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.

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.