Deepening Equity Through Literacy

Area(s) of Focus: curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate, Junior
Level(s): Grade 7

As teachers, we collaborated and explored teaching literacy through a more equitable lens (including FNM, LGBTQ education and the “isms”).

As teachers, we collaborated and explored teaching literacy through a more equitable lens. Our Grade 7 team is a new team who was eager to work together and push ourselves to explore equity concepts more deeply. We saw a need in our student community to address more equity issues in class, but some teachers were hesitant to bring them up in class. As a Grade 7 team, we supported each other learning about the equity issues (including FNM, LGBTQ education and the “isms”), and exploring how we could infuse these topics into our literacy teaching. We also explored best practices in literacy instruction, so we were using high-yield strategies in class.

Team Members

  • Shaun Grant

    Toronto District School Board

  • Nicole D'Silva

    Toronto District School Board

  • Marium Thomas

    Toronto District School Board

  • Melody Hamdule

    Toronto District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Worked collaboratively as a new Grade 7 team
  • Shared new literacy strategies and explored high-yield strategies that allowed for deeper conversations
  • Explored, read and shared new rich resources that infused equity topics such as “isms,” FNMI and LGBTQ points of view into the materials we used in class
  • Became more informed and comfortable talking about/teaching about various equity issues (within our school, community and globally)

Activities and Resources

  • We met as a Grade 7 team regularly (about once per month) to share progress in class and to plan next steps
  • We read and explored various equity resources from our board, ministry and ETFO. These helped us to have a starting point about the types of equity issues that we were encouraged to talk about that reinforced the position of each stakeholder
  • We read through the curriculum to find the big ideas and how the expectations supported the learning around equity that we would be studying and the high-yield strategies we were using
  • We read through/previewed the new literacy resources we bought that supported the equity topics we were using in class. We also got suggestions for new books from small local bookshops and the Forest of Reading lists
  • We met with our instructional coach to learn about new literacy strategies that would help us focus on the equity topics we were exploring in class and that were high-yield for students
  • We reflected on the need for students to be able to have more reading strategies in their toolkit, so we created a school-wide plan that sorted all reading strategies (suggested that students know by Grade 8 by our board) by grade (grades 6-8)
  • We also reflected on the need for our teaching strategies to be more varied in our use of and student exploration of graphic organizers, so we created a school-wide plan that sorted all reading and writing graphic organizers (suggested from board and ministry documents) by grade (grades 6-8)
  • We added all the new information for our school-wide plan into our grade team’s long-range plans for literacy, to explicitly state what literacy strategies each grade was focused on
  • We utilized the knowledge of support staff (such as board instructional coaches) when trying out strategies for the first time or when meeting as a group. We scheduled co-teaching with the instructional coach who supported our in-class work and students
  • We reflected on how students were progressing with our inquiry, how we felt the teaching through an equity lens was going, and shared any struggles we are individually having

Unexpected Challenges

We didn’t have many challenges that impacted our project. For the most part, we completed all of our goals and implemented our project as planned.

One suggestion we would make is to begin the projects earlier in the year. If proposals were approved in September, then we would be able to start in October and finish by end of April. It is really difficult to get supply teachers in our board after March break.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

We reflected as a staff daily and together to debrief how our project and teaching with these equity topics was going. Overall, students were more engaged in class, they really enjoyed the equity topics/books they were reading, and the new literacy strategies we started using in class really supported the deeper conversations. We’ve included some student reflections below about their experiences with the equity topics/books:

Student 1 These books were a great opportunity because I was really engaged with the topics and the knowledge that we got in return. It is also good that we discussed the books in class since it’s one of the main topics our country should be more focused on. Usually I haven’t paid much attention to these type of topics because I wasn’t really interested. The humour and the connections are usually the main reasons I am mostly interested.

The books were really interesting and reading in small groups was much better than if you do it with the class together because you can have a chance to share your own thoughts. Students should learn about equity because it is a social issue in our communities and we should learn to handle them so we can discuss with others. We have been learning about respecting race, gender equality, religion, etc. Well, in my opinion, we should focus more on LGBT or human rights which do kind of compare, but not all human rights are allowed in each and every country so I think we should focus more on that.

Student 2 – I felt like learning about equity was good because it makes me feel like there is a purpose for what we are learning. It makes me want to read more because the literature is relevant to my experiences and represents me. I feel that working in small groups create less workload on one person. It allows us to discuss the topics and get different opinions other than our own. Yes, it is interesting to learn these topics (equity issues). We like to think about other people and how we can help them. We are more engaged because we can discuss our opinions and what we think matters (e.g., poverty around the world, race relations, human and child rights, etc.).


  • Our project progress was shared monthly at staff meetings with the other school staff. They were also excited about our ideas and started their own grade team groups to explore similar topics and ideas.
  • We updated our parent council and community members about our inquiry project and progress throughout the year at parent council meetings. We even had some parents help us stamp and organize our new materials.
  • We also shared student work during the project on Twitter and followed other schools/teachers in the board who were exploring similar topics
  • We updated our superintendent regularly about our progress and student thinking

Project Evaluation

Teacher 1 – Literacy is a foundation of education, and engagement is a foundation of learning. Students achieve when they are literate and engaged. My personal learning goal was to see first-hand how the creation of an environment rich in engaging social justice texts could improve student achievement.

My first realization during this project was that our perceptions of what texts would engage a student are not always correct. Individual interests and life experiences often dictated what topics students gravitated towards during this project, and it was valuable to further understand the importance of student choice and how inquiry truly leads to engagement. From this realization, I saw great value in having students select their texts for small group studies, and it will serve us well to have student input when selecting books for purchase in the future.

This project did indeed provide a much greater wealth of text sets to utilize in my language program, especially in the area of guided reading. I was particularly fond of the integration of more graphic novels in my lessons as they were very engaging for students, and they were a quick read which allowed for increased discussion. I was motivated by this so much that I attended a conference on how to integrate more graphic texts into the curriculum.

In general, I found that the integration of equity topics enhanced student learning as there was a strong link between the topics and student background knowledge. Students were often easily able to make connections to the social justice foci and to the things that were happening in their lives or media. Therefore, it was evident that it was easier for students to attach themes and occurrences in the book to their schema for contemplation and discussion.

My next steps are to discuss what topics students want to see in their readings and then look for books that meet their interests/inquiries. Also, via a coincidental discovery, I saw how online discussions such as offer an excellent forum for students to express their ideas (e.g., when they are shy, preparation for group discussions). I look forward to intermixing the reading of our social justice texts with online discussions as this will combine engagement with comfort which should result in an even greater increase in student achievement.

Teachers 2 & 3 I wanted to learn more about reading strategies and how to incorporate culturally relevant reading materials into the curriculum. Further, incorporating literature that talks about environmental stewardship – being an Eco School! I learned that student success improves when they feel they are represented in the literature that they are reading. I learned many new and relevant reading strategies and techniques for teaching them that I have used in my classroom. I am more aware of the materials and the topics that I present to the class. I try to be aware of my own and my students’ biases and take that into consideration when choosing reading materials and topics for discussion.

Students were more engaged with the reading material since it was better representative of their cultures and their society. Students were able to relate to topics and connect to the reading since it was more relevant to them.

As a teacher, I have always strived towards creating equity in the classroom. I will now be more aware of the questions I ask, and the literature available in the classroom library. I am more aware of topics when thinking of relevant material for assignments.

Teacher 4 – My personal goal was to learn more about reading strategies and organizers I could use to help the students understand what they are reading. I was able to learn how to incorporate social justice issues and culturally relevant material into the curriculum. My teaching practice has changed because I am better able to engage the students and break down the material into simpler ideas they can understand. Students’ learning has been enhanced because they have more choice of topic and they are interested in what they read. This motivates them to continue reading and to want to hand in their followup work, as well as engage in discussions. My next steps are to try different reading strategies that I have not used such as the Frayer model, and to try and find other equity issues I can discuss.