About the Experts


Allison Briceño, Ed.D.

Allison Briceño, Ed.D. is a former bilingual teacher, reading specialist, and district literacy coordinator. She is an Associate Professor at San José State University, where she coordinates the Reading and Literacy Leadership Credential and MA Program. Dr. Briceño’s work centers on improving (bi)literacy instruction for multilingual students and enacting Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in teacher education and K-12 schools.

Claudia Rodriguez

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica is a former bilingual teacher and is an Associate Professor at Santa Clara University in California. She coordinates the bilingual authorization program at Santa Clara University and teaches bilingual teacher preparation and language arts methods courses. Dr. Rodriguez-Mojica’s research focuses on the classroom instruction of bilingual children in public schools and the intersections among language, race, ethnicity, gender and culture as they relate to the teaching and learning of multilingual learners.

Featured Products

PDE: Conscious Classrooms

Drs. Briceño and Rodriguez-Mojica created Conscious Classrooms to help teachers learn how to authentically include different voices and experiences in the classroom. They navigate the many questions surrounding diverse texts while also assisting with improving representation within the classroom.

Learn More

Reycraft Books Culturally Relevant Trade Book Libraries

Engaging, exquisitely illustrated books, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, captivate young readers as they see themselves portrayed in print. These are books they will want to read again and again—providing them with mirrors, windows, and sliding doors to the world.

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Authentic Voices

Authentic Voices Library features hundreds of original, culturally inclusive books that ensure that all students see their stories and perspectives represented in the books they read—and open their minds to worlds and people outside of their own experiences. Also available in Spanish.

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Represent is an exciting, forward-thinking new collection of 200+ fiction and nonfiction texts that promote multiple perspectives, critical thinking, and knowledge building.

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Episode Transcript

Announcer: This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson: In this episode of Teacher's Talk Shop: Driving reading comprehension through cultural relevancy. Joining us are three guests: Author and educator Alison Briceño…

Allison Briceño: The sciences of reading and the use of diverse books are not mutually exclusive. We can do both at the same time.

Kevin Carlson: Author/educator Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica…

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Want all of our students, with exactly who they are and exactly who their families are, to feel like they belong.

Kevin Carlson: And fifth grade teacher Claire Hood.

Claire Hood: As teachers, when we're thinking about setting up our classroom, we want to backwards plan from where they start, where our kids are.

Kevin Carlson: Alison and Claudia are literacy and bilingual experts and the co-authors of Conscious Classrooms: Using Diverse Texts for Inclusion, Equity, and Justice. That is a PD Essentials book. Claire is one of the teachers they highlighted in the book, Voices from the Field. Recently the three of them spoke with author and educator Patty McGee about culturally and linguistically sustaining practices and how to demystify them to achieve deep connected learning. I'm Kevin Carlson and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Patty McGee: How about we get started a little bit with some of the basics? We are talking about culturally and linguistically sustaining practices, which is a lot of syllables in just four words. So I think it needs a little unpacking. Claudia, would you start off by sharing just a definition and some background knowledge for us to know about this topic we're discussing today?

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Yeah, absolutely. When we think about culturally and linguistically sustaining practices, we're really emphasizing that we're going beyond having posters on the classroom walls with diverse folks represented on there and also diverse books on our classroom shelves. We're going deeper than that. We're going deeper, in that we want to be able to sustain our students’ cultures and sustain their linguistic practices. The word “sustaining” here is super, super important. And we center our students that have been marginalized or communities that have been marginalized in the center of our classroom work. We really like what Paris and Aleem say about culturally sustaining practices. They say that we aim for schooling to be a site for sustaining the cultural ways of beings of communities of color. So this is really emphasizing the culture piece. We include linguistically, like you said, in culturally and linguistically sustaining practices, because language is a core part of who we are, right? So it's a core part of who our students are and who their families are, a core part of their identities. And we want schooling to be a site where we sustain the ways that they speak, the way that they communicate, the linguistic practices we say in the classroom, right? And in our schools. And we know that in communities across the United States, we speak so many different languages, we don't just speak English. Some of us speak more than two languages, three languages, and we move fluidly across these languages. We use them flexibly and naturally, and we want to be able to sustain these practices in schools and more specifically, in classrooms.

Patty McGee: It's so beautiful when you think about it, right? It's just thinking about how everyone's culture and language holds such value and importance in their own lives, but also how it brings so much to the rest of us when it's something that we're not as familiar with, and how rich that becomes. And we know over time that also becomes part of our culture. So the more we can sustain these practices around literacy, around translanguaging, around culture, so much of this is really important, and I'd love to hear maybe, Claire, if you could share a little bit about some of the things that are practices you use in the classroom specifically.

Claire Hood: Yeah. I have taught grades kinder through fifth grade, and I think one of the really important parts when we're finding texts for our classrooms is to really look at who we're serving and how we can benefit them. In Claudia's and Allison's book, they have a whole part about sliding glass doors, mirrors and windows, and using that framework of how to identify really great texts. So, for example, I have had students that are differently abled and having books that allow kids not just—it gives those students a mirror, but it also gives a window for all students to understand and to appreciate what our differences are. And so having these things really helps support students see themselves in books and see themselves as a part of the culture. But it also helps all students. No matter where you are, the more you learn about other people and learn about yourself, the more well-rounded person you're going to end up being.

Patty McGee: Isn't that so beautiful, that wherever there's a space for sustaining something important that's within all of us, one of the first and most simple places that we can turn is to books? I definitely want to give a shoutout to your book—Claire brought it up, Allison and Claudia, The Conscious Classroom, and how much that book is impacting all of us as we're thinking about making practical. Because of course, we have a belief system where culturally and linguistically sustaining practices are in place, but sometimes that belief system is a little short on the how-to. So having this book in our hands can make such a difference. Claire, you brought up getting books into the classroom, getting books, as Sims Bishop quotes, the windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors, to help us learn about ourselves, about others, and all the things that make us human. Now I'm wondering if, Claudia, is there anything that you can maybe share in your own experience? Because Claire is specifically in a classroom every day, and we have the benefit of that brilliance right here. Claudia or Allison, is there anything that you're thinking of in this broader context where you see many educators?

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Yeah. One thing that I always think about, and Claire brought this up, is really getting to know your students in your classroom. Because it's so easy for us to look at them and we might, without even meaning to, start making assumptions about who they are or their families and their backgrounds. But one of the things we really want to start with, in order for us to be able to use these books and not just have them on the shelves, is get to know our students, get to know their families. We have in our book some really useful, we hope, tools that teachers can use to get to know their students and to get to know their families, as well, so that then you can begin selecting these books. So that you can see which ones are mirrors, which ones are sliding glass doors, which ones are windows. I think that really the core of this all is a sense of belonging. We want all students to feel like they belong in the classroom. We want all students and families to feel like they belong in schools. And we first need to start getting to know them so we can see all of their different identities, who they are, and we can create spaces where they feel welcome. And I love the example that Claire just shared, because she does exactly that in so many different grade levels that she's taught. But it starts with getting to know who your students are.

Patty McGee: It sure does. Allison, what are some of your thoughts?

Allison Briceño: I agree with everything that you said. There's this whole gap sometimes between our beliefs and what we're able to do in the classrooms, given the materials and what we have. And then the whole idea of really, when we get to know our kids, and we we center them in our thinking about our planning, then it gets easier. It all kind of comes together much more easily.

Claire Hood: I think new teachers are taught like backwards plan from the assessment. But as teachers, when we're thinking about setting up our classroom, we want to backwards plan from where they start, where our kids are.

Patty McGee: Oh, that's so beautiful. That's a really important way to think about it. And especially when our assessments may not be culturally sensitive, that our assessments are often considering a small group of the population that is in our country. So they're already in a place where we're not sure if they're completely reliable. Instead, we might pair those, but also think of the student first, it's just so simple, so obvious. And also, sometimes we're like—it's smoke and mirrors. We're not always told that's where we begin. And so looking at and with our students, at the things that we can bring in for our learning and backwards plan from there—that's brilliant.

Kevin Carlson: After the break: Integrating diverse texts in the classroom. Stay with us.

Announcer: All readers deserve to learn about the lives and experiences of people different from themselves. In their new book, Conscious Classrooms:Using Diverse Texts for Inclusion, Equity and Justice, educators Alison Briceño and Claudio Rodriguez-Mojica help teachers ensure that students experience books that reflect diversity, equity and inclusion. The authors provide effective strategies for choosing texts with diverse stories and characters that are free from stereotypes, that reflect their students’ lives, that expose them to other cultures and perspectives.

Allison Briceño: Ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion in the classroom is essential to making all students feel like they truly belong.

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Through this book, we'll help you get there. Join us on a rewarding journey of discovery and growth.

Announcer: Learn more at PD essentials dot com. Go to teach brilliantly.

Patty McGee: Can you talk a little bit about how to integrate diverse books? There's one thing where we're picking diverse books, right? And in my work, personally, with schools and many of the districts I've been going into, there's a nice, hearty budget to get diverse books into schools and into the classroom. And then they’re in the schools and in the classroom. And maybe they're displayed, like we see the cover of something, but how can we go about truly integrating diverse texts in the classroom? Maybe Claire, do you want to start with that?

Claire Hood: Yeah. I think that's one of the—I'm a book freak, and so one of my favorite things is finding a new book and thinking, how can I use this not just to show my kids it and to have them recognize themselves in it, but also to bring in the comprehension piece? Especially when I'm teaching kinders to second grade, really trying to hit the phonics skills. And you can do those at the same time, especially with the text. I have read a lot of the same books that I read with K-2 up with my fourth and fifth graders because they have similar comprehension statuses. Also, all kids are at different levels with their phonemic awareness and phonics knowledge. Also, you can highlight things. You're finding sight words, you're finding vowel patterns, you're using really cool poetry by diverse authors that go with the social emotional topic of the month. Once you just pick what you're going to focus on, whether it be a skill, you can always connect to that skill to a diverse text and just make that skill so much more meaningful than if you're just doing some phonics flashcards. So really bringing those two things together and creating a space where kids can have these difficult conversations and be learning how to read these books on their own at the same time.

Patty McGee: Well, Claire,I think you're bringing up something that is in the forefront of all of our minds, because it's everywhere—the conversation around the Science of Reading, or, as we talk about on this podcast, the Sciences of Reading, and how we can use diverse texts and Sciences of Reading and they do not need to be separate experiences. So I'm wondering, Alison, could you speak a little more to that point?

Allison Briceño: Yeah. And I just love everything that you both said, Claire saying we can do them together. There isn't anything that you can do, necessarily, in a book that has animals as characters that you can't do with a diverse book. So why not use them? It gives you the added benefit of maybe some of your kids get a new experience, maybe some of your kids get to see themselves in a mirror type way. There's that added benefit. But like you said, the Sciences of Reading and the use of diverse books are not mutually exclusive. We can do both at the same time. Whether it's a read aloud or shared reading or small group to teach foundational skills, whatever it is that you're doing, diverse books can address comprehension, language development, etcetera. And I don't want to minimize the importance of foundational skills. They're certainly critical, and so much more is needed to create equity in education. Because when you look at the level of thinking that kids in more affluent districts are being asked to do, we need to make sure that we provide that same depth of content and knowledge and critical thinking skills for all kids. I know the word “balanced” is unpopular right now, but we really do need a balance in how we're addressing kids because there's never going to be a silver bullet, because children are human. There's never going to be one right way to do reading or writing or whatever.

Patty McGee: Yes, but there are more efficient ways, and using diverse texts and foundational skills together—that is efficient and effective.

Claire Hood: Right. I think nursery rhymes, it's like, good idea, um, maybe we shouldn't teach the children that you can lock your wife up in a pumpkin or whatever. And there are such great poems with very similar rhyming situations that you could use instead that are doing both at the same time. So really rethinking the things that we've done forever, and how can we lift that up.

Patty McGee: I'm going to ask you a question now that virtually every teacher is probably thinking, because whatever community they're in, there is probably somebody who's going to have a problem about the diverse texts that they're reading. Not to say everybody will, but we know the climate right now, and we know that somebody is going to feel some kind of rub around a particular topic. And I'm going to say, and I think you would agree with me, gender identity is one of them that's getting a lot of friction lately in schools. In fact, I just had a conversation with a friend who works with educators and they were sitting there with a third-grade team, like, “Let's do this book on immigration, let's do this book on Dreamers, let's do this book on”—there were so many different diverse topics. And she brought out the Call Me Max series, and it was like, screech! And the conversation just got silent. And there was that feeling, which I'm so glad they got to that feeling, because we want to get to the edge of where something is. We're seeing that there's a topic that is needed to be talked about. But can you just share how you approach this? What are some things, some advice you can give us?

Claire Hood: I think this is one of the hardest things. It also is the thing I'm most passionate about, is making sure, because this applies to all kids. And especially I'm seeing with my students the way that they get to explore gender and get out of this horrible box that people are still trying to put our kids into. And that is worth it—the fact that our kids need it, we need to be having these conversations and we just have to think about what kind of people do we want our kids to turn into. Because all educators want their kids to become whole, great, lovely people that can have conversations in this difficult way. Giving kids the tools to do that and to be a facilitator in that way. Reading texts like The Family Book by Todd Parr, it talks about how families look differently. If a parent comes and complains that you taught them that two different mice can get married or adopt children, hopefully them talking about it will really make them realize that that's very silly, but it's more important that our kids get these ideas and don't get stuck in the past, because that's how we got to this issue. These people that are fighting against people's rights to be who they are, they weren't given the opportunity to have these difficult conversations. They weren't given the opportunity to even think in this more diverse, less boxed-in way. So it's scary, but it's worth it. And if you can find the right text for your grade level that you think is the most appropriate, as long as you're not shying away from the issue and ignoring it, then you're empowering your students. And I think that's the most important thing that we can do for kids, is not shy away from hard topics or they will continue to do so.

Patty McGee: The words that are coming into my mind right now as I'm listening to you is, we're doing the work of helping humans see the humanity in other humans.

Claire Hood: Absolutely.

Patty McGee: That's the bottom line—that knowing the humanity, whether we understand someone else's life or not, that there is a human being in there. Who they are is not only valuable, but is a gift to all of us.

Kevin Carlson: After the break: Having uncomfortable conversations. Stay with us.

Announcer: What if there was a book for every child? One that reflected their unique identity and affirmed the value of their experience? The Benchmark Education Authentic Voices Library builds content, knowledge, and perspective, with 550 books by diverse authors and illustrators. Available in English and Spanish, print and digital, and featuring robust teacher support, the Authentic Voices Library provides enriching encounters with meaningful texts. What would happen if every student could see themselves in a book?

Patty McGee: Claudia, what are you thinking?

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Like Claire said, we want our students to be able to have these conversations, and we want us as teachers, as educators, to be able to have these conversations too. When you shared what you've heard and what you've been seeing, we've been seeing a lot too, and we want to normalize that. This is scary. It's really frightening. You get very nervous. We all do, right? I'm sure, Claire, sometimes you get a little nervous when you're doing this. There's no perfection, but we do need to have the courage to be able to have these conversations, to enter these spaces, even though we are a little nervous, because like you said, it's about seeing the humanity in everyone. And that sense of belonging that we started talking about at the very beginning—that's all we want, right? That's what this is about, is we want all of our students with exactly who they are and exactly who their families are to feel like they belong and like they themselves are human, as well. If we don't do this, if we don't have these conversations, if we let that fear stop us, we don't know, there might be students in our classrooms—there very likely will be a student or two or more families that will feel like they don't belong in that classroom space. Even if you have the sweetest, most kindest, most experienced teacher, that doesn't matter if you're completely ignoring a key part of who they are and who their family is and not helping them feel like they belong in that space. So I think that is just really, really important. 

We want to normalize how challenging this is and we all get nervous. You're not doing it wrong if you're nervous, you're doing it right. You need to keep pushing through. It’s about belonging in schools, in our classroom spaces. And we just want to remind everyone that not everyone feels that way, because of different pieces of who they are. And it's our responsibility as teachers. I'm a teacher educator, so I work to prepare teachers, and so is Allison—it's our responsibility to work with teachers to be able to do this, because it's just that important. The key idea here, it's just about helping everyone. All of our students and families belong in these spaces, and it's our responsibility as teachers to help create that space, to be able to do that. 

And I want to say, sometimes folks talk with Allison and I about, they use the word “indoctrination,” like you're indoctrinating students, or, “We don't want to indoctrinate students.” But it's not about that, it's about sharing information. It's about sharing different experiences through different texts. That's what we do as teachers. So we want to be clear that we're not talking about indoctrination here. We're talking about sharing this different information and allowing people to learn about other people and see their humanity, just like you said.

Patty McGee: Yes. And I think something that's coming to mind as I'm listening to you is, indoctrination and creating a sense of belonging are not the same things. We as human beings are hardwired to feel a sense of belonging, like, it's down to our cellular level. There is science around it, and if we have settings where people do not feel as though they belong, the outcomes of that are vast, scary, and perpetuate for quite a long time. But to wrap up this important conversation, I'm hoping that you can give us some inspiration on how, perhaps, you have learned about these topics so that we can continue to learn, as well.

Claire Hood: I think we're all going to start where we start. I grew up, it was white, middle class suburb of Boston. But my teachers still brought in issues that took place in other states, with other groups of people. Because just because it doesn't mirror, that's why the other parts are so important. And so all of this work, when my first day of teaching, I started with a little bit and then I got more out of the more conversations I had with students, the more conversations I had with parents, the more I went out in the community. Just being in your surroundings and learning about the cultural history of where you are and the history of where your families have been and what they want to see or what they need to feel belonging at the school—that's something my school is really working towards, is, “How can we create a place of belonging for families where we're bringing more people in?” Because I tell my parents all the time, “You're your child's first teacher and your voice is so important in it.” And it's important that we are learning from these people, but we're also making sure that we're bringing in things that may not pop up in our normal conversation, so making sure we're still addressing all of the difficult issues that are a little bit harder to talk about. And by doing that, I mean, really, if you research, if you read, if you just look to others, you can find really great resources. And I think it's just about jumping in with two feet and doing your best. Not all of these difficult conversations are going to be perfect, but the more you start, the better they will be and the more comfortable that you will feel doing this work.

Patty McGee: Claudia. Allison. Quick final thoughts?

Allison Briceño: Yeah, I just want to echo Claire. When I started teaching, just like Claire said, I started with my kids and their families and expanded from there. But I remember so clearly some of the initial conversations I had with some of the students, parents in particular, and their older siblings. And I learned so much from them because they were from different places and I was from the East Coast and I found myself somewhere in California. I didn't know how I had gotten there, even. And it was just, I learned so much from them and that really allowed me to center them. And I still have a lot of work to do. I still have there's tons and tons of different topics and cultures and whatever that I'm still learning about, but I enjoy it. So it's okay. Claudia?

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Yeah, from my end, I identify as Latina, Chicana, particularly. My first language was Spanish and I learned English in school, so I speak both languages. And I share that because we all have something to learn, right? I feel like I have a closer connection and I know more about immigration because of my family's background, about language and things like that, than maybe people that are monolingual. But there's a lot of other pieces, a lot of other identities and cultures that I know very little about., so I think, starting to recognize, “What do I know and what am I very comfortable with, and what am I less comfortable with?” Because I need to become more comfortable with it if I'm going to really be able to serve all of the students in my classroom. So I do a lot of what Allison and Claire shared. Like books—I go to texts to learn more about this. I try and I stumble and I make mistakes and I make sure I make every effort to remedy those mistakes. If I do something that I'm just like, “Oh, no, I really messed that one up,” I apologize. And I do it, I try again. So that's one of the biggest things, is putting myself out there and trying and continuing to try, even if I fail, and always try and remedy those mistakes and read. I need to do more of what, Claire, like you said, going to museums and things like that. That's something that I think would really help me as well, and gather those local resources, because we all have a lot of learning to do in a lot of different areas. So I think, for me, it's important to remember that.

Patty McGee: I think that's the perfect way to end our conversation, though I could talk to you all for at least another day about this and pick your brains. But Claire, Allison, and Claudia, thank you so much for sharing your brilliance with us, your inspiration through your words, and really helping us think about culturally and linguistically sustaining practices, how they are easily within reach, and how student-centered they really are.

Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica: Thank you.

Allison Briceño: Thank you, Patty. We enjoyed speaking with you.

Claire Hood: Yeah, that was fun.

Kevin Carlson: Thank you, Allison Briceño, Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica, and Claire Hood. Thank you, Patty McGee. And thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop

If you enjoyed this episode, if you've read Conscious Classrooms, then you're probably the sort of teacher, like Claire, who is interested in bringing more culturally and linguistically sustaining practices into your classroom. What if you could bring the texts that are featured in Conscious Classrooms into your classroom? Well, you can. Check out the Reycraft Books Conscious Classroom Collection. This is a library of 13 texts showcased in the PD Essentials book. Beautiful, authentic stories and illustrations that help all children see themselves in books, and teacher support is provided for every book in the collection. Learn more about the Reycraft Books Conscious Classroom Collection at RBclassroomsets dot com. 

Throughout this season, we talk with leading literacy experts to explore current understandings and nuances of teaching and learning literacy. Our aim is to present a 360-degree view of literacy that positions us to address the needs of all students in today's classrooms. Thanks for listening. For Benchmark Education, I'm Kevin Carlson.