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Teaching Writing to Adult Literacy Students from Harlem and the Bronx
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on November 03, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

In the Report from the Field section of the current issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, David Pugh outlines how he approaches teaching writing to students who are studying to pass the TASC. 

Pugh shares how he develops students’ writing and expression, regardless of skill level, by giving them prompts that solicit responses from their own life experiences. He may ask them to respond to a quote or to write about why they dropped out of high school. The prompts give students a chance to write about things they care about, which naturally draws out longer responses and gives them more practice. As a result, students grow as writers to prepare them for the essay portion of the TASC. 

Read an excerpt from the article “Teaching Writing to Adult Literacy Students from Harlem and the Bronx”: 

On a scale of Level 1 to 4, I have been teaching intermediate Level 2 students. The writing work that I have developed for the Monday-Thursday day program is described below, including samples of insightful and moving student work from a recent semester.  

The pedagogical method that I follow is to provide essay topics that encourage my students to draw on their rich life experiences, while they practice and improve their writing. My program has a textbook that covers the five subjects on the TASC exam, but its writing section does not meet the needs of my students, who live in poor and working-class communities in New York City that are among the most racially segregated in the country. I have developed a series of essay prompts based on their lives that my students recognize and are encouraged to write about.  

One of the advantages of this adult literacy program is that it has small classes. Twelve highly motivated students usually come to my morning classes. This small class size encourages wide-ranging discussions, making it possible for students to listen to and learn from each other. Critical thinking skills develop that allow students to apply their thoughts and life experiences to the essays I assign. Students who volunteer to read their essays in class receive a wealth of feedback and support from other students that often surprises me.  

Small classes make it possible to assign regular essays primarily during class but also for homework. I hand back their essays with as many corrections as needed and detailed comments. In New York City’s Black and Latinx working-class high schools, most teachers have five classes a day, 5 days a week. Only the most dedicated English teachers will assign and correct 750 essays over the course of 1 week. This system is bound to fail. 

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