Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Mission Possible: Curriculum on the Borderzone

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Mission Possible: Curriculum on the Borderzone

Article excerpt

On an unusually warm and sunny April day, I walked from the faculty parking lot at Central High School in Providence, Rhode Island, located at the rear of a large brick structure with bars on the 1st and 2nd story windows, to the main entrance, which is accessed by walking through an expansive plaza shared by Central High and nearby Classical High School. The plaza was filled with adolescents chatting and enjoying the day between lunch and the start of 6th period. It appeared as though the entire student body, comprised of 1, 260 African, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian American students, was outside on this beautiful afternoon. I looked at my watch to be sure I was not going to be late to observe my student teacher Charley Wynkoop. No, I was right on time. I marveled at the administrative challenge of getting so many students from outside to 6th period as I checked in at the main office, pasted my visitor's pass on my blazer, and climbed three flights of stairs to the English Department.

Charley, or Mr. W as his students called him, greeted me and let me know that I could sit in a student desk near a plug so that I could use my laptop computer for my student teacher observation. He also shared a copy of his typed, formal lesson plan and provided a copy of the materials the students would use. I let Charley know that it appeared as though the entire student body was outside on this beautiful day and not to worry if he had low class attendance for his formal observation. I wouldn't hold it against him if his students skipped class on such a beautiful day. Charley just gave me a nod and a smile.

As I settled in, I noticed that Charley had one desk located in the center of the classroom with a cassette recorder; all of the other desks were located on the perimeter of the large classroom. A few sophomores walked through the doorway as Mr. W pressed the play button. The theme song from the recently released film Mission Impossible (DePalma, 1996) invited his students to gather around the center desk and to marvel at what Mr. W had planned for today. One student turned to a friend and said, "I love this class. I never know what he'll do! I never skip this class!" Before the bell rang, twenty-five students from 6th period English class had gathered in the center of the classroom. His entire class was in attendance! Needless to say, I didn't need to read the formal lesson plan to know that this lesson and my student teacher were going to be a success.

Mission possible

As I read the theme of this NERAJ - curriculum on the margins - I thought of my student teacher's and my experiences at Central High, a large urban high school, like so many in America today, labeled as Not Making Adequate Yearly Progress, based on the 39% of the student body reading at or above grade level and the 18% who are proficient in writing. Teachers like Charley and you find ways to actively engage, challenge and excite students each day. I also thought of the high school that borders Central - Classical High, which shares the same plaza the students and I enjoyed that beautiful spring day. Classical's test scores are in stark contrast to Central's - 98% reading proficiency; 69% writing proficiency and Making Adequate Yearly Progress - although the schools are located directly across the street from one another. Why is there such a gap in student achievement among schools, especially those that share communities and are within the same school system? While there are many factors that create the great distance between schools like Central and Classical, one factor, curriculum reform and the power teachers have in this process, will be the focus of this column. I will argue, with the support of three research-based resources, that it is imperative for teachers to examine, question and revise curriculum during these times of Common Core State Standards and high-stakes assessment to meet the academic and personal needs of the linguistically, racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, individual learners we teach. …

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