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Contextual Factors


Melissa Eelman
EDU 450
Margaret Chase Smith School (MCSS) is located in Skowhegan, ME. Based on the

2016 census it is estimated that the town has approximately 6,260 residents. Skowhegan is one

of several towns in Somerset County. 98.7 percent of people in Skowhegan are one race and 2.3

percent of the people have two or more races. 96.4 percent of people are white, 0.3 percent of

people are Black or African American, 0.5 percent of people are American Indian or Native

Alaskan, 0.3 percent of people are Asian, 0.1 percent of people are Native Hawaiian or Pacific

Islander, and 1.1 percent of people are some other race. When there is a lack of diversity in a

school, students may not have a concrete understanding of cultural and racial inequality. In a

school that is primarily white, the students of color or of another ethnicity are unfortunately the

odd ones out. There is always a possibility for racism to occur in this situation. This is why it is

so important for teachers to use curriculum that examines multiple points of view and cultural


Racial Demographics in Skowhegan

Black/ African American

American Indian/Native

Hawaiian/ pacific Islander

The education level in Skowhegan is mainly a high school diploma. 85.3 percent of

people in Skowhegan 25 and older have attained a high school diploma or higher.

Approximately 16 percent of the population have at least a bachelor’s degree. Children of

parents who do not have a degree are less likely to go onto college themselves. This means that I

need to show students why school is so important and help them to understand the value of


Median household income



$0 $10,000 $20,000 $30,000 $40,000 $50,000 $60,000

With a median income of $33,311, Skowhegan ranks as the 4th smallest income in the

surrounding area. This is $16,000 lower than Maine’s median income of $49,331. The

unemployment rate in Skowhegan is approximately 9 percent, according to Start Class. This is

large compared to the current unemployment rate for the state of Maine which is 3 percent.
Unemployment affects children in a variety of ways. Families may not be able to afford

school supplies and clothes, or even necessities. The parents may also have that added burden,

which can affect their attitude and the amount which they can focus on their children’s

education. There is also a clear link between unemployment and poverty.

According to 2015 census results, approximately 23.2 percent of people in Skowhegan are

living in poverty. 71.6 percent of students in the RSU/ MSAD 54 district are below the poverty

level and qualify for free or reduced lunch, but the district provides free breakfast and lunch for

all students.

Children who live in poverty may face many more obstacles in school than children who

do not. Engagement is a large factor in how well students perform in school and there are

several components to engagement which students of lower socioeconomic status may be

lacking. Firstly, general health plays a role in whether a child is engaged in school. In general,

the lower a child’s socioeconomic status, the greater the potential for health risks. Health issues

can arise from a variety of things that children in poverty are exposed to. For example, children

who live in older homes may be exposed to lead which has been linked to poorer memory. Food

quality is another issue that causes health problems. Students from low socioeconomic

backgrounds also tend to have a higher stress level. This can lead to aggressive behaviors and

trouble concentrating (Jensen, 2013). This is important to be aware of as a teacher. If a student

becomes angry or rambunctious, I need to understand that there may be some challenges at home

contributing to the behavior. In addition to health and behavioral issues, students coming from

poverty tend to have a smaller vocabulary, making success in school more difficult. When

teaching lessons, I will need to be aware of any vocabulary that might be challenging for

students. I cannot assume that the students will know the terms that I am using in the lesson.
Low vocabulary can also affect a child’s reading ability. Since vocabulary acquisition is

important in reading, I need to focus on increasing students’ vocabulary. A word of the day

might be an engaging way to do this. I also can teach strategies to figure out unknown words.

This will help students to decode words on their own which will benefit them when they read

independently. For the past few years, the literacy scores on state testing have been below

average for the district. Increasing student vocabulary could help to increase these scores.

There are 8 schools in RSU/ MSAD 54. The district serves students from Skowhegan as

well as other surrounding towns. The budget for the district for the 2017-2018 school year was

$173,930 less than the previous year. Since the school district does not have a very large budget,

the schools share many staff members. The unified arts teachers are shared among at least two or

three schools. This means that the unified arts schedule is not flexible. There have already been

multiple issues with this because everything must be planned around when the unified arts

teachers are available. As a result, school meetings and other events tend to interrupt general

classroom instruction. It can be challenging to teach a unit when the instruction is interrupted.

Planning is important, but being flexible is critical.

The district uses several curriculums that are scripted. Envisions is the math program.

The program is meant for one lesson to be taught each day in consecutive order. This is not

always possible and does not always accomplish what the students need. Multiple professional

development opportunities have been provided for staff to determine the best way to make

Envisions work in the classroom. At this point, it seems that the consensus is that we should

follow the Envisions curriculum, but are encouraged to supplement with other materials and

methods of instruction if necessary. Writing is taught using Lucy Calkins. This is another

program that involves following a book of lessons that are in consecutive order. The science and
social studies curriculums are in transition. The district is changing from a curriculum that they

have used for several years, to a newer one. Right now teachers are trying to figure out exactly

what content needs to be taught and most classrooms are in different spots in the curriculum.

The other aspect of the curriculum that is in transition is the way that students are

assessed. Currently, MSAD54 is working on transitioning to Proficiency-Based Education.

With this, all assessments are criterion- referenced, and a heavy emphasis is placed on formative

assessment. In addition, students are supposed to be given the chance to correct their work to

meet the standards. To support this model, it will be critical for me to have valuable formative

assessments in my lessons.

In general, the test scores for math and literacy in the district are below the state average

per last year’s MEA results. This is important to know for lesson planning. I will need to keep in

mind that not all students are strong readers, so I need to choose text that is at their level. For

math, I need to help scaffold student thinking and find ways for them to get more practice. Math

games are one way that I could accomplish this. Students also need to become proficient with

basic facts. Encouraging students to use flashcards or complete practice worksheets with basic

facts will help them with attaining proficiency. This year was also the first year that the district

implemented NWEA testing and the teachers are still learning what to do with the results. In

reading, we have made focus groups based on the skills that students struggled with on the

NWEA. The results for math have been analyzed but we have not made focus groups for our

math class.

MSAD 54 seems to have a strong desire to include parents in their child’s education,

One of the unique things about the district is the website. Parents can see the curriculum for each

grade, which includes the standards that are being targeted. These curriculum pages also provide
resources for parents to reinforce concepts with their children. Parental involvement is

extremely important. I plan to keep parents informed by periodically sending home letters that

discuss what material we are covering.

Margaret Chase Smith School (MCSS) is very small and only covers 4th and 5th grade.

There are approximately 200 students enrolled in the school. The principal is shared with North

Elementary, so she is not always present to deal with situations. There are five fourth grade

teachers and five fifth grade teachers. The library is in a trailer/mobile home behind the main

school building. There does not appear to be a large collection of books, but there are enough for

some variety. Plenty of services are available students with varying needs. About 25 percent of

students at MCSS have some type of learning disability. This means that not only do I need to

be sure to include accommodations and modifications for these students, but my lessons need to

be developmentally appropriate. I am going to have to differentiate my lessons. I plan to

include multiple ways for students to learn the information. I will use a combination of

discussion, visuals, audio, and hands-on activities to appeal to all kinds of learners. I may also

need to supplement curriculum with other materials that are at the students’ level. As an

example, some of the students read at a first or second-grade level, so they may need a variation

of a text. The school uses the program Read 180 for students who have a lower literacy level.

There is also Title 1 for students who need assistance with reading or math, and an ELL teacher

for students learning English. In addition, there are 2 math coaches and an enrichment teacher

that are periodically at the school. Approximately 13 percent of students are in the enriched

resources program. These students receive advanced instruction outside of the classroom once or

twice a week. Since they are in the classroom for most instruction, differentiation is important.

Keeping these students challenged ensures that they are engaged and learning at their level. The
guidance counselor is partly responsible for referring students to services. She is also available

for students if they need to talk, but she is only at the school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and

Thursdays. Some students have lunch with her a few days a week if they need extra support.

Every student has access to specials/ unified arts. The classes rotate throughout the week

between art, music, library and physical education. Band and chorus are also options. Band

occurs throughout the day on Monday. Students are pulled from classroom instruction for their

lessons. This means that many students have to catch up on work at some point during the day.

Chorus occurs during recess on Fridays and the students do not miss classroom instruction time.

There is also an afterschool program for students called run club. This program

encourages students to exercise by tracking the distance they run. MCSS is a 5210 school and

encourages healthy habits. Run club is an excellent way for students to stay fit and to release

some energy. The students who participate in run club seem to be really excited about it. The

school just finished a program called WinterKids, Winter Games. Students competed with other

Maine schools in different healthy activities. The first week, students needed to get 180 minutes

of physical activity, and the second week was all about nutrition. The third week was family

involvement week and the program encouraged families to work on healthy habits together.

In Room 10, the day typically starts with a morning activity related to either math or

vocabulary. Sometimes this time is used to finish large projects as well. Next, students transition

into writing. Students have been working on writing opinion pieces using strong evidence. After

writing is reading. The class is broken up for reading and the students go to different classrooms

depending on their reading level. This is the longest block of the day. Students have reading for

90 minutes. My mentor teaches the Read 180 program for the readers with lower Lexile levels.

The program involves computer work, modeled and independent reading, and whole and small
group instruction. Due to the fact that this is a very specific curriculum, lessons are scripted in

the Read 180 book. I will still need to make a plan for the delivery of the lesson, but for the most

part, I will have to follow what the book says. If students are confused or need clarification, I

will need to have supplemental materials that tie in with the lesson. My mentor teacher has been

doing a lot of work with syllables and I think that it is helpful. I will try to include some phonics

in my lessons when I can because I think that is beneficial for this group of learners. The spelling

curriculum that is being used focuses on the 6 syllable types. Spelling is taught primarily on

Tuesdays during the whole and small group lessons.

After the 90 minutes of reading, the class comes back together for social studies or

science. The big focus in science for the year is the scientific method. MCSS is using the Gulf of

Maine resources to teach students about the scientific method. My mentor teacher often uses

Mystery Science to make lessons engaging for the students. In social studies, the focus is

currently on Colonial America.

After social studies/science, the students go to recess and then lunch. When they come

back, they have a quiet 5 minutes to read or do something quiet to transition back into class.

This is a great classroom management idea because it gives the students a chance to get back into

the mindset of learning. Math ends the day. During math, there are only 10 students in the

classroom because 3 students go to a different math program and the students in the functional

life skills program are in the special education room. As mentioned earlier, the math program is

Envisions. The nice thing about this program is that there are videos that are a part of the lesson,

which helps to engage the students. Envisions is scripted, but there are options for

differentiation. Knowing that I have some students who struggle with math and others who pick

up new concepts easily, I will use leveled worksheets. The book provides re-teaching, practice
and enrichment options. The enrichment worksheet does not always match the lesson exactly so

I will have to find some supplemental materials. A school-wide math goal is to improve student

performance with word problems. When lesson planning, I will try to include multiple word

problems and have students discuss the strategies that they use to solve them.

My mentor teacher has amazing classroom management skills. The students take turns

with the responsibility of daily classroom jobs. To get students attention she uses call and

response. “Holy Moly- Guacamole,” is a favorite. As far as materials are concerned, the

classroom teacher provides everything and it is optional for kids to bring their own supplies. This

helps students who cannot afford supplies because they are not singled out. There are laptops and

Chromebooks available for student use in the classroom, but they must be signed out by the

classroom teacher ahead of time.

The classroom is rather small and does not have as much bulletin board space. This is

because it used to be the library of the school. The bulletin boards that are in the classroom are

used beneficially. One of the bulletin boards has the math unit goals displayed. A couple of the

boards in the Read 180 corner of the room are dedicated to that program. Student progress is

shown on the bulletin board above the computers. As the student finishes a section of the Read

180 work they add flames to their rocket ship on the bulletin board. This is a great way for

students to see their hard work paying off. That corner of the room also has a multitude of books

that the school purchased specifically for the Read 180 program. In addition, the rotation groups

are posted and anchor charts about syllables are displayed. There are posters around the room

with content and helpful reminders, for example, the parts of speech. On one side of the

whiteboard, reminders are posted along with the daily schedule. The behavior matrix is also

displayed so that it can be referred to if necessary.

The desks in the classroom are mostly in groups of 4 facing the front of the room where

the whiteboard and Apple TV are. There is plenty of space for movement around the groups.

There are a few wiggle seats that students can use if they would like to and several students have

wiggle cushions on their seats. Periodically, students are encouraged to get up and move around

the classroom. The students will occasionally do a “walk and talk” where they share ideas with a

partner while walking around. It is important to get students moving to keep their blood moving

and their brains sharp. Go Noodle is also very beneficial for some lessons because it reinforces a

concept while letting the students get up and move around. I will try to involve as much

movement as I can in lessons because it helps to keep students engaged.

The class consists of 16 students including 8 girls and 8 boys. At the beginning of the

year there were 19 students but 4 moved, and we recently got a new student. This affects the

dynamic of the class in a few ways. First, all of the students who moved had IEPs or a learning

disability. There was preferential seating for a couple of them but now seating can be moved

around. Also, students that tried to hide under the radar are no longer able to because the class is

so small. I have not seen any student friend groups majorly impacted, but I am sure students are

missing their friends who moved. Fortunately, the students in this class all get along pretty well

with everyone. Since we now have the smallest 5th grade class, there is a possibility that we

could get more new students. I think that this could definitely change the class dynamic. We

have a very talkative class with a lot of personalities. I can already see that our new student is

feeling a little overwhelmed. I have been, and will continue to try to make her feel more

comfortable by making sure the other students include her in discussions and games. All of the

students are white, so there are no visible racial differences within the classroom. All 16

students speak English as well. The students are 10 and 11 years old. Several of them are reading
at a lower level than 5th grade, some reading as low as second grade. This is something that I

will need to keep in mind when planning lessons. I will have to make sure that any reading is

accessible for all students. There are no students who have physical disabilities in the classroom,

but several of the students have learning disabilities. Three of the sixteen students are in the

functional life skills program and they are only in the general classroom for and social studies or

science. When these students are in the room, there is at least one Ed tech in the room with

them. Six of the students have IEPs. They all receive out of class services at some point in the

day. Several students receive Title 1 services for reading, math or both. It is important for me

to be aware of students who receive Title 1 services for a couple of reasons. First of all, it helps

me to determine which students need more support. Students who receive Title 1 services get

help outside of the classroom, but it is still critical for me to support them in the general

classroom during instruction. This can be achieved by checking in with these students often and

also through differentiating work or providing accommodations if necessary. Secondly, I have to

plan for them to make up the work they miss when they are pulled out of a lesson for services.

Many times, students will miss directions or details of the lesson because they are in Title 1. It is

important for me to be prepared for this and plan how to help these students catch up. This may

involve re-teaching the lesson to them one on one at a later time. There are two students in the

enriched resources program for gifted and talented students. These students are often in the

classroom for general instruction. It will be important to think about leveling problems to give

them an extra challenge and keep them engaged in the lesson.

The latest NWEA data demonstrates that the majority of the students scored average or

below average in math for the individual goal areas. There are only 10 students that are in our

math class, so the percentages tell exactly how many students scored in that range. The students
who receive special education services are not on the class roster for the NWEA data. Overall,

40 percent of students scored low average, 20 percent scored average, and 40 percent of students

scored high average. The four goal areas are Operations and Algebraic Thinking, Numbers and

Operations, Measurement and Data, and Geometry. Knowing which students scored well in each

area will be helpful to know when planning lessons for different math topics. No students scored

in the low range for the first 2 goals. This means that most students have a decent grasp on

algebra and working with equations. When planning lessons revolving around algebra, I can

predict that most students will have the background knowledge that they need to solve equations.

Two students who scored in the low average range are already in RTI for math. Although they

are receiving supplemental instruction, it will be important for me to check in with them

frequently during lessons that involve algebra. The other student who scored low average for

Operations and Algebraic Thinking does not receive RTI services and seems to do ok in math

generally. This student often gets stressed quickly, so it is possible that there was some test

anxiety that affected the score. I will still check in with this student to make sure he is keeping up

with the lesson. Several students scored lower in the categories of Measurement and data and

Geometry. Often these subjects are at the end of the curriculum and are not always covered in

depth, so many students just have not been exposed to the topic enough. When teaching these

topics, I will need to consider that the students may not have all of the background knowledge

necessary to complete the lesson as it is planned in Envisions. It will be important for me to pre-

assess to see where they are and then develop reasonable goals around that. I may also need to

use more visuals or hands- on practice.

Students were given a survey about their learning preferences.

Student's Favorite Subjects

All subjects




Social Studies





0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14

The student interest survey yielded some interesting results. Students were allowed to

check off more than one response. Four students marked all of the subjects as their favorite. Ten

students said that one of their favorite subjects was math, but of those ten, only three are in the

general classroom for math. This tells me that I am going to need to find a way to make math

more enjoyable for the students. I will have to follow the curriculum but I may try to use some

of the supplemental material that is provided with the Envisions program in order to break up the

routine. I also think that using more hands-on activities might help.

Twelve of the students enjoy reading. Knowing this information, I will want to think

about incorporating reading into other subjects as well. I might use characters from a book that

the class has read in a math problem, or have the students draw a map of the setting as part of a

social studies lesson about maps. For those students that do not like reading, I will need to find a

way to incorporate some of their interests. One of the students that did not check off reading as a
favorite subject said that they enjoy science, so I could try to make up some problems with

science in them. The students could also use their favorite subjects as a writing topic.

Thirteen students enjoy PE. Two students in the class expressed that this is the only

subject they like. This tells me that I need to incorporate movement into my lessons. I should

also plan breaks in the lesson for the students to get up and move around. Walk and talk would

be a great way to get the students moving and discussing content at the same time. A gallery

walk would work in the same way. Eight students said that writing was one of their favorite

subjects. This tells me that about half of the students would prefer to express their knowledge in

a way other than writing. In order to engage these students during a writing lesson, I could allow

them some choice in the topic. There are also different forms of writing, so I could allow them

to make a list or write a poem rather than a paragraph.

How students prefer to work

With the whole class

With a small group

With a partner


0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Most students prefer to work with a partner, but some would prefer to work alone, in small

groups or as a whole class. I can make this work for all students by allowing students to choose
if they want to work alone or with a partner, and by implementing some whole class instruction

into my lessons.

How students like to do a project

Make a poster

Act out a skit

Make a song/rap/dance

Write a report

0 2 4 6 8 10 12

Most students would prefer to make a poster to demonstrate their knowledge, but some

students would prefer to write a report, act out a skit, or make up a song/dance. I think that the

best way to address these differences is to allow choice when assigning a project. This way the

students can represent their knowledge however they would like. This also goes along with

proficiency- based learning because students have a chance to demonstrate their knowledge in a

way that works best for them.

How students Like to Learn About A New Topic




Read Watch a video Do a hands- on Listen to the teacher
All but four students would prefer to watch a video to learn about a topic. This means

that I need to incorporate videos into my lessons. Ten students like hands-on activities so I will

make sure that there is an opportunity to practice lessons with manipulatives of some sort.

At the end of the survey, I asked about a favorite book, a favorite color, and a favorite

animal so that I can incorporate these into lessons. Several students like the Amulet books, so I

will have to read some of those and see what I can use them for. They are graphic novels, so I

could have students design their own mini graphic novel based on a lesson. A lot of the other

favorite books are graphic novels as well, so I think the students would really enjoy the activity.

Most of the class likes animals, so I will try to find books or create lessons that involve animals.

The final question on the survey was, “Something you should know about me is…” Most

students just wrote that they love animals or gaming, or something they do in their free time, but

one student said that they do not like to speak in class. I will have to keep that in mind and try to

engage that student in a different way. I could use mini whiteboards so that everyone can show

their thinking.

Read 180 has a different group of students. There are 16 students. Some of the students

are from room 10, but many come from other classrooms. The needs and interests of these

students differ from the “homeroom.” Read 180 is a program that students can enter and exit at

any time during the year when their reading ability changes. The needs of the class may change

over the semester. I will need to be flexible and change my teaching based on the needs of the

What Students in Read 180 Like to Read



realistic fiction


picture books

graphic novel




humorous fiction



0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14

Read 180 has certain books that students can choose from. Knowing that the majority of

students enjoy adventure books, I will try to suggest books that have a lot of adventure.

Mysteries, graphic novels and fantasy are also common genres that students enjoy. I will need to

become familiar with the selection, so that I can lead students in the direction of a book that they

will enjoy. Not many students enjoy reading history, so I will expose them to history in whole

group or small group first, rather than asking them to read it on their own. For the three students

that do like history I will try to suggest books for them that fit that genre. In addition, when
planning small group lessons, I will try to have a variety of subjects when using supplemental



Alone In Pairs In small groups All formats





In Read 180 there are times when students do not have a choice as to how they work.

However, when I think about structuring whole group and small group instruction I can make

small adjustments to allow students to have some time to work in a way that is beneficial for

them. 40 percent of students like to work alone. This is pretty easy to accommodate because

after I give directions in small group, students often work alone in their R-Books. 31 percent of

students enjoy working in pairs. I can accommodate this by using more think-pair-share during

lessons. I can also give students an opportunity to work on some assignments with a peer. 13

percent of students like to work in a small group only. This means that most students do not like

small group work. Small group is a whole rotation in the Read 180 program, so I am going to

have to find a way to make it more enjoyable. I think that by adding elements of think-pair-share

and some time to work alone during small group, I can meet the needs of all learners.
The top of the survey provided more detail as to how students like to work during

reading class. Students could mark anything that they enjoyed. As a result, some of the data

may seem contradictory.

What do students like to do in Reading class?


13 out of 16 students enjoy listening to the teacher read. This means that I should include

read alouds in my lessons. My mentor teacher already does this and the students enjoy it, so I

will definitely continue this. The majority of students also like to do work in stations. This

works perfectly in the Read 180 program because that is how the curriculum is written. Twelve

students prefer to read alone. Students all have the opportunity to read by themselves during the

modeled and independent reading rotation. Only about half of the students enjoy reading in a

small group. This is not a typical part of the program anyway, but for those students that do

enjoy it I can make sure that when stories are read aloud in small group, I give students a chance

to participate in reading aloud if they would like. Several students like to do projects about their

books. In the Read 180 program students have to complete graphic organizers but there are no

major projects right now. Perhaps students could turn their graphic organizers into a project that

they present. This would still follow the program, but it would entice students who want to do
more than just fill out a chart about their book. Read 180 is difficult to change because it is so

scripted. However, with the small changes that I mentioned, I believe that I can reach every

student and promote a positive attitude towards reading.

For the students in room 10 and in Read 180 there are several factors that need to be

considered to help them succeed. The high rate of poverty means that I am going to have to find

ways to really engage these students and to keep their home life situation in mind. I also need to

be aware of the resources that students have at home. In addition, all of my students have

different learning styles that I will need to keep in mind when designing lessons. These

contextual factors of the community, school, and classroom will inform my instruction in many

ways including differentiation and engagement strategies. Considering the implications of the

data, and writing lesson plans in a way that addresses this information will give all students a

chance to learn.

Jensen, E. (2013). Engaging students with poverty in mind: practical strategies for raising
achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jervey,N. RSU54/MSAD54 retrieved from

Proximity(2017) retrieved from

Start Class by Graphiq (2017) retrieved from http://public- (2017) retrieved from

United States Census Bureau Quick facts (2017) US department of commerce. Retrieved from,ME/PST0