Contextual Factors

Exploring Contextual Factors means that you will be 'scouting out' the context of the classroom including the physical environment, classroom routines, and curriculum, and getting to know the class and individual students and groups of students. All of this information will help you to determine what you will teach in your lessons and should suggest teaching strategies and approaches most likely to lead to student learning. Focus your observations and journaling on this topic, and ask your mentor teacher to talk to you about less visible or less noticeable student characteristics that you should be aware of.

In the Contextual Factors section of the Level 2 Teacher Work Sample, you are asked to first consider school-wide factors that might impact your lesson. It can be challenging to think about how large-scale factors can influence individual classroom practices, but it is important to understand that each school has its own unique culture and identity and that lessons and strategies do not usually transfer from school to school without adaptation for the context. While many students discuss the diversity of our student population in this section, it is probably best to instead reflect on the diversity of your specific classroom in the student characteristics section later on. Below are some suggestions you might explore, but feel free to make other connections on your own:

  • You should review student demographic and achievement data, available through the Iowa Department of Education as well as the school's website to get a big picture of the school as a whole. Your field experience instructors will be giving you a specific assignment and assistance with this process.
  • Talk to your mentor teacher about professional development and school improvement initiatives in your school as well as school-wide programs in citizenship, character education, family support/parent education, and other factors important to understanding the values and priorities of your school's community.
  • If you have questions about how these school-wide factors impact your own teaching and curriculum, consider journaling about that this week with your field experience coordinator.

Next, you are asked to identify student characteristics related to gender, race/ethnicity, interests and student skill levels and physical characteristics of the classroom. You may address the student characteristics of an entire class, the characteristics of a group of students, or some combination of individual, group, or whole class characteristics, but be careful to choose characteristics that will have the greatest impact on your lesson so that you are planning for success. You must also discuss the potential implications these characteristics have for instruction for an individual, group, or an entire class. With experience and a consistent application of effort, you will become increasingly skilled at matching student characteristics to teaching strategies. For new teachers, this may be the most challenging part of the Contextual Factors.

Below you can find pdf files that will help.

Please hand in or email your Field Experience Coordinator a draft of your Contextual Factors by the deadline he or she communicates. He/she will read it and make suggestions for improvement. Doing well with this section provides a strong foundation for the rest of the experience. As always, let your coordinator know if you have questions or concerns about this or any other topic as part of your response journal. One suggestion for a focus for your journal this week is questions and concerns about the students in our class, perhaps regarding cultural and family background, differentiated instruction, learning styles, etc.

A chart of potential learning difficulties and some suggested adaptations for addressing them.

Recommended, research-based strategies for eliminating gender bias, improving minority achievement, teaching students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, teaching students for whom English is a second language, and adapting instruction for students with attention deficits.