My students’ academic development has been very shallow for the most part, inrelation to English. Most of the kids think, because of their scores in relation to their classmates, that they are very high level English students. However, in reality, they arebarely on grade level. Their prior knowledge of English skills is ok when dealing withreading carefully and exposure to middle school level literature, but they have not reallybeen exposed to many classics at all. Through informal polls taken during class wehave found that they have read mostly books like the
, and none read
ToKill a Mockingbird
or other books that often appear on middle school reading lists in the8
grade. The school compiles a list of all students who require special educationservices and none of our students are on that list. However, we do try to differentiateinstruction for the students who are gifted and excel. We determine this through informalclassroom assessments and observations, the NWEA scores of the students, and basicclassroom assignments.
b) Academic Language development (e.g., students
abilities to understand andproduce the oral or written language associated with the central focus andstandards/objectives within the learning segment)
One thing that we have learned from informal observation and writing samples isthat students speak how they hear adults at home speak and then they write in thatsame dialect. Therefore, students understand everything necessary to communicateeffective and express themselves artistically effectively, but they do not understand thebasic structure of the Standard English language. They also are not familiar with codeswitching or the need to speak a different version of English in professional settings.This is why we focus so much on grammar and writing, so that they can becomeaccustomed to code-switching.
c) Family/community/cultural assets (e.g., relevant lived experiences, culturalexpectations, and student interests)
I think that affirming the life experiences of these students is incredibly vital to our success as educators and their success as contributors to their communities. It isimperative that we not try to
their culture to mirror a larger American subculturethat we find more desirable. Students must be taught to appreciate the genius that hascome from within. Therefore, teaching poetry from Gwendolyn Brooks and LangstonHughes, along with several other black artists, will help them analyze the genius of students who grew up in similar circumstances. After all, Gwendolyn Brooks grew upnot far from most of these students and once walked the same hallways as mystudents. They need to have people like that to imitate and analyze. I did an activity atthe beginning of the year where I asked them to take a stand if they related to thephrase I said. Many of the students stood when talking about living near the school,having relatives that went to the school, etc… The high school is a staple in their community and it is important that the kids (and the community) learn to have ownershipof it in some way.