This is a mixed level, open-entry class in a rural, African-American community. The students came to the program to improve their reading or to get better jobs, and all eventually wanted their GEDs . Some did GED practice tests, then took the GED and were gone in 2 weeks. Others stayed. This core group of 7-8 students, ranging from levels 1-3 on the "Read with Understanding" continuum, were there for many months.

The teacher understood that the people coming into the class were overcoming fears and doubts about learning and participating in a class. By wanting to do better for themselves they risked separation from family, friends, and co-workers. Yet, it was important to them to read so that they could "know more about everything," "participate in all kinds of conversations," and access new information and ideas . The teacher thought about using literature to explore their fears, build a community of readers, and introduce them to African-American authors who spoke to their experience. She decided to use a Langston Hughes poem to engage the group in a discussion of fear and overcoming .


Sometimes when I'm lonely,
Don't know why,
Keep thinkin' I won't be lonely
By and by.

              Langston Hughes

Although their levels were mixed, the teacher wanted all the students to be able to "Monitor and enhance comprehension by using a range of simple strategies such as recalling, restating, rephrasing, explaining the content of the text or using simple examples," and to “actively apply prior knowledge to assist in understanding information in texts,” (Level 3 on the RWU performance continuum). She would assess this through interpretive questions. If they could restate and rephrase the ideas in the poem, explain what Langston Hughes was saying in the poem, and articulate what it meant to them, then that would be the evidence.

Some of the beginning readers would also need to work on Level 1 knowledge and strategies, including being able to:

  • Monitor accuracy of decoding and word recognition (using various strategies such as rereading or making word lists),
  • Recognize words or word groups . . . by decoding letter/sound correspondence, isolating and saying first/last sounds, . . . sounding out words by segmenting words into separate sounds and syllables, combining or blending sounds, recognizing simple rhyming word patterns, or recalling . . . sight words, and
  • Demonstrate familiarity with concepts of . . . letter names and sounds . . . and common vocabulary.

Those who needed this kind of practice would do some word family activities and some sight word practice to demonstrate progress .

Before looking at the poem, the teacher elicited prior knowledge by asking:

1. What is hope? They said:

  • Believing that something is going to happen
  • Faith
  • Wishing for something
  • Hope is everything

2. What do you hope for? They said:

  • To win the lottery
  • To get a GED
  • A better job
  • That my children finish high school

3. What would you do without hope? They said:

  • You die
  • You have nothing to look forward to
  • You lay yourself down

Then they read the poem - aloud as a group, with half the group reading alternate lines, and then  reading individually. The last line, "By and by," was saved for the group's least able reader each time the poem was read. After several readings, they returned to the idea of “hope” with a richer sense of it – "as anticipation," "excitement," "being resigned," "something's gonna come but it may not be what you expect," "time is going to go forward," "it’s dangerous to hope too much."  They talked about the need to hope and about the layered meanings of “by and by,” relating it to the traditional gospel song about the faith that helps us overcome all kinds of suffering and turmoil until we “understand it better by and by.”

Then they wrote: “To me, lonely means . .  .”  

  To me, lonely means all alone, having no one to talk to, missing everybody, standing apart from others - unhappy at being alone.  
Jasper B.
  Lonely means sometimes sad. Lonely means by yourself.  
David B.
  To me, lonely means being in a classroom with other people, not knowing how to read.  
Alfred E.
  To me, lonely means to have no one to talk to when you need to talk.
To me, lonely also means having no money, no friends and out of touch with God.
Juanita B.

They read and discussed these pieces as a whole group and then it was time to divide up for more leveled work. The better readers read a one page biography of Langston Hughes, talked about the Harlem Renaissance, and did some GED-type questions the teacher had made up. The beginning readers built word families from words that were in the poem, playing with rhyming pairs (one young man started rapping with these) and homonyms (know and no):

Make a list of words with the same sound:




Drop the “e” from the words listed above under “ope.” What new words are made?


All of the students’ written work was collected and reviewed with them for assessment purposes. The teacher looked particularly for how they were able to express the underlying meaning of the poem and what it meant to them .

The class did not talk explicitly about how they might transfer what they’d learned, but the students brought their learning home. During the following weeks, a couple of students reported that they talked with their grandchildren about Langston Hughes and another, hearing the name Langston Hughes while surfing TV channels, watched a PBS program on the poet and reported back the details of his life to the class .  

Riding the wave of enthusiasm generated by this text, the class said they wanted to read more poetry and know more about black literature (and this suited the GED students, since they also needed to be able to interpret poems for the test) . So the teacher introduced another poem about loneliness - "The Creation," (God creates a man because he is lonely) by writer and educator James Weldon Johnson. They went on to perform the poem at two churches and later at an NAACP banquet. Preparing for the performances required very specific attention to reading, memorizing, and overcoming fears of public speaking.

In this teaching example, the learning standard was addressed in the following ways:

Read with Understanding

Ways the Standard was addressed

Determine the reading purpose.

The students wanted to get more comfortable with reading  and to read interesting "stuff."

Select reading strategies appropriate to the purpose.

The strategies varied by level, but ranged from the decoding of word patterns to discussion of their own experience, connection of text to their own meanings, and finding multiple interpretations

Monitor comprehension and adjust reading strategies.

They monitored their comprehension through lots of discussion of the text and several rereadings.

Analyze the information and reflect on its underlying meaning.

The poem was analyzed through the lens of the students’ own experiences and through the context of African-American history and culture.

Integrate it with prior knowledge to address reading purpose.

The poem built their enthusiasm to read more and to learn about African-American authors.