Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Teaching Special Educators to Critically Evaluate Children’s Books for Cultural Responsiveness

  • Session Date: Saturday June 25, 2022
  • Session Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
  • Location: Washington Convention Center, 144B-C

Active Engagement of Participants:

  • Participants at this presentation will learn about bibliotherapy, and cultural responsiveness within special education. They will view data from a study that used critique and engagement with children’s books as one way support growth in cultural responsiveness for pre-service teachers. Participants will critique I Talk Like A River (Scott, 2020), a 2021 Schneider Family Younger Children Book Winner using the Finding Belonging through Children’s Books Rating Scale.
  • Next, participants will view example story boards, and will be invited to sketch a story board of their own using the book, I Walk with Vanessa: A Picture Book Story About a Simple Act of Kindness (Kerascoët, 2018). Participants will be invited to discuss their own ideas for use of children’s books to promote cultural responsiveness of future special educators.
  • All participants will receive a handout, including the list of books used.

How Pre-Service Teachers Engaged with Children’s Books:

  • Cultural responsiveness within special education is an expected competency of initial practice in that field (Council for Exceptional Children, 2020).
  • One teacher preparation program worked to improve cultural competence in pre-service special educators, focusing first in two courses, with two projects in each of those courses requiring engagement with culturally responsive children’s literature. Twenty students participated in a junior-level course about high incidence disabilities. In that course, students critiqued a selection of books addressing varied components of marginalization, such as disability, race, poverty, immigration, etc.
  • In the first course, students designed an instructional unit using a Schneider Family 2013 winner in the Middle School category, A Dog Called Homeless (2012). They identified standards for reading and writing, as well as learning objectives emphasizing a function of bibliotherapy. A significant portion of the grade for that assignment was earned for evidence of cultural responsiveness, including support of resilience, community, change agency, or disability-related Identity.
  • Twenty-two students participated in a senior-level special education course about behavior. In that course, students critiqued books for helpfulness as bibliotherapeutic resources when intervening for social and emotional challenges. Students then engaged specifically with the ALSC Recommended book, I Walk with Vanessa: A Picture Book Story About a Simple Act of Kindness (Kerascoët, 2018). Applying course concepts about reconciliation as a special education behavior practice, students focused on the bully in that story. Using white boards, students worked in groups to sketch a story board as if for a book proposal to the author/illustrator team Kerascoët, proposing a story for that bully about finding forgiveness, and restoring to community.

Study Instrumentation:

  • To assess any growth in cultural responsiveness, students complete pre- and post assessments using the Culturally Responsive Special Education Experiences and Efficacy Scale ([Author Removed for Review]2021), rating their number of experiences serving individuals and families in special education who also experience other marginalization such as poverty, under-represented race, immigration, etc., then rating their self-efficacy for such culturally responsive practices. As a tool to facilitate the book critiques, students used the Finding Belonging through Children’s Books Rating Scale ([Author Removed for Review]2021). Using this scale, students rated and compared children’s books for use in promoting specific bibliotherapeutic functions (identity, catharsis, and problem-solving for solutions) for various types of diversity or childhood challenges (Forgan, 2002; Nasatir and Horn, 2003). Prior to students rating the books, three researchers reached inter-rater reliability. The students’ book ratings were gathered using survey software, then compared to the scores of the researchers, and relationships with their experiences and self-efficacy in culturally responsive special education practices (as measured by the Culturally Responsive Special Education Experiences and Efficacy Scale, [Author Removed for Review]2021). Teacher-made rubrics were used to score instructional design and story board products.

Collaborations:Guidance to improvements to this teacher preparation program were provided by two external experts in Civil Rights and racial justice.

  • Dr. Christina Edmondson is a scholar, public speaker, social media leader, and author of such books as Faithful Antiracism (Edmondson, 2022). Dr. Todd Allen is a university faculty, diversity administrator, and founder of the Common Ground Project and Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights Tour, teaching participants about the the history of Civil Rights in America.

Multiple Perspectives of the Presenters:The three presenters bring multiple perspectives to building cultural competencies in educators.

  • One presenter is a first-generation American of southeast Asian descent who is passionate about social justice.
  • The second presenter is an African American who is passionate about urban education.
  • Both of those undergraduate researchers are completing teacher certifications in both special education and elementary education, and both plan to teach in intercultural settings.
  • The third presenter is a university faculty member with over thirty years experience serving or teaching children with disabilities and preparing future special educators.


Presented at the American Library Association conference held in Washington, D.C. in June 2022.