Voices from the Classroom: Davida Smith Keita


Davida Smith-Keita teaches ninth-grade English at GRAD Academy Memphis.

The department’s Teacher Ambassador, Eva Boster, interviewed a Memphis teacher in the Achievement School District who is implementing the Common Core State Standards in her ninth-grade English classroom. Davida Smith-Keita is a nationally Board Certified Teacher with nine years of classroom experience. Currently, Davida teaches at GRAD Academy Memphis. Here she talks about her constant competition with technology and how she and her colleagues collaborate about literacy across contents.

What motivates you to teach?

I am motivated to serve through the art of teaching because of my intrinsic desire to facilitate the affective and intellectual growth of an individual in meaningful ways. I imagine my students as future communicators, contributors, innovators, and producers working to make a difference in the world through their own unique gifts, talents, and preparedness.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a teacher?

The biggest challenge I face as a teacher is competing for students’ attention as they are learning appropriate uses of technology in the twenty-first century classroom.

How are you implementing the Common Core State Standards in your classroom this year?

My students are required to annotate (or comment on) reading material and to support their responses – whether verbal or written – with evidence from texts and sources. I am also very intentional about the quality of selected readings, namely that they must present an appropriate level of challenge and intricacy – complexity that forces us to slow down and revisit sections of the text for close reading, text-dependent questioning, and analytical writing.

Identifying rigorous texts and incorporating them in your lesson planning is a challenging undertaking – how are you tackling this?

There are some great online tools out there for analyzing and determining the Lexile (or grade level) of prospective texts (I have found these to be rather useful).  In addition, I pay attention to how my students respond to the reading materials. I know that if a text gives my students pause and pushes them to go back and re-read without my asking them to do so, then it is challenging them appropriately and leading me to find the next best piece of rigorous text to match the responses I receive. I also ensure that every lesson is planned with a complex, anchor text at the heart of it.

How are you and your colleagues in other subject areas working together to increase literacy for all students?

My colleagues and I are working to implement a school-wide literacy plan that includes support for writing instruction in all content areas.  In addition, project-based learning is at the center of our curriculum with literacy being infused in all projects across the school. For example, students have made connections with vocabulary they are learning through a physical science project with that of a physical education project, showing the relevance of literacy across the curriculum.  Likewise, there is an integrated course of English language arts and social studies that I am teaching with a co-teacher.  We are using the Common Core State Standards to determine what our students should know and be able to do regarding the literacy skills they are building.

What is one of your favorite resources or strategies?

My favorite strategy is the Socratic Seminar because it allows the teacher and the students to engage in higher-order thinking through higher-order questioning.  Students learn to develop questions that drive a conversation.


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