Session 6 (online): Teaching Context

Hi everyone,

As we think about how different instructional strategies work in our own teaching contexts, it can be helpful to spend some time paying closer attention to the contexts in which we teach. When we say “that won’t work at my school,” what do we mean? What is the disconnect between the strategy and the context? For this online class, I would like you to explore your teaching context by taking the time to observe and notice the sensory details of that place. This activity will serve as a first step towards the development of your sense of what it means to teach in your particular teaching context.


One project I have done with students that gets us to think about this is the following Poetry Mapping Project.  Here’s a short piece I wrote about it a few years ago.

We began by reading the following chapter in Georgia Heard’s book Writing Toward Home. While this book isn’t exactly geared for students in the classroom, it is filled with prompts for writers and I have found it to be helpful when I’m trying to think of writing ideas for students.

Read:  “Where Does Writing Hide”

Then, I gave the students the following example of my own poem. If you open the following document you will see how I presented the poetry-writing experience to my students.  You might also want to use this as a guide for writing your own poem, as you will do today.

Read: Evolution of a Poem

The assignment I gave my students was to write a poem using sensory details (much like the one in my example, if they like) about a particular place.

When I worked in Queens, I used this Google map to publish my students’ poetry.

A few years later, when I taught on Long Island, technology had improved and we were able to include audio and visual elements to our Google map.

Teaching in Context: Writing about the neighborhoods where we teach

While the students in the examples above wrote about where they lived, you will write about where you work.  You will need to explore the neighborhood you work in. Take a walk on your lunch break, or take mental notes as you interact with the area surrounding your school building on your walk to or from school. Your poem will require that you pay attention to sensory details, so remind yourself to pay close attention to your surroundings. You might also ask yourself, what does “literacy” mean in this context? Are you introducing literacy to your students, or are there context-specific ways in which they already are literate?

Here you will find directions for how to write your own poem about the neighborhood in which you teach: Directions for EDLIT755 online assignment Session 6

Once you write your poem, go to the map, click on the upside-down teardrop thing, drag it to the location you want, and plant it down. Then, you will see a little box pop up that allows you to post directly on the map.  If you click on “rich text,” you will be able to add a picture to your poem or change the color of your font (cool!).

Please let me know if you have trouble! You can always send me an email with your poem and I will post it for you. Also, if you would like your poem to be anonymous, that’s fine – just send it to me so that I know and I’ll post it for you.

Click on the map:

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 10.38.25 AM


Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat

Once you have posted your poem, watch this conversation with Edwidge Danticat (particularly from around minute 22 and on), who wrote Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. In it, she speaks of feeling that her own success was an “accident of literacy.”

Once you are done with this writing project, I would like you to leave a comment below in which you explain what the process felt like for you, what it made you think about, what you might have noticed in the poetry of your classmates, and how you might use or adapt this idea in your own classrooms. Also, please leave links to other poets/writers/educators whose work you would like to share with us.

Summary of what you need to do:

  1. Use the following document to write a poem about the neighborhood in which you teach: Directions for EDLIT755 online assignment Session 6
  2. Click on the Google Map I created for this class and use the marker to add your poem. You should post it on the location you write about.
  3. Watch the Edwidge Danticat video. What does she mean when she uses the terms “accident of literacy” and “birthright”?
  4. Read the following conversation between Aurora Anaya-Cerda (owner of La Casa Azul Bookstore) and Cati de los RíosClick here.

  5. Leave a comment at the end of this post in which you reflect on this work, and pose 1-2 questions to the group.

DUE: Tuesday, June 9, midnight.

28 thoughts on “Session 6 (online): Teaching Context

  1. I really loved reading the article because when Aurora Anaya-Cerda discussed her beginnings with literacy she talks about the stories her grandmother verbally shared with her. So often we think of our experiences with literacy as in what we read or write, but with a focus on understanding. I like how the author focused on their understanding of words even though it was verbal. The video also mentions taking books and making it into a radio book so it can reach people everywhere. Anaya-Cerda also pays attention to how she built up to her level of literacy. She mentions learning from cereal boxes, magazines, etc. This is really great because we too should start with whatever we can get from our students. If they are not reading books, first allow them to listen to books on tape. If they want to read magazines, let them. Whatever we can do to help our students understand a storyline or read more frequently is helping them and building towards the goal of reading books. This can help to be the beginning stages of literacy for our students.
    The article and video both paid attention to the importance of choosing literary works that the student can relate to. Picking a text that a student will feel passionate about will ignite their love for reading. I usually let my student choose the topic or author he wants to read, but I make the lesson on what he still must accomplish based on that text. Getting my student involved in the lesson this way has been helpful to get my student excited about what we’re working on. I am curious to know how we can incorporate student interests when we have a set curriculum.
    In the video Edwidge Danticant mentions that in Haiti “borrowing libraries” are not very common. Thus showing the importance of the books on the radio or folklores that can be told and passed down verbally. We are fortunate to have many public libraries around the United States, however, with budget cuts and space being limited in New York City, not all schools have libraries. Does your school have a library? If so, is it significant? If not, is there a way you compensate for this in the classroom?


    • I totally agree with you that it’s important to expose students to texts that affirm their own identities through characters that students find relatable. The most striking part of the interview was the Junot Diaz quote at the bottom about monsters: “It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” I’m Jewish and spent grades 3-9 in a Jewish Day School, where my cultural and religious identity was reflected in my education on a daily basis. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had my identity affirmed throughout my childhood. My students in the South Bronx, unfortunately, have not had the same experience. My question is, when and how can I integrate this into the general curriculum? At the start of this school year I raised money through Donors Choose to buy books for my US History class about topics less emphasized in the curriculum. Topics included immigration from the Dominican Republic, the role race and class played in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the development of jazz as a cultural achievement (I wish I had known about La Casa Azul Bookstore in September!). However, we ended up barely getting to use these books because my co-teacher was too concerned about regents pass rates to deviate from the standard curriculum. Next year we will be adapting Engage New York where the lessons are even more restrictive. It starts to feel as though I’d need to teach in a charter or private school to be able to teach as culturally responsive as I’d like to.


      • I agree that can be a is very true that a critically experience to have one’s own cultural or religious (as Maddie speaks about) experience validated and made “real” by reading and writing. However, I would be careful to assume that a charter school would be able to give you the curricular flexibility you are looking for: my school is a charter school, and our lessons, unit plans, and scope and sequence are as limited as you describe. Perhaps the question of cultural responsiveness is not about charter versus. public but about an administrative and school community culture that promotes education as a robust personal growth experience, versus education as a series of boxes to check off.


      • I think the quotation you highlighted is really powerful.  “It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” By not having better representation in our literature and academic culture, students from Latino backgrounds do not see themselves in education. They places where they do more readily see themselves may not help to increase rates of literacy or test scores. Our school system and our nation has really failed a huge population of learners and thinkers and denied so many opportunities to understand rich cultures. I really liked the interview of Aurora Anaya-Cerda and I think she reveals some simple truths about teaching and learning. Reflecting on her experience with her 4th grade class, Aurora Anaya-Cerda says “We took field trips, learned to read maps, created art projects, – I remember that my class recreated scenes from prehistoric times in the main hallway – murals and paper mache figures of saber tooth tigers and woolly mammoths lined the walls, art done by our 4th grade class.” Students remember what they create and the experiences they have had. Teachers always talk about making a concept “sticky” as a learning tactic. Experience is “sticky.” By creating a genuine experience that students are involved with they are much more likely to see themselves as a part of their education. She later states that, “engaging students, allowing for questions and dialogue in the classroom, the organized and planned curriculum, experiential learning” are essential components of culturally sensitive and exclusive classrooms.
        I am a believer and I am on board. But this year was terrible. My students were disengaged and definitely did not feel like school was for them. How do I make next year different regardless if my co-teaching situation? How do we as special educators put our children first while working with teachers who may not ‘get it?’


      • Dear Madeline, I can relate to feeling over-constrained by my school’s curriculum, as well as feeling like even though the children are being taught the curriculum, they are not receiving the kinds of knowledge they truly crave and need. These realities leave me with questions: What is the point of being able to pass a Regents or State Exam if a child does not know who they are or where they come from? What are we really teaching children if they know very little about themselves? Like one of our peers mentioned in her post, education should be a “robust personal-growth experience.” How can a child experience personal growth in the classroom, if who they are is never mentioned nor affirmed?


  2. Reflection on Writing the Poem

    When first reading the assignment, I was a little nervous with writing the poem, thinking that my poem would sound silly, that I had no idea how to start, and that I knew that I needed some guidance when writing it. When I opened the assignment, I was relieved to see that the directions and guidelines were very easy to follow and the guiding questions helped me make a poem much more soundly, using descriptions and words that are detailed and give the reader a visual interpretation of the text. Although my poem is not as detailed as I would of hoped, I felt proud and accomplished after reading my poem.

    If I were to use this in my classroom, I would definitely use guiding questions to help them really word their ideas and formulate sentences. I would also encourage them to use the online thesaurus when trying to be more descriptive when writing their poems.

    Some work I really love is Malcolm Gladwell’s writing. He addresses some interesting topics in society that can be useful in the classroom. His approach and view on certain topics is always very different then the norm.

    Check out his work at:

    Edwidge Danticat Video

    She mentions how in Haiti that the idea and reading and being knowledgeable is attractive because it was not that common, that carrying a book under their arm. What is interesting is that she mentions that in order for readers to be engaged they must enjoy what they are reading.

    I find it very intriguing that she mentions that because she grew up in a place where many were not literate, that she doesn’t feel right actually talking to him in a public library, that she doesn’t deserve it, that it was not meant to happen. Students who come from other countries where reading and writing is not a major focus often struggle and feel as if they are unable to perform as their peers. As teachers we must take this into account when teaching our students.

    Aurora Anaya-Cerda and Cati De Los Rios

    I found this interview to be extremely helpful and interesting. I enjoy that certain bookstores cater to the individuals who are residing in that area. It is very clear that many small bookstores in the NYC region are not culturally relative. When a child is reading text that is culturally relative, when that information is written in a format that he or she can understand, or even focusing on something that is similar to their lives outside of the classroom, they are able to really understand it. Our brains work in schemas, where we create mini folders in our brain and organize our thoughts in specific categories. When teachers can connect two schemas, school and outside life, students have a higher chance of understanding material and actually being able to store it, and use it in the future.

    Being able to access culturally relative knowledge with my own children has been quite difficult, as many of them are from various countries. In my ESL class, 11 of my students are nonverbal, barely understand English, and unfortunately Uzbek and Tajik are not languages on Google translate. My only form of communication with some new arriving students is through other students, hand gestures, and using the Internet to communicate. Having books that they can read, translating one English text into 12 different languages is quite time consuming. However, being able to relate the history and topics back to their home lives and their studies has proven to be very useful and has helped with them understanding the language as a whole. It would be nice to have library’s that were more focused on different culture than homogeneous library’s.


    • “Students who come from other countries where reading and writing is not a major focus often struggle and feel as if they are unable to perform as their peers.”
      I also really was fascinated by her comments in the video of feeling a sense of not belonging in the library. It really led me to reflect on my classroom throughout this year and whether or not students had felt a large ownership over the class as a whole and whether or not they felt comfortable there. Of course, I would like to say that I did a good job making them feel comfortable and feeling like they belong. However, deep down inside, I think that they still are insecure with their abilities and skills and do not view school as a place for them. It is disparaging when I hear students say that they “hate reading” or “hate school”. It makes me feel like every day that they walk through that door that they do not belong in that space and that learning is not for them. I realized throughout this year that motivation is definitely something that needs to be amped up next year. Without this motivation and drive as viewing education and literacy as important, our students will continue to feel like education is not intended for them.


  3. I found the poem writing rather frustrating. As someone who does not enjoy writing poetry, writing a “sensory” poem was even more cumbersome. What I did enjoy was that it tied into our every day lives. I visit this community everyday and I realized after writing this poem that I should pay more attention to the boisterous and exciting community I visit so often.

    I found it extremely interesting that Aurora reached back to her past to help develop her teaching style. I can honestly say I have never thought of my past teachers, their methods, and what I could glean from their teaching styles. I also appreciated how you could sense the pride Aurora has in the Latino community. She understands the importance a strong reading culture has on a community and that a bookstore is more than just a place to come buy books. A bookstore is a community building location, where people interact and learn about and from one another. Guest speakers further help build that community pride. As Aurora states “it’s a hybrid community space,” it’s a hub of bilingual speakers and learners. Everyone can learn from everyone and everyone can help everyone learn.


    • I share my frustration with you Matthew. As a little kid I was taught to write poems that rhymed and as I got older I learned that a poem could be two words that have “no meaning” to each other. When I was writing my poem I didn’t even know how to start, I immediately went for the rhyming style. Also, there are sooo many things happening at my school and outside that I didn’t know what to focus on. Eventually I wrote my very lame poem but I can relate to the frustration that my students experience with any written assignment. Sadly, many of my kids are SIFE and do not have the basic native literacy skills that are essential for their academic success. This very simple writing activity was a reminder of that writing struggle my students battle every day.

      Also, I am happy to know that people like Aurora are encouraging the Latino community to develop a strong reading culture like you said. As a Latino teacher myself it is embarrassing to look at the statistics and see that my community has some of the lowest literacy levels. One of the factors for becoming a teacher was to try to improve those statistics but I find it incredibly hard. Some day I’ll see more positive changes.

      I don’t know if you you read the “where does writing hide?” poem but if you did let me just say that my favorite part was the technique in which it was written. I spent a while trying to understand the last two lines, why a man would give his wife two skunks for a valentine? and couldn’t really come up with a meaning, hence, it is hiding. I thought it was funny.



    • Interesting post, Mathew. Although I did not personally find the poetry writing frustrating (in fact, I thought it was a somewhat enjoyable change of pace for an online grad school class!), I agree with you that the reminder to spend more time taking in, appreciating, and understanding the sensory experiences that our schools’ neighborhoods provide was important. When writing my poem, I closed my eyes and transported myself back to the neighborhood where I work. It is interesting to examine what I remember most: everyday people living their every day lives by eating, shopping, playing, talking, loving. I appreciate that this activity made me reconcile a common mythology that is told about the sights and sounds of the South Bronx – dilapidated buildings and gunshots – with the daily lived experience of a much richer community.

      I also appreciated Aurora’s point about thinking about old teachers to develop one’s old teaching style. Over the past two semesters, I have spent time reflecting about my secondary and elementary math teachers, but I am now taking a moment to think about the teachers who made me a reader and a writer. In particular, I want to think about the teachers who made me “revere” reading and writing, in such an epic way as is described by Edwidge Danticat – how did my teachers inspire me to love the written word, to connect with invisible characters? I’m not totally sure, but I think two things stick out: one is that they got me when I was young. I was in elementary when my teachers were trying and succeeding to teach me to love reading. I would imagine this kind of inspiration is easier with younger students, although that’s not to say this is impossible in high school and middle school. The second thing is the element of personal identity and choice in the pages that inspired me to love reading. I loved the books that I saw powerful female role models in, because I could see a part of myself in them. I loved books I saw the mountain west in, because that was a place I loved dearly. These stories became my stories. To this point, we must remember the importance of acknowledging and giving power to our students’ identities through the texts we choose to teach.


  4. This sessions reading, assignment and video ask us to question the role of literacy in shaping identity and vice versa. Essentially, we are looking at how the implicit exclusion of certain cultures in the literary cannon of American education leads to very real feelings of isolation and alienation of minority groups from mainstream society. The line that to me most embodies the message of this week’s works comes from the Junot Diaz quote about monsters and reflections, which essentially states that the absence of a reflection of one’s culture in the mirror that is society leaves one with the feeling that they are abject or outside of the mainstream. I very much agree with this sentiment expressed by Alicia that it is important for people (and our students!) to read books that they can relate to, and I would like to extend this to ourselves as educators in that we, as teachers, should read materials that mirror our students’ lives and experiences. This would help us relate to and understand our students in ways that a one-on-one conversation (in which the power dynamic is very clearly that of teacher-student) would not be able to comprehend.

    Interestingly enough, as I was working on this assignment a student of mine, Alan, came by to ask what I was doing. He has been attending poetry slam workshops for the past few months, and we talked about how poetry is an important tool to allow individuals to play with and develop voice, which ultimately leads to a form of understanding of oneself.


  5. Both Edwidge Danticat and Aurora Anaya-Cerda talked about the importance that storytellers played in their first exposures to literacy. They discussed how their grandmothers and elders in their communities shared folklore and tales from their past experiences. These stories developed in them a passion for what reading could eventually give to them. But they also both reference, especially Danticat, the importance of stories read out loud. This is where I see my students. So many are so scared of reading, having been embarrassed by their disabilities in general education environments before coming to my school. The challenges they face with language put up enormous road blocks to enjoying the story in the books they are presented with. All they see are the challenges of decoding multi-syllabic words while being asked to comprehend complex sentence structure. My goal with my students is to help them see and enjoy the story, to find the joy in literacy that Danticat and Anaya-Cerda talk about. For some students this works, and for some it doesn’t. My question is what can we do for our struggling readers who don’t see the pleasure that awaits them in reading? Especially for our older students who are already so discouraged, how do we help them jump over the challenges they face and enjoy the essence of a reading: the story?


  6. As someone who enjoys writing, I approached this assignment with a surprising amount of reluctance. I wasn’t particularly eager to write a poem about the environment in which I teach, but what it made me realize is how much I unconsciously focus on the negatives surrounding me…the fights in the hallway, the students cursing, teachers talking about how exhausted they are…and that doesn’t make for a very enjoyable poem! So this assignment forced me to change my perspective and look/listen for the positives, or at least the sights and sounds that I think are most representative of my school’s community, without judgment. This was challenging but really made me appreciate my school and neighborhood in a new light. I think this would be a great assignment to bring into my classroom, particularly as we have been discussing a poetry unit for next year. The sensory element made poetry feel much more accessible and less abstract, as its simply asking the writer to pay attention to the sights/sounds/smells/etc. surrounding them. I also really like it as a way to get students thinking about the ways in which our own human experiences and perspectives are both similar and different from one another.

    I thought the discussion of literacy in the conversation with Edwidge Danticat was particularly interesting, considering many of my students are from Haiti and come to us speaking little English and often are not even considered “literate” in their native language. Danticat discusses the misconception of the immigrant who gains the “privilege” of literacy and consequently feels alienated from their community. Yet at the same time, she maintains that there is some truth to this for all people who write–that many times people near to them won’t be able to participate in the story in a particular way. This made me really think about the many layers of literacy, and how this dual existence may present itself as a challenge for many of my students. I also enjoyed her discussion of reading as a refuge, reading as an escape, and reading as a mirror of yourself (particularly for young teenagers). I have almost always related to reading in these ways, so it is hard for me to consider that many do not have this same love affair with reading, but it got me thinking about ways to foster this love within my students. I’m wondering if anyone has had a particular success with this, and if so, what did you do to get your students excited about reading?

    I agree with Alicia’s point regarding Aurora Anaya-Cerda. So often we think of literacy as strictly reading and writing, and disregard the oral language traditions that are also an important foundation in building literacy. I also enjoyed how Anaya-Cerda made a conscious effort to incorporate culturally relevant materials into her own classroom in order to validate her students’ experiences, so they did not feel inadequate like she did in her 7th grade English class. I think it is so important to celebrate our students identities and incorporate them into our instruction. My school is comprised of primarily Caribbean (Haitian, Jamaican, Trinidadian) immigrants/immigrant families, which is not as prominent in literature, but I still try to find ways to incorporate these identities into my classroom, along with their identities related to gender, race, sexual orientation, and age. I’m also wondering if anyone has had experience doing this in their classrooms and what advice you may have about integrating culturally relevant instruction into your curriculum?


    • Rachel,

      I think you make a really great point about how the negative aspects of our work environments can cloud our perception and make us lose sight of our emotional connection to our schools. Especially at this point in the year the amount of frustrated, negative energy from staff and students can be overwhelming, and I also found it helpful to step back and reflect on the significance of the community where I teach through a more creative lens. I wrote about the sense of anticipation as I ride on the bus on my way to Sheepshead Bay, in which I am often seated next to my students and begin absorbing familiar sights, smells, and sounds. The process of writing the poem honestly made me appreciate the role this new community has come to play in my life, and I think the more creative format (as opposed to the conventional reflections we have completed with such frequency for our graduate program) was particularly helpful in that regard.

      The vast majority of my students are also of Caribbean descent; I would love to learn more about the resources you have utilized to study their cultural backgrounds. I agree that Aurora Anaya-Cerda’s emphasis on incorporating literary sources that validate students’ cultural backgrounds is extremely valuable, and although we have studied a number of texts that describe the larger “black experience”, I have not been able to find texts on this particular Brooklyn community. I am going to look into whether there are authors who have written about the experience of Caribbean immigrant families in Brooklyn, I think that could resonate for a number of my students..


  7. Reflecting on The Process
    When dealing with poetry I always fear using models from other writers. As some one who does not consider themselves creative, I fear that by looking at models I will be overly inspired to the point where I am plagiarizing the artistic integrity of other people’s works. I think for our students the use of modeling and templates helps them discover their thoughts and produce a product they can be proud of. However, the constraints of an assignment when it comes to poetry and trying to compare to everyone elses created an anxiety with me that I have not felt since I was, well, in my high school English classes. It helped remind me of the sense of nervousness and anxiety that my students may face when they are grappling with assignments that do not necessarily cater to their skill sets. We ask our students to get outside of their comfort zones every day in order to help build their skill set. Now I feel like I can better relate in a sense to the apprehension that they view some assignments with. That being said, I did find the assignment an interesting way to compare and contrast the experiences of our class around the city. It would be interesting to do this in the beginning of the school year next year with my students in order to have them reflect on the various locations around New York and their significance to them through some expressive form of writing.

    Aurora Anaya-Cerda and Cati de los Ríos Reflection
    I really admire the effort of Aurora Anaya-Cerda for continuing to connect her past experience as an educator to her current profession and achievements. It is clear that she is committed to expanding a love for literacy in all students, especially the ones in her local community. I often wonder what I could be doing further at my school to connect our students to initiatives and places in their community that could supplement their literacy needs. I was astounded at the beginning of this year when my students told me they had never set foot in a library, have never been to a bookstore, or don’t even remember the last time they got a book. What is so enlightening about Anaya Cerda’s reflections is the idea that literacy does not live just in between school and home. A book store is an excellent place for students to delve further into passions that are not always given to them by teachers. For example, I have though of taking my students who enjoy anime to a comic book shop in order to find texts that can help expand their literacy skills and engage their interests. After reading the conversation I had a couple of questions for Anaya-Cerda and the movement of integrating culture and literacy: What strategies are recommended to help guide students into finding that “third space” for literacy when they reject reading at school and at home? Also, what general strategies can be recommended to teach a text authentically when it is from a culture different than your own, but reflects parts of your student’s culture?

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  8. In the video I found Dandicat’s use of the term accident of literacy interesting, but wasn’t totally certain I understood her meaning. In a blog post by Dandicat ( I got a clearer picture of what life and education specifically is like in Haiti. She talked about a school in Haiti that accommodates students’ need to help their parents on market days by adjusting the school schedule (a “community-attuned” school she calls it). She also explained how significant the cost of basic education is to a family’s overall expenses and the seriousness in which students take their education and exams. Dandicat recalled her father saying “The only reason some of us are not also pulling mules is because we were lucky enough to get an education, because we are accidents of literacy.”. This quote seemed to sum up her beliefs that education and literacy are not birthrights. How does this relate to our own students? Can we, and should we, adjust our teaching approaches and relationships with students to consider their multicultural backgrounds?

    I am sure that student engagement and perseverance would improve for some students if they were provided with reading options that they could connect to their own lives. However, I think it would be more effective if they could be participants in making the reading choices. So often the teachers are from different backgrounds and cultures from their students that I think it seems forced or even presumptuous for a teacher to decide what is culturally relevant for their students. I had a discussion with a student today regarding using hip hop in history class. He thought it was a cool idea that might help him learn the content, but he was also pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do a very effective guided practice.


  9. How it felt to write the poem…
    [Disclaimer: it didn’t feel like a poem really, not that there’s rules to writing poems, but it felt more like a *sigh.*]
    After writing the first poem, I felt guilty. I felt guilty because the first things that came to my mind when I thought about Hunts Point were gross, dirty, dilapidated. I felt guilty for being one of the “many” who come into a place like Hunts Point and overlook the beauty, the potential, the life. But I can’t deny that that’s how I first thought about it, how Hunts Point is represented in my mind. So I was honest.

    When I first learned I’d be teaching in the Bronx, before I’d ever visited, I told people I’d look for housing in the neighborhood, near the school. The obvious reasons were because it’s always nice to have a short commute. But what I also stressed, and truly believed, was that I was embarking on an incredible journey, one that meant I would be exploring and experiencing a whole new culture, a whole new way of life, something certainly different from the life I was living in San Francisco, and I wanted to be immersed. I felt as though the only way I’d completely connect would be through living and breathing the Bronx, on a daily basis. Months later, when I was looking for housing, while we did indeed look in the Arthur Ave area, we certainly didn’t look in Hunts Point. Why? I don’t know really. I definitely never said to my boyfriend that I didn’t want to live there, nor did I hear him say the same to me. We ended up in an apartment that we both really like, in Hamilton Heights. Of course it’s not necessarily a much “better” or less crime-ridden area, but it’s not our nation’s poorest congressional district. The week we moved into Hamilton Heights and I started work in Hunts Point, there were two murders, one on the block on which I live, the other on the block where I work. I commute for 35-55 minutes each way, every day. So now that I’ve established that it isn’t necessarily a “better” neighborhood, nor is my commute relatively short or easy (the fastest way is to take 3 different subways), I sit puzzled as to why I am where I am… Not that I’m sure that I would change it if I could do it over again.

    Today, when people ask where I work, they sometimes give me a look that says, ‘whooh, that must be hard.’ Usually my response includes informing them that yes, it is the poorest congressional district in our country (which always gets a reaction), but that the kids, they’re kids. They’re like your kids, or his kids, or her kids; they’re kids. It’s a daily emotional roller coaster ride. But it would be anywhere. It would be in my hometown of Southampton, or in San Francisco, or in Chicago, or Berlin.

    I can’t deny what first comes to my mind when I’m asked to think about the neighborhood I work in. But I can write a second poem, about the other part of the neighborhood I work in. And while I do so, I’ll remember the day my Green Team kids picked up garbage around the neighborhood, about how they made laminated signs to hang on the street encouraging the community to pick up after their dogs because you can’t walk down the street without tiptoeing around dog shit, about the hanging garden I saw today, about the nice guys who work at the bodega and give me a sandwich on good faith when I forget my wallet. It’s not that I overlook the diamonds in the rough, it’s that sometimes the reality of the whole can cloud our vision. It’s that some times we need to take another moment, and that’s allowed. It doesn’t mean we’re not hopeful, it doesn’t mean we won’t work tirelessly to turn the exception into the rule. It means we need another moment.

    Just give us a moment, and we’ll get the light to shine through.

    Edwidge Danticat
    Danticat speaks about things not being her “birthright” and follows it up by saying that her being on stage having a conversation with someone from the public library is an “accident of literacy.” It is kind of humbling to hear because I believe she’s speaking specifically to her race and her background and how it’s somehow unnatural or unexpected for her to be where she is, saying things that people are listening to.

    Reinforced by the conversation between Aurora Anaya-Cerda and Cati de los Rios is the idea that I don’t believe our system has a good enough job norming the idea of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds becoming influential and well-read writers. We need to focus more, within our classrooms, on exposing students to the whole world of literacy, not just the white one.

    How do we steer away from making sure that our own views on our neighborhoods and communities don’t become hazardous to that very neighborhood and that very community? Are we all at risk of allowing this to happen?
    How do we norm a more eclectic classroom library and resources so that our students are better exposed to a variety of authors/creators/influencers?


  10. I will be honest, I have no idea what she means by an “accident of literacy”. I am frustrated thinking that Edwine Danticat might mean something too abstract for me to understand. I passionately agree with her point of “birthright” no one is born with the privilege of having an education. Even people who are born under the proper circumstances where money is abundant, their grit to obtain said education may not be present. It is easy for many people to feel as though they do not deserve an education because of their stereotype, or their family’s past, or where a person lives. Education belongs to you when you find yourself in a predicament where your effort meets an opportunity. Literacy, however, is just not that simple. Literacy never comes as an “accident”. Being knowledgeable or competent in a specific area or multiple areas, is never an accident. Knowledge takes a lot of work to accomplish, whether it is cars, language, or wine. It takes practice.
    I truly admire Danticat’s comment about reading becoming a shield. Many of my top-level sixth graders love reading because their lives are hard and they wish they could live somewhere else or be someone else. Reading, allows them that experience. It is sad, but powerful! Edwine reminds me that language is a huge factor in literacy, but language is so closely related to one’s personal identity that when we neglect to cater to a student’s native language, we asking them to take on a new identity.
    How do we make literacy, culturally relevant while remaining true to our curriculum?


  11. In ” La Librería as Public Pedagogy: Aurora Anaya-Cerda with Cati de los Ríos” dialogue, Aurora stated, “I also had library books. Frequent visits to the public library meant that I never ran out of reading material,” I was reminded of an episode of Arthur where D.W. gets her library card and she responds with “Now I know what true power feels like.” Literacy and access to resource truly is access to power. I also agreed with Aurora’s point that students should be reading whatever they can want/get their hands on, but they also need access to culturally relevant writers, when she stated, “Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on, from cereal boxes, to magazines and comics, but reading work by Chican@ writers connected me to stories that I could relate to.” One of the first Chican@ writers I became familiar with was “A House on Mango Street,” which was extremely significant for the identify a 4th-grade-me. How can we advocate for cultural relevant texts in a system where the curriculum is mostly non-POCs/non-women? The only way I can even tackle such a large issue is to voice my concern with the politicians who vote for such curriculum.

    In the discussion with Edwidge Danticat, she talks about the “birthright” and “accident of literacy,” relating to the ideas of privilege, access to quality education, and the constant exploration of access. I am not entirely sure what she means by “accident of literacy,” aside from the fact that people who are born into situations where they lack privileges constantly have to explore the options of getting access to literature and other forms of literacy.


  12. n regards to writing the poem, I felt like many of my fellow classmates. I was not even remotely interesting in trying to put any kind of thoughts or feelings into a poem. I am very self-conscious about my writing since I often get my languages all jumbled up. However, by the end of it, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that in thinking about my school and the area I work, I always look for those familiar faces. Turning the corner I almost always see the BX3 arrive with some of my favorite students (I tried not to have favorites, didn’t work). I have realized that I truly love what I do, that I look forward to working with my students, and that it is this positive attitude that has allowed me to ignore how my administration regards and treats all teachers. It is this attitude that sadly has kept me in my little cave as I call it to avoid the other teachers’ complaints and sadly to avoid facing the reality of where I work.

    During the interview with Danticat, there was a quote from Kafka that said “If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read? So that it shall make us happy? Good God, we should also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves; like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.” To what Danticat’s response implied on the importance and attachment we get towards book. I myself have felt it when I finish a book I adored and I’m left wanting more. This is what I want my students to feel when they read. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the choices that they are currently “given” will awake my students’s literary interest.

    In regards to the Aurora Anaya-Cerda and Cati De Los Rios interview I was head over heels with her work. As an immigrant myself I had teachers who were understandings, and other who weren’t. I think as teachers we often forget how important we truly are for the social and self-esteem development of our students and how they feel about certain subjects. Maddie mentioned how she bought books that reflected her students’ backgrounds to try to engage them into reading. I believe this is a great effort that should be applauded- I don’t know many teachers who have thought of this, I certainly wish I had; nonetheless, it is not just our student’s backgrounds but our student’s interests and perhaps what they are going through in life. My favorite book is from a Brazilian author regarding a Slovanian woman in her twenties. I read the book when I was fourteen, but in that time, it was exactly right. I think as teachers we have to make an effort to get to know our students and give them the choice of what to read rather than dictate what their reading. Sadly, Maddie, I agree. I feel as though if I want to be culturally relevant and responsive while including some choice in what my students read, I will have to make a move into a different school, I don’t know if charter is the answer but I do know my current one leaves no opportunity for change. Any suggestions on balancing this would be greatly appreciate it.

    I think about what Ryan said, and how veridical it is. Our students think they hate school, they think they hate reading, but we have to consider, what efforts has our system done to make them feel like they belong. In random conversations with my co-teacher, she is from the same area where we teach and went to the same school building, we have come to the conclusion that many times our students don’t know better. They can see that there are many people much more wealthy and educated, but even though they live in NYC, they only see it through the TV. To them, this is as distant as the moon. Most of my students have never left the Bronx and have not been able to experience what it is like to have an education and the tangible differences it makes.


  13. Reflection on Poetry Assignment:

    I absolutely love how Google Maps can be utilized in this way. I never realized that it had this capability before. It was so interesting to see how many neighborhoods in the city our class alone touches. Seeing the network of this class through the map was a nice way to see our collective reach throughout the city. While the visual of the pins was powerful enough, a whole other layer was added when we were able to both express ourselves and poetically show our neighborhoods in writing, and simultaneously read about and learn from others. I learned so much about others’ experiences and feel all the more connected to our class. Structuring an activity in the fashion of this assignment, is an excellent way to get students to learn about each other and engage virtually with the world around them. I am very excited to develop ways that I can incorporate this into my classroom. While I have a few ideas for how I can use this next year with my different units (I am restructuring them to have real world big picture questions/ themes and think this will be an excellent addition) I am excited to test this out with my classes before the end of the year.

    Edwidge Danticat Video

    In the video, Edwidge says that more than half of the people from Haiti are illiterate. While I have heard many literacy statistics before, it is nonetheless still shocking to hear of what a widespread problem illiteracy is. Because she is in the literate minority as a native of Haiti, she says that she feels as it is not her birthright to be in the situation she is, discussing her experiences with Paul Holdengraber. She continues on to discuss that because so many people are illiterate, those that are writers are oftentimes not able to share their work with their loved ones given that it is largely inaccessible to them. This is troubling to hear that in her experiences, as big of an issue illiteracy is, literacy brings with itself a separate set of struggles. One question that I have, although there might not be an answer or else it would have been done already, is what can be done on a broad scale to counter the overwhelming illiteracy rates seen in the world?

    Aurora Anaya-Cerda and Cati de los Rios

    I think it was quite interesting to read about what Aurora remembered from her education as a child. Her story of Mr. Perry who gave her an F, made her question her ability, and turned her off to English was quite powerful. I recall having a similar experience in an Algebra 2 Honors class in high school. At the start of the year the teacher gave a baseline quiz and because of my performance on the quiz, rather than help me, he suggested that I drop down to the regular section class. My previous years of good grades in math did not matter and that experience and the teacher’s response to it turned me off from math and made me feel as if I was no longer good in the subject. Up until this year when I began teaching high school math (including Algebra 2), I felt that I was bad at math because of that one incident. Teaching math, however, has fortunately reinstated my old excitement for the subject. Reading Aurora’s experience with Mr. Perry and reflecting about my own experience, made me think of the power that we have as teachers to shape our students’ thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. There are many days that I have been exhausted, stressed and had little patience. It is crucial though, that even in these low moments, that I find within myself an understanding and put myself in my students’ shoes. I never want to make my students feel as if they are anything but empowered and capable of accomplishing whatever they set their mind too. While there are many other important aspects to this article, I appreciated the reminder of just how much we can impact the lives of our students.


  14. After I wrote my poem, I read through the comments above. I noticed how Rachel pointed out that she unconsciously picked up on the negatives surrounding her and used this creative opportunity to highlight the positives instead. I think I did the opposite in my poem. I wouldn’t say it is overtly negative, but in this assignment, I expressed some of my frustrations. Namely, that my students have so many other concerns that seem to preoccupy them in a way that academics do not. I found this pretty interesting upon reflection because I wonder whether this is something truly sensible, or something I project on my students. As such, this poetry assignment really made me think about how I might be making assumptions about my students’ behaviors and goals.

    Like others, I found the following quote really thought provoking: “It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?””
    I think this plays a huge role not only in reading, but also in education overall. I have seen my students light up when I include the local bodega in a word problem or relate math to their experiences. This is a simple trick every math coach will insist you use. And as such, it makes sense that the same thing would be applied to reading. My students love using accountable talk and you will constantly hear excited students start by saying, ” I have a connection…” I think part of our job as educators is to facilitate these connections by making their educational experiences applicable.


    • Thinking about some of the conclusions I’ve drawn based on my students’ behaviors, I am wondering where the line is between “knowing your students” and “making assumptions.” When is it beneficial and when is it detrimental?
      And I am also wondering how infusing culture into the classroom can come across as most authentic. What strategies can be used to make it seem like a true reflection?


  15. Today was the first time I’ve ever attempted to write a poem in English. I was very, very nervous and stressed by the idea ever since last night when I heard we had to write a poem, and it was going to be PUBLIC. I was somewhat comforted by Professor Faughey’s reassurance that there would be much guidance and help, but I was still very scared. With English being my second language, I’ve always approached writing reluctantly — be it for a class or in my personal journal. I am not confident in my ability to write well in English and I always feel embarrassed when I have to share my work in front of a group.
    That being said, my overall experience with the poetry writing assignment was not too bad. Granted, I still have no idea if I did the right thing. On the one hand, poetry gives an impression of a freer form of writing and one can be very ambiguous or explicit about what one is trying to convey. On the other hand, I am a hyper-literal person and find it hard to accomplish a task when the expectation for an end product is not completely spelled out for me — in short, there were too many correct answers and I freaked out. But I did it. And it is done. But I don’t think I like poetry very much because it is not my favorite way to express myself and I don’t think I’m good at it.

    After reading about Aurora Anaya-Cerda’s experience with books, education, and being an educator, I find her learning experience resonating to my own. I, too, grew up speaking, reading, and writing in a language that was not English. I, too, loved reading in my native language, Mandarin Chinese. I, too, have a mother who used to play English songs on repeat which drove me crazy but helped me build a foundation for learning English. I find her work as an educator and literacy advocate to be very inspiring. She is a very self-reflective person and has learned so much from her past experiences as a student. The way she teaches and helps children is more authentic because they see that she is truly passionate and enthusiastic about doing this work. I wish there were more bookstores like hers that could partner with public schools with very little funding but still help children build a strong foundation for reading and literacy so that they don’t struggle as much when they grow up.


  16. In regards to writing the poem about the community in which I teach and learn, it was interesting to be able to reflect on the community and try to put my experience there into a few words.

    In regards to the interview with Edwidge Danticat, while I am not entirely sure what she meant when she referred to herself as an “accident in literacy,” she may have meant that because of the circumstances she was born into, the fact that she even had the opportunity to learn to read, nevertheless become a successful author, is surprising, or so out of the norm it must be an accident. Furthermore, one aspect of Danticat’s interview that was significant to me was when the interviewer read a previous statement of Danticat’s in which she said “If the book does not wake us, why do we read? We must have those books.” This statement was significant to me because I believe that I until we provide our students with books that they connect deeply to or benefit deeply from, they will continue to continue to say “I hate books” and fail to see value i reading. However, in my experience, once you read a book that you connect with on an emotional and spiritual level or that book that “wakes you,” you become a reader for life because you will be on the search for other books that touch you in a similar way. As an educator, I want to provide my students with opportunities to read books and other texts that will “wake them.” I wonder what are some strategies to incorporate more reading within curriculums that are very skill-heavy and very much focused on the mass production of essays?

    Finally, in response to the Aurora-Cerda’s interview, it was a pleasure to learn that educators such as Aurora-Cerda are providing Latino children with opportunities to see their experiences and histories through books, art, etc, because providing students with the opportunity to to develop knowledge of themselves is key to building self-esteem and self-love within children. It is also essential to fighting the internalized racism or self-hate that tends to plague communities of color and the children within these communities.

    I wonder how educators can incorporate a robust amount of culturally affirming opportunities within their classrooms when such affirmation is not apart of the school-wide curriculum?


  17. Reflecting on the writing process for this assignment, I will say that I found the supplementary resources to be extremely helpful.The pre-reading such as the Naomi Shihab Nye piece “Where Does Writing Hide,” helped to emotionally and mentally prepare me for the task at hand. Yes, I said “emotionally and mentally” because the thought of writing poetry gives me high levels of anxiety. My struggle with writing has always been in getting started. The readings helped boost my confidence. After reading it, I thought to myself, I can do this! I’ve always viewed poetry as this thing that only the artistic and super creative do successfully. This poem reminded me that the simple things in life can be poetic. My favorite line was “Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us we find poems. Check your garage, the old sock in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite. And let me know.”

    I found the Aurora Anaya-Cerda interview to be captivating and thought provoking. It was inspiring to learn about how much of Aurora’s educational experience resonates with her and how she how used this to become a driving force within her community. I love the fact that she specifically seeks to assist and support immigrant students. Aurora reminds us of how important it is for students to be exposed to socially and culturally relevant literature. Through her work in her bookstore with local public schools, Aurora is assisting in developing powerful readers and writers through critical community engagement. In her own way, Aurora is helping to get students excited about literacy and promoting the development of literate identities throughout her community.


  18. Questions that came to mind during this work session were the following:
    – How else can we draw on students’ out of school literacies to impact learning in the classroom?
    -What are students’ out of school literacies
    -How can one form a connection of the relationship between print and non-print literacies?


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