometimes we asked students to Turn and Talk by finding a nearby partner and taking turns sharing ideas. This helped our students to learn about each other and gave them ideas for the following reading response activity. Some students will need more guidance with generating ideas.
  • Write/Draw: Next, we introduced the reading response activity where students wrote and drew about a mirror and/or window moment from the story. Because we spent time preparing students by pointing out and discussing mirror and window moments, this activity was quite brief.
Mirror: “I have a brother. And I have a bike.
Window: “I don’t live in a mud house and I don’t make cardboard bikes.”
  • Locate: Finally, we asked students to find another book (either from a selection of books on a table or just browsing the entire collection) that has a mirror or window moment for them. Then, they shared what they found with their table group. This was a great opportunity to get students into the physical collection or practice using our online catalog.
“This is a window for me because I have never been to the desert.”
 (for more about the sticky note in this photo see lesson below)
“This is a mirror book for me because it looks just like me and my mom.”
  • Additional Lesson Ideas

Reflections

What we love about teaching Mirrors and Windows is how it can be taught in so many different ways, to so many different age levels. Because we spent these last few years teaching the concept to all of our students, we now need to think about how to adapt the lessons for those who already understand the basics. 

For example, we can use the concept of mirror and window moments to help older students develop the habit of reading widely and deeply and to help them evaluate their reading habits.

In the future, we want students to be able to ask these bigger questions, 

  • Do I read books that have more mirror moments or more window moments? 
  • Why do I choose these?
  • How do I feel when I see myself reflected in a book?
  • How do I feel when I don’t see myself reflected in a book?

Having our schools use this shared language and have these shared experiences builds community in truly lovely ways. We are excited to see where these lessons take us and our students and we hope this article has inspired you to do the same.

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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