Context & Literacy Demands Reflection Paper

Due: Monday, June 8th via email to

This informal paper should include a discussion of your classroom and the kinds of reading and writing that are demanded within your school and classroom. What are students required to read and write? Who are your students? What are their strengths in reading and writing? What do they struggle with? What do you think they will enjoy and/or will be successful with? What are your goals based on students and the literacy demands? [3 pages/20 points]

Here is a sample paper you might want to read to get a sense of what to write about:


Diverse Context and Difficult Demands

The ________ School is a small (245 students), diverse transfer HS school- a hodgepodge haven considering different classifications.  Race (41% Black 41% Hispanic, 12% White, and 5% Asian); gender (46% male, 54% female); sexual orientation; grade level; academic achievement; academic needs (5% ELL and 18% special needs) and age.  Considering these criteria, and the school’s Title 1 status, the pupils would be considered “students of diverse backgrounds” as defined by Kathryn Au. Socio-academic development varies greatly in our school. For instance, a snapshot of my current class now might include mature Jordan Dace Clyde, a well received, high achieving 18 year old African American boy, Isabella a “mid-level”, white student who is often wry and sarcastic, and Gregorio, an ELL, who is a mature leader when running the GSA but a struggling student and class clown otherwise.    As you can see, the school is a pool of pupils with diverse needs.

Some parts of the school’s culture and mission are tailored to the population.  For instance, the essential part of our school’s culture and mission is its core values, especially diversity and democracy, but also including justice, intellect, peace, humanity, and truth.  Likewise, our schools academic values include: inquiry, knowledge, voice and work habits.  Through these tenets we try to provide our pupils with a “college preparatory” curriculum. We develop our skills toward meeting those socio-academic facets of our mission and culture, through collaborative team teaching, departmental collaboration and PD opportunities offered through the Coalition of Essential Schools and Expeditionary Learning. However, there are no overall cultural tenets about literacy. In recognition of the diverse needs of our context, we have begun to pilot literacy PD on most Monday morning meetings.  A literacy coach from the Writing Project has facilitated activities where we share from own bank of literacy knowledge.  A snapshot of our culture and context might accurately frame students and teachers really working together to honor their values and achieve their goals.  This snapshot would also depict a community, which is just beginning to honor the demand of literacy and make it a priority.

My class is a microcosm of bigger picture contexts and provisions.  Currently, I teach two average size, heterogeneous grade level classes, of about 27 students each.  I co-teach one section of my course with the ELL teacher, which has several ELLs and also several seniors. To sample this crowd, my class includes Branden Hernandez, who is dyslexic and on a basic reading level, and, on the other the achievement spectrum, Kesli Lavia a senior and a college level reader and writer.  Many of our students often struggle with reading at home.   A strength that most of the students have is writing across the disciplines and that most curricula emphasize revision.  The students have various individual needs, including help with conventions.

Looming above the school and above the classroom context is a cloud of literacy demands of national scope that trickles down to the classroom level.  From the standpoint of exams, the State demands only the English regents of our school.  This exam requires students to listen and comprehend, read expository and graphic texts, read comparative literary works and write four essays tailored to each situation.  The SAT is the other looming national assessment of various literacy demands including: organizing a written response, reading comprehension and arithmetic literacy.   A school-wide literacy demand, which has replaced the Regents, is that the student’s write and present proficient college level Math, Science, English and History papers (PBATs) in order to graduate. In context that means that anyone of these students of various skills, struggles, and lifestyles, from the highest achiever to the just beginner, must eventually satisfy all of theses necessities.

On top of these demands, students must meet the demands of my class. In terms of reading and writing the students are required to read usually two major novels. Requirements include: reading in class (whole-class and independently) and reading at home.  The writing is mostly literary analysis.  However, there are frequent free-write opportunities.  There are often opportunities to respond in visual art form. A school-wide writing structure MEAT: main idea, evidence, analysis and transition or tie up, is a frequent and integral demand, as is revision. There are many other things my class requires, but I am anxious to elaborate on the more novel goals that I will call for in areas of deficit.

Considering our schools diverse population and considering the several internal and external literacy provisions one thing is clear- we teachers have a hard job. However, it is also clear that our school’s population will be most successful at the practices most common, such as writing an organized essay.  On the other hand, students may be deficient in areas where we have not begun to fully develop- and around these deficiencies I shall shape my goals. I define these voids as lack of choice, differentiation, literacy instruction that is explicit, strategic and active.  One of my goals therefore is to create more enduring readers by increasing book choice.  I also want to differentiate texts by taking a more multi-textual approach and enriching my classes’ major texts with more poetry, historical research and non-fiction texts.   It is also my goal to increase my strategic vocabulary instruction (word walls, for ex), which may help students who tend to struggle in that regard on tests.  In today’s, Monday Literacy PD we moved closer to  more explicitly agreeing on common and shared reading strategies/text codes. Finally, I also intend on making my own literacy pedagogy more active by increasing the types of literacy I engage, by increasing the types of writer responses I prompt. For example, I’d like to have students write formal letters or psychoanalytic evaluations to characters, poetry and more.  Making literacy more active may also mean allowing more opportunities to talk in pairs and small groups about the reading and writing.  But, it can also mean actively involving students’ home literacy and doing a better job at involving parents in the curriculum.

Our context is diverse. But, most schools are diverse in a sense that no two learners are exactly alike.  Our demands are great. But, in this day and age, the literacy demands of our nation are stormy clouds just above all of our heads.  My school’s mission states, that we “provide a haven for students who have previously experienced school as unresponsive to their needs as individuals.”  Until we provide that “haven” and “respond” to the variety of our school’s context and the severity of our demands, our mission will be incomplete.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s