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Differentiation Squared: Writer's Workshop in a CTT Classroom

Writer's Workshop 022  We use a writer’s workshop model at my school that is similar to Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study.  In this model, a writer’s workshop (which is supposed to occur daily) should consist of a brief mini-lesson, time for guided or interactive writing, independent work time in which you conference and students work with a peer or by themselves on a project, and a sharing time for students to present their work and receive feedback from their peers.  Ideally, each completed writer’s workshop project should include five phases: brainstorming/pre-writing, rough drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. Our bulletin board projects sometimes fall off the board because they are so heavy from including the different drafts!

This model is theoretically ideal for differentiated instruction because it provides lots of time to work individually (and thus in small groups).  In the co-teaching setting, writer’s workshop is a great time to try out a different model of co-teaching or practice using the ones you already employ in a new way!  Check out one of my earlier posts for some background information on the six models of co-teaching.  Let’s take a picture walk through some student work to examine how collaborative teaching can help reach all learners during writer’s workshop.

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Literature Heroes for Students with Disabilities

The Scholastic Book Fair is visiting my school this week, and as I watch my excited students look at and select books, I notice that most of them choose a book with a ‘hero’ or main character they feel like they can relate to.  As a teacher, the ‘relatability’ of a protagonist is one of the primary factors in my choosing a book that will interest a group or individual, so I thought today I would share with you some of the books I read to, suggest for, or study with my upper elementary students with disabilities.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Jack Gantos)Joey pigza
Joey Pigza is a poster child for ADHD, impulsive behavior and everything.  Joey’s antics become increasingly dangerous, ranging from sticking his finger in the pencil sharpener and injuring himself to running with a pair of open scissors and he badly hurts one of his classmates.  This leads him to be transferred to a special education program at another school, where an observant and caring teacher helps him learn self control skills and ensures that Joey get the appropriate medical care for his condition (he eventually returns to his home school).  This book is a must-read for any student struggling with ADHD, and the story is humorous and personal enough to hold the attention of even a class of students as a shared novel. 

Yours turly shirley Yours Turly, Shirly (Ann M. Martin)
This book by the author of The Babysitter’s Club follows Shirley, a girl with dyslexia, who has to learn how to read, negotiate the stigma of attending resource room, and bond with an adopted little sister all in the same year.  Sounds challenging?  What if your sister, as an English Language Learner, was also a genius?!?  This story is great for students with dyslexia or learning disabilities who also have high-achieving siblings, and teaches a nice lesson about how everyone is strong and special in their own way.

Multiple choiceMultiple Choice (Janet Tashjian)
In this story about a girl with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Monica Devon’s need to be perfect overshadows her relationships with her friends and family.  When she invents a game to help her become more spontaneous, Monica’s rigid obsession with the rules of her game lead her to alienate her best friend.  Eventually, she seeks help and learns that it’s never too late to apologize, and that your true friends will always accept you for who you are. 

Inside out Inside Out (Ann M. Martin)
In this book, which will appeal to siblings of students with severe disabilities, Jonno and his sister Lizzie learn to adapt to and help their 4-year old brother James while being concerned with their own image with the ‘in’ kids.  This book is especially great for teaching the lesson that what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.


Lightning thiefPercy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan)
I read an excerpt from this book to my class this year because I have a high number of students with ADHD combined with a learning disability, and my students would not let me get away without turning it into our class read-aloud and a huge associated unit on Greek mythology! Little did those students know that they are potentially experiencing these things because they are demigods, or heroes!  Throughout this faced-paced adventure fantasy rooted in Greek mythology, Percy learns that his disabilities can be assets.  Kudos to Rick Riordan for writing such a wildly popular book starring a hero with disabilities!

Gathering blue Gathering Blue (Lois Lowry)
In this companion to The Giver, Lowry explores an alternative community (potentially of the future?) in which a physically disabled and orphaned girl named Kira is spared from the usual demand from perfection because of her gifted weaving.  Kira has an ability with the threads that no one else possesses, and in that ability she serves her community more fully than most others.  This book is philosophically and linguistically challenging and as such is best for Grade 5 and up, but is worth reading for its frank treatment of the difficulties a physical disability creates as well as Kira’s strength in coping with it.Rules

Rules (Cynthia Lord)
At age 12, Catherine has spent much of her life teaching ‘rules’ of behavior to her brother David, who has autism.  When a new friend moves to town, Catherine’s behavior becomes the rule-breaker, and she faces some truths about social rules that surprise her.  This book is also appropriate for students whose siblings are severely disabled.

Freak the mighty Freak the Mighty (Rodman Philbrick)
I don’t know how I managed to teach in a special education inclusion class for so long without reading this ultimate example of how celebrating difference can make individuals stronger.  Max Kane is a big, goofy-looking learning-disabled eighth grader who is the son of an imprisoned convict and generally doesn’t get along well… that is, until he meets Kevin, an undersized and physically-disabled genius.  The two unlikely friends pair up and discover that through their combined strengths, they can take on the world.  This book does contain some language and more mature themes, and should be previewed before giving it to a student. 

I always read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco toward the beginning of my school year as well to introduce the idea of struggling with academics and 'getting what you need' as well.  What books have you found to be winners and inspirations to your students with disabilities?  Share your favorites here by commenting using Mozilla Firefox, or email me directly at azelkowitz@schools.nyc.gov!

Classroom Library Management and Organization

So I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for the conclusion of this three-post arc on my  classroom library… how I organize it.  I had three main considerations in setting up and organizing my library, and the system I use may not work for everyone, but it seems to be a good, generic structure for a student-friendly fiction library. 

The first thing I had in mind when I finally settled on this organization system is that my library be flexible. 2008-2009 school pictures 004 I needed to be able to rearrange, reorganize, and add to my library during the course of a school year without completely disrupting my system.  Secondly, my library needs to be able to be maintained by my students.  Since one of my major teaching goals this year is promoting student independence, and since I am frankly too busy to maintain the library on a daily basis, my system needed to be simple and transparent enough to be kept up by a responsible student or two. Finally, my system needed to keep the resources organized and accessible… anyone in my classroom should be able to locate any book they want to read by asking another student or myself, and an intuitive organization system promotes this (as well as helping me to easily keep tabs on my resources so they do not disappear over time!).

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Goldilocks and the Book Rare: Hi-Lo Series That Are "Just Right"

My first year of teaching, I had a serious situation: 27 third graders, many of them with special needs, who just did not want to read books like Gregory, the Terrible Eater or Parts.  These books were on their levels, yes.  Sometimes, one would appeal to them, especially on non-fiction topics.  But on the whole, my third graders, many of whom had been left back and were a year or two older than they should have been, were not interested in reading fiction picture books so clearly meant for younger readers, even though they represented the books they ‘should’ be choosing according to their independent reading levels.  My third year of teaching, I switched classrooms.  The books in this new room, which had formerly been a sixth grade classroom, were way too difficult for my most challenged students, some of whom were reading on a kindergarten level.  These situations are all too common in classrooms, and they highlight the urgency of acquiring appropriate books for your students according to reading level AND interest level.  My second classroom's library was TOOOOOOO high. my first was TOOOOOO low... but now, with the help of high interest/low readability (hi-lo) books, it is JUST right!

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How to Win (Free/Cheap Books) and Influence (Your Students as Readers)

Having just returned from our mid-winter recess, I will be spending some time this week adding and incorporating new titles into our classroom library for my voracious classroom, which loves to read and has torn so many books that I NEED to add more just to keep up with popular demand.  I know that keeping up with this demand will lead my students to love reading, connect to books, and generally excel in literacy.  I know that providing my students with current, colorful, appealing, and pertinent books is critical to the success of my classroom library.  But how can I keep up with this demand without exhausting my supply of funds, energy, and effort?  I promised you my top-secret tactics for book acquisition for our classroom library, so keep reading to find out WHY and HOW I spend so much of my time maintaining and adding to our library. 

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Groundhog Day (Groundhog Day Groundhog Day Groundhog Day...)

Apparently life is imitating art! Just like in the Bill Murray movie, winter will be 'repeating itself' for six more weeks... at leaPunx philst according to Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog!  The tradition of forecasting the weather for the rest of the winter in early February started in medieval Europe with the celebration of Candelmas day.  The English and Scottish have several poems and songs talking about weather forecasting on that day, and how it can predict the end or continuation of winter.  In my class today, we talked about weather and its importance in our lives through different centers during our literacy period, which I will describe for you here, as well as some of the information my students 'dug up' about these meteorologically gifted rodents!  I hope you enjoy reading about our 'flow of the day' for today's literacy activities...

(Photo copyright Flickr user ckirkman)

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New Years Resolutions for All!

Welcome Happy_new_year_2back to school! I found that I had a hard time writing 2009 on the board in the date today… time passes so quickly with my students. I hope you all had as enjoyable a break as I did and are recharged and ready to go for the next part of the school year. I was able to use some time during this break to reflect on my teaching practice, and I’ve come up with some “Teaching New Years Resolutions” that I intend to put into play in my classroom and in my personal professional development over the next several months. I’m also hoping that by making these public and posting them here, I won’t wimp out and break them!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Special Education & Inclusion Classrooms are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.