Read Alouds So Far

Read alouds are one of my favorite changes for this school year. Last year, I’d pick a novel to do with the whole class, read it, quiz after each chapter, test after finishing, repeat. This year the read aloud is the last part of class. I try to finish with at least 10 minutes left, and the beauty of saving the read aloud until the end is that if the lesson goes nothing as planned and I end up with way too much time, we just get more read aloud time. I love it. The first day or two, a couple of my classes were gripe-y (“Can’t we just talk the last few minutes?”) but by now they’re all used to it. When we finish the lesson (or book talk if I do one at the end of class), they go put their binders up and sit down. The majority of kids are really engaged in the read aloud. The first couple of days, I pulled a stack of several books that I’d either found on “Good Read Aloud” lists or know are popular with teens. It was important to me that they weren’t too long (I don’t think any are over 200 pages, or if they are, it’s just by a little) so we won’t spend months reading the same book. First I went through the stack and asked if anyone in the class had read them. My classes are small, and I knew there were at least a few of the books that no one had read, so I didn’t want to do any repeats, but I did offer books like The Outsiders and The Giver although in every one of my classes, at least 1 kid had read both of them (I was sad, especially about The Outsiders because I love it so much).

After eliminating books that someone had read, I read the descriptions about each book and then let each class choose. I offered to vote on paper or just discuss it and choose together, and every class just wanted to talk about it. These were the winners for first read aloud of the year:

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Two of my classes chose this one. I love this and have seen it on many read aloud lists. We are not very far into it yet, and I know there is more action later, but honestly, my classes are not that into it yet. One of them asked when they were going to
find out what happened to Melinda. I think once we get a little further, they’ll really get into it.

7804180Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

I discovered this book last year when searching the internet for engaging books for teens. It’s short, it’s funny but also has a lot of action and is a mystery, and two of my classes chose it. This is the book that I would say is winning in the excitement factor right now. The two classes that chose it are probably two of my classes that are generally less interested in reading, but several in each class are REALLY into this
book.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

I love this book. I read it this summer and I was hoping one of my classes would choose89716 it. Honestly the class I’m reading it to didn’t choose it, but they said each book left in the running after eliminating the ones students had already read would be fine, so I told them this would be my choice. They agreed. We aren’t too far into it, but I think they like it. They’ve laughed out loud a couple of times and they definitely are engaged during reading.

In October/November, I’m going to participate in the Global Read Aloud. If you don’t know what it is, go here. It’s my goal to have all of these books finished by then and in the classes we have extra time in, I’ll read interesting articles, short stories or poems as the read aloud. I’m planning to give my classes the choices between the two upper level GRA books Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina or Fish by LS Matthews.

After the GRA, I’m planning to try to read as many genres as possible for read aloud. So, for example, in my classes that are reading Blank Confession, I won’t give them another mystery option; I’ll have them choose between other genres for the next book.

I am loving read alouds so far! It’s such a nice way to end class.

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2 Weeks In and Already Making Changes

After just one normal week following our Reading Days (Monday and Tuesday) and Writing Days (Wednesday and Thursday) schedule, I’ve realized I don’t like the split week. I feel like it’s going to feel very divided and I don’t like it. So I’m taking another lesson from Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild and doing reading focus weeks and writing focus weeks, although I’ll probably do units instead of weeks. For example, we’re doing a genre study now. It’ll take me a few days into next week to finish it. Then we’ll start a writing unit. We’ll move to another reading skills unit after the writing unit and alternate all year. Fridays were going to be an article of the week, but thanks to a very generous principal, my aide will be taking my classes to the computer lab on Fridays so I can focus on special ed paperwork (it’s out of control). I’ll be using Edmodo and have weekly assignments where the kids will reflect on independent reading, plus do current events articles on the computer or ACT prep. I think this will actually be very beneficial for my kids (we have limited technology in the classroom).

Independent reading is going well minus a few students. I have one student in particular whom I’m really excited about. Last year it was like pulling teeth to get him to do his AR reading, and he’s already at least 150 pages into a book in less than 2 weeks of school because it’s a book that is about something he’s really interested in. A few (mostly very low level readers) are pretty resistant but hopefully conferences and lots of book suggestions will help them find something they’ll enjoy.

My first week of 2015-16

It went well. I have some great classes and I think the transition to the independent reading approach is going well. I have most of the same students each year they’re in high school, so the majority of my students are not new to me, so this change is definitely an adjustment for them. I didn’t start conferencing this week; I’ll start on Monday. I did many book talks, and we did book speed dating one day to encourage them to add books to their To Be Read list. I think it went well. I had a couple of kids already finish a book this week. I also have some that are very resistant (they swear they hate reading) so I’ll be doing my best to encourage them along the way. I think conferences will help a LOT with these kids, and I think they’ll be beneficial for those that love reading too. I LOVE seeing the excitement some of my students have for reading already. I’m excited to continue this and see how my students respond to it.

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.