Helping students better understand texts by encouraging them to consider their personal experience before they read.

by Joshua Parker

Grades 9-12


I have found that to create meaningful literary experiences in the classroom I need to take into consideration the whole child – her life outside of school, her culture, and her skills and prior knowledge. I call this responsive teaching.

When you know more about your student’s life experiences, you can tailor questions and projects to their frame of reference, use their own experiences as metaphors to engage them, and connect the themes of reading material to similar themes in their own lives.

I employ three dimensions when using responsive teaching:

-Understanding what student’s lives are like outside of school,

-Understanding the skills that each student brings to class, and

-Understanding the nuances and differences that shape a student’s culture.

Ensuring student success in relation to testing and standards is important, but we also need to focus our teaching on student’s lives, skills, and culture in ways that grant them the respect they need to be effective learners.


What I did well…

I thought that my co-teaching relationship was highlighted throughout the teaching portion of the video sequence and that was effective in communicating what this looks like in practice. When I shared the practice with teachers in the demo lesson, I thought the design of the learning experience was true to a professional development session. I selected poems that matched the participants with texts they enjoyed, which lies at the heart of the strategy itself.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

I wish I would have emphasized the importance of knowing each text intimately before assigning it to the students. Just knowing the students and what texts they would enjoy is great; but being able to know each text thoroughly and where each text could touch the standards would be most practical for teachers to grab and implement.

I still want to grow in this practice by…

Showing how to match students to texts that they do not appreciate. The natural outgrowth of this skill is to believe that we can only reach students to the extent that the text matches them. I think the more progressive end of the continuum of this skill is to show how to use the same skills with texts that students would struggle to comprehend. These are the texts that usually dominate curricula around the world and I think this skill would be more advantageous for the diverse backgrounds of teachers who could benefit from this skill.

About Joshua Parker

Joshua Parker is the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. He serves the students of Randallstown High School as an English teacher and completed a fe...

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