By Dr. Jill Tussey and Dr. Leslie Haas
While many educators continue to ensure a positive and equitable learning environment for all students, gender equality continues to exist. Winfield (2018) shares that “although much progress has been made in global literacy in recent decades, gender disparities in youth literacy rates persist in almost one in five countries” (para. 1). This disparity impacts girls in academics and beyond, as literacy also offers support for social-emotional development and learning.
Empowerment through Reading
Winfield (2018) highlights “with existing learning materials, and especially in textbooks, most research points to continued gender bias. Attention is particularly needed to the frequency and gender representation of characters — their status, roles, activities, personalities, behaviours, and more” (para. 8). Educators can support a classroom culture that empowers female students through attentive selection of quality opportunities through reading. By including books and magazines in classroom libraries featuring strong female characters, teachers are expanding student perspectives of empowered people. Additionally, providing quality reading material authored by female writers sends the message that women’s voices are meant to be heard. Author studies focusing on female writers is another opportunity for students to learn about successful women through literacy. Teachers should select books about female leaders in history, politics, and STEM for the whole class to read aloud.
Empowerment through Writing
Writing activities allow students opportunities to write about women of interest as well as share their own ideas and thoughts. Two academic opportunities include: writing a research paper about a strong woman figure, and writing a narrative about themselves and the strong woman figure while embedding facts throughout. Both writing options allow students to gain a deeper understanding about the woman they selected and share factual information. However, students would have a choice over the writing style.
Journaling and reflective writing is another platform for students to share views and ideas in a safe manner. Page (2020) suggests that educators can “have students reflect on the influential women in their life and why they view them in that way. Facilitate a journal activity so students can write down their thoughts as they are reflecting” (para. 11). Reflective journaling, therefore provides an opportunity to hone and develop student voice.
The importance of supporting students beyond academics is more profound and apparent after the events surrounding the global pandemic. Therefore, finding opportunities to embed elements of female empowerment into literacy lessons can provide learners with this type of support. Sheppard and Skwor-Gatlin (2021) state “Inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold relies heavily on girls having caring and supportive mentoring relationships, positive peer interactions, and an affirming environment where they can learn and pursue self-discovery” (para. 1). Access to positive literature provides empowerment and inspiration through classroom discussions, writing, and journaling.
3 In-School and Out-of-School Sample Activities
1- Book: “Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World” by Vashti Harrison
In-school Activity: Teachers will read the book aloud to the students in small groups. After listening to the book, students will be able to select one of the visionary women from the book for further research. Follow-up activities include writing a research paper or developing an informational poster based on the information gained from the research. Students can also add a personal reflection, sharing the reasons they selected the specific visionary woman.
Out-of-school Activity: Students will take the research paper or informational poster home and share with their families. Families will locate one new fact about the visionary woman to share with the class and/or teacher.
2- Book: “100 Women Who Made History: Remarkable Women Who Shaped Our World” by DK
In-school Activity: Students will work in partners or small groups to select one remarkable woman. After reading about her life and accomplishments, students will create a factually accurate and visually pleasing comic strip. Partners or small groups will share the comic strips with their classmates and answer questions related to her accomplishments.
Out-of-school Activity: Students will take the comic strips home and share information about their chosen remarkable women. Families will create an additional comic strip over the same remarkable woman to share with the class and/or teacher.
3- Book: “Stories of Mythological Women for Legendary Girls: Inspiring Girls to be Brave and Free Women Tomorrow!” by Eliana Salvi and Federico Corradini
In-school Activity: Students will work in partners or small groups and select a mythological woman. After reading about her, students will conduct additional research to collect information. Based on the information from print and digital sources, students will create and record a podcast about their chosen mythological woman. Information in the podcast should be supported by researched resources.
Out-of-school Activity: Students will play the podcast for their families. After listening to the podcast, families can ask students follow-up questions about their chosen mythological woman.
By embedding literature with strong female characters, educators are allowing students, especially female students, opportunities to embrace their own strength. Students can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges these characters overcame in order to succeed. In turn, female students are provided mentor examples of how to tackle challenges they face in their lives with confidence.
Visit http://www.lesliehaasandjilltussey.com/ for free resources connected to this topic and others as well as resources for your classroom library.
5 Additional Resources for Empowering Girls:
- Four Tips to Empower Girls in Your Classroom
- Four Ways to Empower and Celebrate Women in the Classroom Using SDG 5
- Girls Equity and Empowerment Resource List
- Girl Power: How Can Books Empower Young Girls?
- How to Encourage Girls in Your Classroom to Get Involved in STEM
If you like this article, please check out our blog to read more education and literacy articles or visit the World Literacy Summit Digital Library to watch over +100 meaningful presentations related to the literacy sector. Dr. Leslie Haas and Dr. Jill Tussey are both literacy experts and educators, learn more about the writers.
Page, H. (2020). Four ways to empower and celebrate women in the classroom using sdg 5. Participate Learning. https://www.participatelearning.com/blog/four-ways-to-empower-and-celebrate-women-in-the-classroom-sdg5/
Sheppard, P. & Skwor-Gatlin, S. (2021). Social and emotional learning is essential for girls to thrive. Girls Inc. https://girlsinc.org/social-emotional-learning-essential-girls-thrive/ Winfield, S. (2018). Opening doors to gender equality through literacy. Medium. https://medium.com/ungei-blog/opening-doors-to-gender-equality-through-literacy-2a144c2973a2