For a Good Day

Check in with your students.  I teach special ed students…ED, ASD, and ADHD.  What just makes the day start out great is talking to each one of them and letting them know that what they have to say is more important than the clock…or the ringing phone…or the attendance person knocking on the classroom door.

For the first ten to fifteen minutes of class everyday students in the special ed program I teach in like to tell me about what they’ve done since I last saw them.  I use the first 15 minutes of the day to allow students to get breakfast (and bring it back to our class) and I check in with each one of them.  A short greeting or a longer question/answer session happens for each student.  It’s the time we use to assess how kids are and how ready they are for the day.  It’s probably the most important 15 minutes we spend because if students don’t feel welcome and accepted then they won’t be good learners for the day.

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I Want More Time

As I begin a position at a new school after 18 years, it’s hard enough to get things organized, let alone having to get things organized and begin a new (and unfamiliar) job.  I used to know what to expect in the first few days of inservice training.  I knew when I would have time to set up my classroom and plan the lessons for the first few days of school.  This year is the first year in at least 16 years that I’m not sure what is going to happen on the first day of school.  I feel like a brand new teacher (except I have miles of experience to help me).

Over the last 3 days (and we still have 1 more), I haven’t had a chance to work with my co-teacher to really establish what we are going to do next week when students come back.  We’ve put a lot of time into setting up our classroom space (off contract time, before we were required to be back at school) so that our students can feel welcome in our special education classroom.  We’ve also spent countless hours collaborating online via Google Docs to make sure that our first unit is up-to-speed.  But with all of the meetings and trainings at the beginning of the school year, we don’t have time to finalize our plans.  That must be done on our own time.  And many people don’t realize that teachers work well beyond their contracted time and hours in order to help students or to finalize plans so that things run smoothly.  We want what is best for kids, but with all the villianization of teachers in the headlines, I don’t think people realize this.

We have your child’s interest at heart.  We have your child’s strengths at heart.  We know your child’s weaknesses and work hard to accommodate them.  We are here for your child.  We want your child to succeed.  We are teachers.

A Reading to Learn Activity Plan: High School Debate

Curriculum Area/Topic:  Current Events topic related to the Olympics for a 10th grade literacy class with small group instruction.

Instructional Strategy:   The Creative Debate strategy allows students to practice their social skills (working together, giving feedback to peers) and it allows them to practice speaking skills (making eye contact, choosing appropriate language, speaking in front of people).  Students are also, of course, working toward meeting Common Core Standards (which aren’t written for special education students who are below grade level like mine, but that’s another conversation entirely).  This reflection strategy is useful because it gives students more realistic practice in an important life skill:  supporting opinions with facts.  Most of my students like to say “because” when asked “why”; I prefer that they learn to give good reasons based on facts and understanding.

Goals and Objectives:

The Common Core states that 10th grade students will present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task (SL.9-10.4).  It also states that 10th grade students will write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence (W.0-10.1) and they will produce clear and coherent writing…(W.9-10.4).  So the objectives of this lesson are as follows:

  1. Students will find evidence from the text which supports their side of the issue.
  2. Students will write a brief summary stating their side of the issue; the summary will contain clear, concise writing with logical and supporting evidence, and it will contain proper grammar, usage and mechanics.
  3. Students will present their side of the debate in front of a class using clear, concise and logical information.

Prerequisites:  Students should already be familiar with the 2 articles and their subject matter due to class work and discussion in previous classes including vocabulary work, main idea/topic work, and gathering supporting details for a class summary of the articles.

Procedures:

  1. Each student will have a copy of each of the articles:  “The Waste and Corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Olympics” and “The Elusive Economic Lift of the Olympics
  2. Tell students that it is now time to prepare for and debate a major issue set forth in the Vladimir Putin article. Give them the debate sides:  Russia wasted money on the Olympics, or The money Russia spent will help bring an economic boom to the economy.  Tell them which side they will defend and organize the students into two teams.  Go over the grading rubric for the debate.
  3. Give students each a graphic organizer to help them keep track of information that will support their side (see “materials to prepare”). Indicate additional resources students can use to find more support for their side:
    1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-06/russians-rue-economy-as-most-expensive-olympics-begin-at-sochi.html
    2. http://www.businessinsider.com/economics-sochi-olympics-2014-2
    3. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/putin-s-olympic-shame.html
    4. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/01/25/russian_president_vladimir_putins_50billion_olympic_games.html
  1. Students will review the information they already have and they will find information that supports their side of the debate and enter it into their debate preparation graphic organizers. Students will work as a group to find information, but will each complete their own graphic organizers.  For students who need extra support, teachers can scribe.  The teachers should circulate and check-in with teams to make sure they are getting enough relevant information to support their topic and that they are adequately summarizing it.  This part of the lesson will likely take an entire class period.
  2. When the organizers are completed each student will be given notecards to use during the debate; they can complete them as follows (or in a way more comfortable for them—though I find that my students like to be told how to organize because they never learned how):
    1. Opening statement (front) Ending statement (back)
    2. 3 cards: Major point with supporting facts (front) Major point with facts (back)
    3. Points the opposition might use (front) counterarguments and rebuttals (back)
  3. Allow time for practice (each team in a separate space working with a teacher). Students can adjust their debate points based on teacher feedback.  Steps 5+6 will likely take another whole class period to prepare.
  4. The two teams will present their debate in front of teachers and students from another class. For students with significant anxiety, they can present their arguments individually to the teacher and will become part of the audience during the debate. Tell students how the debate will progress:
    1. First each side will begin with an opening statement
    2. The “wasted $” side will begin with 3-5 minutes to make their major points
    3. The “economic boom” side will make their major points (3-5 minutes)
    4. The “wasted $” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    5. The “economic boom” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    6. Rebuttals will continue as necessary
    7. Each side will end with a closing statement
  5. Once the debate is completed, the audience will each complete a scoring rubric.
  6. Students will write a brief summary of their side of the issue in a well-written short essay that has proper grammar, usage and mechanics (homework).
  7. Students who wish to complete “make-up” work (because they have been absent) or who wish to earn extra credit can do a write up for the opposing side.

Assessment:

The students will be assessed based on completion of the scoring rubric by the audience.  The teacher will also have completed a scoring rubric during the presentation.  The students will also be assessed on their short writing piece (whether their arguments were logical and well supported as well as for proper English conventions of writing).

Materials to Prepare:

Graphic organizer (outline) for debate preparation:

My side of the issue is:

5 points that support my side (each point has 1 fact to prove it):

5 points the opposition might say:

Counterpoints (facts I can use against the opposition):

Debate Scoring Rubric (PDF)

Community Service Learning

Service learning with middle school students in special education can be a challenge.  I teach in a school with 100% free and reduced lunch students and all of my students have significant emotional and behavioral challenges.  They always ask me before I take them out to do community service, “why do we have to do this?”  I tell them because it is a privilege for the taxpayers to provide them this special school to attend so they should help the community in return.  That is usually enough of an explanation for them.  They have a hard time focusing and staying on task, but when they get outside they become decent helpers.  I know that this is also the beginning of teaching them a work ethic, persistence, initiative, and cooperation.

IMG_20150507_103929404_HDR

2 students dig out an invasive tree.

The skills students learn from participating in community service are not the kinds of skills that get assessed on tests, and they are not skills that are part of the Common Core, but they are skills that are necessary for getting along well in the adult world and keeping a job.

A Mini-unit Outline for The King of Mazy May and The Ransom of Red Chief

Here is the beginning of a unit I worked on a few years ago for a small group of middle school students.  I titled the unit “Human Nature” because I feel these two stories have some great characters, and students enjoy these stories.

Essential Questions:      

What can I learn about myself through reading?

What can I learn about human nature through reading?

Why do writers use literary elements?

Key outcomes:   

students will gain insight about themselves and human nature

students will understand that literary elements are used to help enhance author’s message and meaning

Tasks:

Readings:  “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “The King of Mazy May”

Writing pieces:  Character analysis:  Red Chief, Sam, Bill, Walt; Dialogue from a given scenario;

Daily or post-reading fact-checks or retells (to build comprehension)

Character study sheets

Literary elements to focus on:  Irony, Idiom, Protagonist, Antagonist

Vocabulary study:  peer, liable, summit, antic, flounder, collaborate, commend, comply, palatable, proposition, surreptitiously (some words might change depending on the version of the story that we read)

Order:

  1. “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O. Henry
    1. Pre-reading questions: What is a ransom (discuss) and If you had to baby-sit a “terror-child” how would you handle it (discuss and connect).
    2. Build background knowledge about O. Henry (ironic stories)—define and write IRONY
    3. Build background knowledge about IDIOMs (define and give examples—find in story as we read); also do the vocab words
    4. Set up an active reading chart (predicting events/outcomes)
      1. My prediction/actual event/surprise (y or n)—I am looking to stop the group as we read at least 4 major events and have them write the event and then their prediction; after they read what happens have them write yes or no in the surprise column.
      2. Do character study sheets.
  1. “The King of Mazy May” by Jack London
    1. Pre-reading questions/activities: Look at the photos and quotes of the story.  Then ask them “What was the Gold Rush?” have them predict what the story might be about.  Then ask them “What are some get-rich-quick schemes that you know of in today’s society?”
    2. Background knowledge: protagonist and antagonist (sometimes not human); also do the vocab words
    3. Set up an active reading chart to study Walt’s character
      1. Walt (actions/thoughts/description) Meaning/conclusions
      2. Have them number the chart 1-5 to find at least 5 things and make 5 conclusions
    4. While reading the story stop periodically for fact checks, comprehension and predicting
    5. After the story do a fact check or a re-tell
    6. Do character study sheets.