Guest Blog: Free Literacy Resource

Reading With Relevance, Fosters Kids' Love of Reading With Books They Identify With

Editor’s Note: We are excited to feature a guest post from Lacy Ashbill, the co-founder of Moving Forward Institute, which focuses on students’ emotional well-being as a critical strategy for improving their academic achievement.  She has an exciting resource for our community.

I have a new role model—eleven-year-old Marley Dias. Sick of reading about “white boys and their dogs” in school, she decided to do something about it.

“I told [my mom] I was going to start a book drive, where black girls are the main characters in the book and not background characters or minor characters,” Marley told back in January.”

Marley won my heart with #1000blackgirlbooks, her social action campaign to lift up, collect, and donate books featuring protagonists who look like her. Marley’s words affirm what scholar Rudine Sims Bishop said more than 25 years ago, that reading “becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek mirrors in books.”

As teachers, we know that our students need relevant literature to better understand their identities and experiences, and recognize that reading can be an invaluable resource in building our students’ social and emotional skills. However, finding culturally-relevant literacy materials that work for our students can be a challenge. As one Oakland teacher shared:

“Only 11% of my students are reading on grade level. We must help our students improve their literacy skills as a matter of social justice. Reading and writing are crucial to engaged citizenship and transcending cycles of poverty and oppression. The materials I’ve been given are so ridiculously biased toward kids from middle class families that my students have a hard time relating to or even caring about what they read. If they’re going to learn to love reading and be comfortable expressing themselves through writing, they will need material and content that excites and motivates them.”

We get it. That’s why we’re giving away our Reading with Relevance curriculum to 100 Oakland elementary teachers this summer.

Reading with Relevance improves students’ literacy skills and builds their self-confidence. Students are motivated to read because they relate to the strong, diverse, and resilient characters featured in our selected novels, and because each session gives them the opportunity to connect what they’ve read to their own lives. In the words of another Oakland teacher:

“These are not rote drills or busy-work packets. They are effective lessons that challenge students to engage critically with important social issues (e.g. violence, safety, poverty, gender inequality, racism, power), as well as with the personal experiences that affect today’s students (e.g. decision-making, impulse control, self-esteem, identity, mental health, relationships, family struggles). They help me empower my students with knowledge and skills that will build their character while enhancing their academic performance.”

We are inviting you to join the Reading with Relevance movement. Apply to receive the curriculum for free.

Lacy Asbill is the co-founder of Moving Forward Institute, which focuses on students’ emotional well-being as a critical strategy for improving their academic achievement. At the heart of MFI’s work is their deep belief that how students feel about themselves and their lives directly impacts their ability to engage with school and succeed academically. They draw together the strengths of culturally relevant literacy instruction and social and emotional learning (SEL) to inspire young people to engage with reading, accelerate their academic achievement, and develop life-changing social and emotional skills. To learn more about the Institute and its Reading with Relevance curriculum, visit

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