What are my classes like?

I teach high school special education. This upcoming year will be my second year in my current position. For four years, I taught lower functioning 10th through 12th grade in a self contained class. This past year, I changed schools to take a high functioning resource English position. I enjoyed the change. While I loved my first teaching job, I love that in my current job I get to use my English background and I see more improvement in my current students over the course of a school year.

My current students are 9th-12th grade students. All of them have a disability and an IEP. My classes have 10 students maximum and I have a classroom aide (without an aide, I could only have 8 students maximum). My classes are mixed grade levels because of scheduling issues, so I teach the same lesson (usually) in every English class. I also am starting to teach a transitions class this year that focuses on skills my students will need as they prepare for graduation and after they graduate. This class is typically very small (this past year it was only 4 students), and currently only has 11th and 12th graders (and usually those that don’t have vocational classes–but that’s not always the case). In English, I have the same students just about every year they’re in high school. There is one other teacher at my school that’s taking one class of English so I can teach the transitions class, so there will be up to 10 students in that class, and there will be a few each year I won’t have. Also, there are the occasional switches (if a student is really struggling in regular education English and switches to resource or if they are excelling in resource and switch to regular education English).

Using the Star Reading test as an assessment, my students have a VERY wide range of reading levels. The average is about 5th grade to 6th grade. I do have a few that scored less than that (my lowest being about 2nd grade level) and several above that (my highest is a college level reader with a writing learning disability). This huge range is one reason why it’s SO hard to find a common text that will work for the whole class. This is another reason why I’m so excited to start an independent reading approach that is so focused on individual student interest and level. I do have a few high school interest/low level reading books in my classroom library, and luckily a lot of YA books are typically 5th or 6th grade reading level.

Writing is an area that the majority of my students REALLY struggle with. I’ve recently discovered Gretchen Bernabei and her strategies and look forward to implementing them with my students this year. I think we’ll see a huge improvement.

I have such great students. I do think I see a few more that are anti-school than a general education teacher sees. Don’t get me wrong; I know there are lots of students who don’t like school everywhere, but I feel like students in special education typically give up on school more often and earlier than regular education students because they have so many academic struggles and many feel like it’s easier to just give up. I have a handful of students I want to reach so badly (and I’m hoping the Book Whisperer approach helps them) because they HATE school. Daily, they are complaining, and talking about dropping out, and questioning why they have to be there. I want so badly to show them the value of education and the value of reading. I’m scared I won’t be able to. They are probably the biggest reason for my classroom changes for the upcoming school year. I feel like I reached the majority of my students this past year. I am confident that the independent reading approach will be beneficial for those students that excelled last year. But I’m searching for something that will reach those kids that don’t want to be reached. I’m hoping this is it. I look forward to trying it this year! Hopefully this post gives you a little better idea what my classes are like, and from all of the research I’ve done, I haven’t seen any anecdotes on a special education teacher using the Book Whisperer strategies. I’m interested to see how successful it will be with my students.

Goals for Next Year for English

I spend a lot of time planning. Not just for my classroom. I’m a planner by nature. I’m constantly spending time planning future trips or activities to do with my kids and family. I’m not sure I’d function properly without a life planner/daily calendar. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking about my classroom for next school year.

Originally I was planning whole class novels and short stories to set my class up pretty similarly to what it was like this past year. I read Whole Novels for the Whole Class by Ariel Sacks and really loved it. I will definitely be adopting some of her strategies for my class this year. At that point (sometime during spring semester) I was still planning on doing several whole class novels throughout the school year because I do see the value in having a common text to build community and have a text to refer to as a class. My biggest concern at that point was reaching some of my least engaged students. I have several that are just so done with school and struggle so much that they don’t care. I did my very best to choose interesting texts last year, and they did successfully engage some or even most of my students. But not all. I’m looking for something to reach those kids that just don’t want to be engaged (or think they don’t). I’ll post more about my specific group of students in another post.

I loved so many of Ariel Sacks’s ideas from WNFTWC, but I still was struggling with trying to select texts that would engage all of my students. Then I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and I LOVED the idea but I was skeptical at first that it would work with my students. I was so in the mindset that I needed to catch my students who were trying to fake read that I wasn’t thinking that my job is to convince them that reading is valuable and to stop fake reading in the first place. After a lot of reading and research on Miller’s strategies, I decided to really commit to it for this next school year. I next read Penny Kittle’s Book Love and got even more excited about a free choice reading focus in my classroom. I’m still in the very beginning of this, but I’m so excited to see how it changes my students and how they view reading.

My goals for my English resource class for 2015-16:

  • Be EXCITED about reading and talk about it daily. Emphasize FREE CHOICE in reading. I don’t care what books they choose as long as they are reading daily.
  • Book talk daily. I know this may not always happen, but it’s going to be a priority.
  • Independent reading time every single day. I know it’ll be tempting to cut reading time if we are short on time, but I’m going to do my best not to. One thing I’m doing to try to keep it the focus daily is to having reading time be the first 15 minutes of every class every day. I will also have to commit to enforce that reading time is for reading! Not whispering to your neighbor, not finishing homework for your next class, not going to the bathroom or going next door to ask your last teacher if you forgot your jacket in there. I will show my students that reading time is important in our classroom.
  • Reading conferences at least once a week with each individual student to talk about their reading.
  • Using interesting mentor texts to teach reading skills.
  • Having a class read aloud novel or a daily poem to use as a community text. Incorporate as much class choice as possible when selecting these.
  • More of a writing focus. So many of my students struggle with writing and honestly I was overwhelmed at how much work we needed to do last year to improve writing, so while I tried, I didn’t try hard enough. I’ll be incorporating writing days each week and have found so much good information and strategies in Gretchen Bernabei’s books/website. I look forward to using her ideas with my students. I think it will help improve all of their writing.
  • Incorporating Article of the Week. I read about Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week last year and thought it was such a great idea. Nonfiction is something my students usually resist, but having interesting current event articles in our weekly plan is something I want to start. Hopefully lots of good discussion and improved nonfiction reading/writing skills will result.

I plan to post a lot more about these ideas in detail, but this is an overview of my thoughts and plans for next year. I’m excited to see how it benefits my students.

Resources I mention in this post:

Ariel Sacks 

Donalyn Miller

Penny Kittle

Gretchen Bernabei

Article of the Week

My first post!

Hi! I’m a 9-12th grade special education teacher in Arkansas. I teach resource English 5 periods a day and this year I’m starting to teach a transitions class that teaches important skills our students will need as they graduate and transition into their postsecondary lives. I’m starting this blog as a place to reflect on my teaching and what happens in my classroom.

This upcoming school year will be my sixth year teaching. I taught self containing, low-functioning special education for 4 years. This past school year, I moved schools and moved into higher functioning special education, teaching resource English 6 periods a day. I love my new school and what I’m doing. I have done a lot of reflecting over the past year and what did and didn’t work with my students. I’m excited to try out a lot of new strategies in my English classroom, based on a lot of research I’ve been doing–thanks to the teachings of Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle. I’m excited to see the changes in my students this year.

A little about me personally: I’m happily married, I have two sweet babies (1 and 3 years old), I’m Christian and love my church and small group, and I’m passionate about reading and traveling.