Innovation, Identity, and Community: A Case Study

Innovation, Identity, and Community: Preparing High School Students from Low Income Communities for College Level Literacies


Jose Antonio V. Meneses


Abstract This research paper investigates the effectiveness of current pedagogical practices of college level literacies in high schools in low income communities. The project examines the perspective of three college freshman from low income communities in the Southern California region. This paper highlights literature review from research on different pedagogical practices and their effectivity. In addition, it will also include the interview questions and answers from the three students. The significance of this research paper is finding the flaws in current pedagogical practices in high schools in low communities in the hopes of improving them. By doing so, students from these communities are better equipped for the rigor of college level literacies.


Keywords Pedagogical practices, College level literacies, Preparedness



Higher education now more than ever is playing its biggest role in continuing to serve low income communities as a ladder to upward social mobility. The main research question of this paper will answer if current high school pedagogical practices in low income communities on literacy prepare first generation college students for college level literacies. The follow up questions are how well do high schools in low income communities prepare their students for college level literacies and if pedagogical practices are to be changed to better prepare students for college level literacies, what kind of changes should be made. Unfortunately, current pedagogical practices in high schools in low income communities do not meet the college literacy standards. In essence, this issue falls down on the educator’s pedagogical practices and the school’s curriculum on college level literacies. My two main arguments are (1) an educator’s pedagogical practices affects students’ perception of the knowledge they attain. By no means will this paper argue that teaching should be catered to all students — that is unrealistic — instead it will argue that identity and a sense of community in the classroom will give students a better educational experience that will better equip them for college level literacies. And (2) to best prepare students for college level literacies they need to be exposed to college level literacies. Expectations should be less focused on diagnostic exams and more focused on aligning with college level curricula. Focusing on changing the curriculum to meet college level standards would better equip students with the knowledge they need to attend and excel in college.

Pedagogies in low income communities need to innovate to keep up with higher educational standards. Current teaching practices should at the very least incorporate students’ sense of community and identity. Rubel et al. are researchers from Brooklyn College specifically focusing on mathematics education. Using a framework that takes into consideration the cultural background students come from would aid students in having a better understanding of the lesson (Rubel, et al., 2011). Mainstream pedagogical practices are currently dominating public schools in the nation. Generalizing teaching practices makes it easier to teach, but it hurts students from low income communities who are usually students of color in their ability to learn because they cannot relate. The status quo within their home and/or community is different than that of the school and/or dominant culture. This proposed framework argues that building on students’ cultural backgrounds and using that to cultivate knowledge rather than pure regurgitation will help aid a student’s academic potential (Rubel, et al., 2011). In addition, by doing this become more prepared for college level literacies because it forces them to think and to relate it to concepts and facts that are relevant. This framework emphasizes on adding on to student’s prior knowledge like a building block and not just building a block from scratch. Rubel et al. researched on the effectiveness of innovating and challenging current pedagogical frameworks and concluded that classes who were given more opportunities (given because of the teacher’s better understanding of students’ background) had a higher lesson rating instructional environment. The lesson rating instructional environment is a score given by a teacher assessing a class’ understanding of the lesson. This article, in particular is relevant to this research because it points out an innovative framework that could probably better current high school pedagogical practices to prepare students for college level literacies.

Moving into experimenting different approaches in bettering pedagogical practices in high schools in low income communities could potentially benefit students from these communities. “Best Practices” in Teaching and Learning: Challenging Current Paradigms and Redefining their Role in Education argues that new paradigms for teaching should prioritize the student-teacher relationship through effective teaching methods (Munro, 2005). This article, in essence, is calling for more innovation in the field of teaching practices. Creating new forms and methods for teachers to practice teaching would give them a better insight into effectively communicating their lessons to the students. A final given to a class where everyone receives less than or equal to 40%, including the highest placers in the class, means that the teacher is not being effective in their approach. Yes other factors on why some of the students failed in the class might be the reason, but if most of the students score less than the average or at least passing then it is the teacher’s duty to understand and think of an innovative solution to better his/her pedagogical practices. In terms of high school teaching practices, better effectivity of relaying the lesson would help a student long term in higher education as they, in part of the teachers teaching alterations, grow and acquire more knowledge in the process. Understanding student backgrounds would allow and aid educators a better perspective of how and what teaching practices will best suit their students’ needs (Munro, 2005). In addition, feedback systems should be considered a continuous process and not a one time edit (Munro, 2005). This framework would prepare current high school students by continuously challenging their work to better it and by strengthening the relationship of the teacher and the student.

The importance of mentorship in conjunction with innovative pedagogical practice proves to have value. This is only one part in the two pronged process that I am theorizing should work in giving students in low income communities a better educational experience that would best prepare them for college level literacies. Current educational practices, especially in high school, should include students’ community and upbringing in establishing their curricula. Students in low income communities, usually students of color, live multiple worlds — home/community expectations and school/dominant culture — making their transition or lack thereof into college life or having a better grasp of college level literacies difficult to attain (Wong, 2010). Although the conducted study focuses in on the effects of community based organizations on low income Chinese American youth, I would argue that it still applies to all students of color. Chinese American and African American youth are not similar in many ways, but students of color face the same scrutinies and they do share a common narrative in struggling to find the bridge between their multiple worlds. Creating spaces that are inclusive of the common narratives, backgrounds, and struggles of all students of color allows students to thrive in an environment that relates to them and that is conducive for academic success. Also, establishing community spaces as part of acquiring a better understanding of the students’ cultural backgrounds creates a communal vibe that is geared towards, again, academic success (Wong, 2010). This might seem irrelevant to pedagogical practices for college level literacies, but the argument I am making is that educators should include a sense of community and identity to bridge the gap, on a psychological basis, between multiple worlds. This, then, should help high school students from low income communities have a better understanding of the lesson and its application in a college setting. Making a lesson relevant to a student’s life will make the difference between memorizing the information for a test and learning it for the sake of learning.

Lastly, I would time constraint of this research only allowed me to conduct qualitative measurements by interviewing 3 students. The opinions expressed by the interviewees do not reflect all students of color from low income communities. The sample is not enough to generalize a full length pattern of teacher practice shortcomings for all students or express all current pedagogical practices in low income communities. Although I cannot make generalizations for all high schools in low income communities, however, the data I collected can be used as a reference to better teaching practices in these areas.



I. Primary and Secondary Research

The primary research was done through interviews. The candidates were asked on their experiences in high school specifically how they were taught college level literacies. They were given the opportunity to answer 3 main questions and some follow up questions to their answers. (Questions are found in Section II

The secondary research was primarily sifted through ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) [via Proquest]. Search terms for my search included, but not limited to pedagogical practices, high school teaching practices, college level literacies, low income communities, and pedagogy.

II. Questions

The questions were asked the way they were ordered to keep the previous question from influencing the interviewees answers. In addition, the scale used to rate their preparedness was set from 1-10, with 1 being the least prepared and 10 being the most prepared. I used this scale because this was the most straightforward scale I found without overcomplicating the questions for the students.

    1. How much of a role did your high school education play in your preparation for college level literacies and briefly explain? (rate on a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 being the most prepared)
    2. How prepared are you for college level literacies and briefly explain? (rate on a scale from 1-10, 1 being the least and 10 being the most prepared)
    3. How did your teachers teach you literacy in highs school? 

III. Collecting data and interpreting them

The target samples had 3 main criteria to fulfill: the students had to be (1) students of color, (2) come from low income communities, and (3) first generation college students. I would note, that there are variables in this study that were not taken accounted for e.g. generation gap, other siblings in college, household income, etc. Taking the data was solely based on the interview I conducted. I took notes while I was asking the students questions and then follow up questions. All the answers are just paraphrased from the students’ initial response. I have the approval of the students to present their answers as paraphrases only.

Interpreting the information will be looked solely from the 3 students’ perspective. I will only analyze through their answers and only analyze what was stated not what could have been stated. In addition, the interpretation of their answers will be based on common themes in their stories.



The students interviewed came from high schools in low income backgrounds. Student 1 attended a public high school in La Puente. Student 2 attended a public high school in Lawndale. And student 3 attended a charter high school in the San Fernando Valley. It is important to note their backgrounds because not all variables are stated in this research.

Refer to the questions section under methods.

Student 1

  1. 4; student only took regular english classes; cites that it was the student’s fault for not taking advantage of opportunities; did not take any advanced courses in english because he did not need it to get into UC Davis
  2. 5; acknowledges that he is a good writer, but did not know expectation for college level literacies; learned how to write by reading books in high school; getting a good grade in a class than challenging himself would look better on a transcript; mentorship with teacher helped develop literacy
  3. Learned literacies in high school mainly through writing projects, reading articles, and motivational videos.

Student 2

  1. 6; only got taught basics of the English language i.e. format, citing, transitions, etc.; teachers were lacking because of their curriculum; took AP classes and concluded that the AP tests were much harder than the course; the course was not executed well
  2. 5; HS education did not really play a role in teaching college level literacies; even for AP classes they were only given basic knowledge of the material; students bought outside test sources to help them pass AP/IB exams
  3. Read a few books and wrote a few papers; analyzed theme and compared it with other pieces of literature.

Student 3

  1. 7; because he only took normal classes; educator’s prepared for college level literacies; went to charter HS; teachers performed one-on-one intervention based diagnostics; were taught how to annotate reading
  2. 6; could understand writing, but have difficulty analyzing; student’s are the ones who have shortcomings and not the teachers; help develop college level literacy; teachers would call parents for academic issues with the students; reading in high school was the same as college level literacies
  3. Teachers assigned 3-4 chapters a week of reading; assigned essays; linear revision process; small class size



The answers the students gave only affirm that current high school pedagogical practices do not prepare high school students from low income communities for college level literacies. Of course there were variations within their answers, but nonetheless, the same. Although both students 1 and 2 had a different experience than student 3, I would argue that they had exponentially different experiences because student 3 went to a charter high school as opposed to students 1 and 2 who went to the local public high school in their community. A few similarities between students 1, 2, and 3 are seen with the first question. They all cite the teachers curriculum as the main culprit of either why they are prepared or not prepared for current college level literacies. For the second question, students 2 and 3 cited that they would have performed better if they were provided with a better understanding of college level literacies. For student 1, however, cited that he did not want to do the extra work to get a good grade because his grade cost more than the knowledge he would receive. For the third question, both student 1 and 2 cited that they were only taught minimal understanding of current literacy much less college level literacies. For student 3, however, cited that he read college level writing. In addition, he was assigned work that was challenging enough to prepare him for college.

The assertions made from the introduction on the preparedness of students coming from low income communities to college is only reason enough why research on innovating educational practices and changing curricula is important. For example, student 3 cited that his teachers would personally call the parents of students if they see any discrepancies or issues with his grade. It is that one-on-one intervention and keeping students accountable for their actions that prepare them for college (Jetton, et al., 2008). It would seem counterproductive to call someone’s parents and expect them to prepare for the rigors college, but educators need to be mindful that they are teaching high school students and not adults. Guiding them through the process of becoming adults is much preferred than pushing them into the real world without a backup. In addition, both students 1 and 2 mention that the high school curriculum did not prepare them for college level literacies. The best possible solution for this would be to collaborate and innovate current pedagogical practices to actually and not just nominally prepare students for college level literacies (Jetton, et al., 2008).

The significance of this research is to address whether or not current high school pedagogical practices for current college level academia so we can change and innovate outdated pedagogical practices in high schools in low income communities. By understanding where these practices fall short, we can think of newer and better ways of developing a curriculum that would better prepare students in low income communities for college. In addition, there is a correlation between low income communities and underrepresented people in the same space. Outdated pedagogical practices that do not keep up with current academic needs in higher education, for the most part, happen in low income backgrounds that cater to underrepresented students. This then disproportionately gives students of color a disadvantage when it comes to competing and finishing at top public and private institutions. Either innovation or change is needed in current educational practices. Choosing to stagnate will only harm the students’ abilities to learn efficiently.


Works Cited

Jetton, Tamara L., Mary Beth Cancienne, and Brenda Greever. “The Evolving Roles of Faculty Learning Communities: A University/High School Literacy Partnership.” Theory Into Practice 47.4 (2008): 327-35. Print.

Munro, Carolin Rekar. “”Best Practices” in Teaching and Learning: Challenging Current Paradigms and Redefining Their Role in Education.” College Quarterly 8.3 (2005): 1-8. Print.

Rubel, Laurie H., and Haiwen Chu. “Reinscribing Urban: Teaching High School Mathematics in Low Income, Urban Communities of Color.” Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education J Math Teacher Educ 15.1 (2011): 39-52. Print.

Wong, N.-W. A. “”Cuz They Care About the People Who Goes There”: The Multiple Roles of a Community-Based Youth Center in Providing “Youth (Comm)Unity” for Low-Income Chinese American Youth.” Urban Education 45.5 (2010): 708-39. Print.