Thursday, January 31, 2008

jeopardy terra nova

So, I've been searching for exciting ways to teach test-taking skills and review English skills with my 8th graders. They have to take the Terra Nova tests in March and while we don't like to teach toward the test, if they don't pass these tests, they don't pass 8th grade. The pressure is mounting, because while I love my students to death, I don't want to see them next year (because it will mean that they didn't pass). So here it is. It's not a revolutionary idea, but they're getting excited about this approach to going through the test prep book, and that's all we can ask for.

We've divided them into teams. They chose their teams, they chose their team names, they drew us a mascot which we put on a posterboard/scoreboard. I teach the lessons and they do the practice problems (in the book or in other resource materials that we've outlined that focuses on the same skill... such as inferencing, comparing and contrasting, sequencing events in a text) as a group, helping each other and needing to come to a consensus before they're done with the problems (this encourages group work, THINKING and students justifying their answers by using the text to back it up!!).

On Thursdays, they take the unit test (which means we teach 5-6 lessons in 3 days... but they're motivated by competition, so it's working, so far) and their test scores are averaged with the rest of their group members and posted on the scoreboard. On Fridays, we play Jeopardy! I've created a game that's based on Terra Nova skills and also connects to the novels we're reading, and also brings in grammar and usage skills. It's also a reinforcement and review of the skills they learned this week. We're rotating "team captains" every week so everyone gets to participate orally. TRying to figure out how to work writing into it, too. So far, it's been really successful as the kids want to compete in-class and with their colleagues in the other sections of our class.

We'll see how it develops from here. Just wanted to share. Happy hopeful snowday tomorrow, though if it is one, I'll be sad about missing Jeopardy.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

thoughts on special ed.

our staff meeting today was about the intervention process of identifying and working with students that we wish to refer for special education services. i had just been talking with ms. h about a few of my resource room students, and had a discussion with ms. p that was really enlightening. we discussed the difference between inclusion and self-contained classrooms in our school and how special needs students are identified, as well as how we service them, and how progress is measured.

we talked a lot about differentiation of instruction and the need for all teachers, general ed or special ed, to learn how to teach in a multi-modal way -- recognizing the different skill levels and learning needs of students, and thinking about this when we give directions for an assignment, design lessons and assessments. this can mean using visual aids, the board, saying directions aloud, drawing examples, modeling for students, individual tutoring and assistance (whenever possible), and individual, group and whole-class learning situations.

it seemed sad to me that she was so excited about my desire to learn and to assist my students as best i can, and said that most general ed teachers are too busy to take the time and make the effort to consider the students' learning needs. it really is up to classroom teachers to educate themselves about their students, know your kids and advocate for them, for the betterment of their lives. just because they're special ed students doesn't mean that they can't or won't live full and vibrant lives. to the contrary, making a decision like that about a student is to treat them with discrimination. it's important to check yourself and your pre-conceived notions about what dis/ability means -- we're all different in what we excel at, we all need help in some areas of our lives.

bottom line: i try to advocate for all of my students, know them, know their learning styles and consider this always. i live by differentiation on the daily.

more thoughts soon.