Creating Critical Thinkers with Culturally Relevant Texts

an initiative by Broward County Public Schools

Division of Instruction and Intervention

Dr. Marie Wright, Executive Director

Department of Literacy, Michele Rivera,Director

Presentation for the Council of Great City Schools

Fall Conference October 17-21, 2012 Indianapolis, Indiana

For more information please contact:

Margaret Livingston, K12 Literacy Supervisor at


Lynne Oakvik, K12 Library Media Supervisor


In 2011-12, Broward County Public Schools began the first phase of a culturally relevant literacy initiative in the district’s two lowest achieving high schools and its department of juvenile justice alternative support facilities. The purpose of this effort is to improve graduation rates by re-engaging the disengaged, adolescent student in learning (particularly black males and those for whom prior interventions have been unsuccessful) and provide support for substantial gains in literacy skills through challenging, complex literacy tasks with culturally relevant texts, meaningful writing tasks, and critical inquiry.

Drawing upon the work of Dr. Alfred Tatum’s transformational literacy model of building “textual lineages” through “enabling texts,” students are emotionally and intellectually challenged to re-connect with themselves through literacy by addressing four key platforms: Defining Self, Becoming Resilient, Engaging Others, and Building Capacity. In his book, Reading For Their Life, (Re) Building The Textual Lineages Of African American Adolescent Males (2009), Dr. Tatum provides a powerful argument for the careful selection and integration of enabling texts that are both rigorous and culturally relevant to students, daily writing for students’ voices to be heard, and opportunities for extended research and inquiry into real-world problems. This approach directly addresses a growing body of research that has established a powerful link between engagement and the types of texts used for instruction that, in turn, can lead to improved academic performance. “Youths are not failing to engage texts; many of the texts we teach in schools are failing to engage youth.” (Maher, 2004). Rather than offering these students more remediation, the initiative honors and recognizes their capabilities and holds them accountable for rigorous, complex literacy learning as defined by the College and Career Readiness goals of the Common Core State Standards.

Based on the results of the first phase of implementation, 25 additional high schools have requested to implement during the 2012-13 school year. A key element in the successful implementation is the on-going collaboration between the district’s Division of Instruction and Interventions Literacy Department, classroom teachers, and library media specialists who assist with identifying culturally relevant texts and support instruction with the research process. Through a series of online resources and webinars, the district is creating and providing a collaborative discussion forum to offer continuous professional learning support and feedback to teachers. The integration of digital tools, resources and sharing of best practices provide opportunities for district curriculum specialists, classroom teachers and library media specialists to share best practices for re-designing instructional frameworks. Through the careful selection of culturally relevant and rigorous texts, Broward County Public Schools is helping our black adolescent males and other disengaged students discover their own voices through self-expression and rigorous, deeper understanding of meaningful, culturally relevant complex texts that offer models for students to build road maps of positive action, productivity, and success in school and beyond. For more information please contact Michele Rivera, Director, Literacy Department, Division of Instruction and Interventions at or via phone at 754-321-1866.