For the past three years, I’ve been leading work around Open Educational Resources (OER) and the role that instructional materials play in teaching and learning. In order to support districts, I start by asking bold questions. Sometimes I receive bold answers and sometimes I don’t. Some district leaders have never considered how traditional materials like textbooks can perpetuate teacher-centered classrooms and prevent changes in practice. Others have grappled with the concept of “fidelity to curriculum,” changed their focus to “fidelity of standards,” and then built structures of support around sound pedagogy where materials play a part of the larger teaching and learning. More than anything, I help plant the seed for educators to recognize that the instructional materials matter and can foster new instructional practices.

Open Educational Resources, or OER, are freely available educational materials that can be downloaded, edited, and shared. As a former classroom teacher, I believe in the power of resources that can be customized for my local context and my individual students. OER allow me to do just this. What better way to engage students than by customizing the instructional materials that are used on a daily basis so that they see themselves, their peers, and their community in order to help them learn?

As conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion increase in the education space, especially around curriculum, it is more important than ever to talk about the instructional materials in our classrooms and schools— this is why I go back to this idea of windows and mirrors. What is being used in our classrooms that provide students with mirrors to see themselves and windows to see the perspectives of others? Do our materials represent our student population? Are we providing materials that are inclusive?

Children’s book author and illustrator, Grace Lin, presented a TEDx talk called “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf“, which brings up this very issue. Take a moment to watch the first minute and a half of her talk and see what she means. Then think about this in your context and the materials that currently exist in your classrooms or schools. Hopefully you see windows and mirrors and not one or the other.

Maybe this has planted a seed for you. If it has, let’s talk more about it at CUE BOLD on May 4-5, 2019. Hope to see you there!

To view Kristina’s CUE BOLD featured speaker video, click here.

Kristina Ishmael

Kristina Ishmael is senior project manager of the Learning Technologies Project in New America’s Education Policy program. Ishmael is an educator, learner, thought leader, advocate, and agent of change. After her work in the classroom and at the state department of education, she found herself in the nation’s capital working on education policy around instructional materials in the perfect culmination of her commitment to removing roadblocks for student access to resources and providing professional learning for educators. 

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