Saturday, July 15, 2017

Creating Community and Deep Thinking in Special Education: The Japanese Relocation

   In our Resource Room we spent several months reading about an important and tragic time in our history: The Japanese Relocation. We had the opportunity to have a guest in our classroom: a 96-year-old survivor of the Japanese internment. It seemed like the perfect time, in our current political and social climate, to learn about a shameful time in history. The children were appalled when Mrs. E told us that after her family came back to our town on the California coast, her sister did not have a seat on the all-white school bus! The other high school students had placed books on every vacant seat until finally, one girl moved her books so the Japanese-America student could sit down. They heard about the family being swept away on buses with the blinds drawn, only one suitcase for all their belongs as they made their way to the desert for internment. 
   Upon talking about the internment with our school librarian, I learned about a new book: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban, about a Japanese-American girl from the state of Washington who was interned with her family in the California desert. The book was a beautifully readable piece of historic fiction that I knew most of my students could access, through shared and independent reading. Needless to say, they loved it!

“Your classroom is a place where students learn how to read, write, and expand all of their language skills, but it is much more. It is a laboratory where they learn how to be confident, self-determined, kind, and democratic,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017)
   
   Fountas and Pinnell continue to be my mentors for teaching reading. I have yet to find a concept or philosophy of theirs that I disagree with. Children with learning disabilities, autism, and emotional disturbance still need high-quality literature and thought-provoking topics to promote the love of reading.

Students wrote letters from the point of view of a child at an interment camp, and created art depicting cold mountain regions, or deserts where the camps were located.


   2017 was the anniversary of a shameful time in our history. The Japanese relocation during World War II took place from 1942 to 1945. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required all people of Japanese ancestry on the west coast of the U.S., to report to detention centers. These centers were located in desert and mountain areas in the west, forcing families to live in extreme hot or cold weather in desolate locations. Families were forced to abandon farms, businesses, friends, and schools, and were given a few days notice to pack their most precious belongings in one suitcase. 
   We discovered several other beautiful books to support our unit on this time in history. One was Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling, which tells the
true story of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munimitsu, and the discrimination both girls faced during this time period. Excellent and readable historical fiction which tells the story of two girls in southern California in the 40’s: Aki was sent to an interment camp with her family, and Sylvia and other Mexican-American children were denied access to the local school when they rented the house from Aki’s family. Sylvia’s father filed the historical desegregation lawsuit: Mendez vs. Westminster School District. 




   Our students in the Resource class were riveted; there was much discussion about the injustice, and they displayed feelings of empathy and understanding as they put themselves in the place of a Japanese-American child in 1942. They wrote letters and created phenomenal artwork, and proudly told their parents about a time in history that should never be repeated. 



Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sunday Comics and the BFG- Resource Students are Learning to Love Reading!

Poverty, learning disabilities, second-language barriers. This is what we are looking at in our resource class. Oh yeah, homelessness too.
We work on Common Core, do word work, guided reading, and our main focus is what is most important: the love of reading and finding the right book.
I have the honor of teaching special education resource kids at a diverse school. I teach children from college-educated families, and some who live in a home with 20+ family members paying the rent. Some of my students' parents work two jobs, and others work nights packaging fruit because they are undocumented. Some spend their nights at the overflow homeless shelter, and some are tucked in at night by two dads. What a gift to teach these children! 
I have learned many lessons on how to be the best teacher I can (and some days I'm not!), in my 35 years of special education. I have learned from teachers, parents, students, experts, librarians, and colleagues. 
They have got to find a book they love. They have got to discover that reading is more fun than gaming. They have got to realize that they are readers! I believe I have some teaching-reading skills at this point in my career, and one of them is facilitating finding joy in reading. I bring in the Sunday comics, write units for fine literature at their grade level, stock my classroom library with accessible books, and give them time to read. 
The good news is, that it is happening- they run into the room, grab a book, read with a volunteer, gobble a handful of goldfish crackers, and- they are reading!
Lucky teacher.


The BFG by Roald Dahl is a fabulous book for 4-6th graders! There are many opportunities for learning inference skills, word-chunking the BFG's great language, his wonderful grammar, and learning empathy and humor! 




Sunday, September 18, 2016

Growth Mindset~Our Most Magnificent Things

I love this book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Squires! In our special education resource room, we read the book, and summarized it with this activity: 

Growth Mindset Reading and Writng - The Most Magnificent Thing

These students are in 4th-6th grade. They completed the summary frame in their own words and illustrated it. Then they drew their own Magnificent Things! At the bottom of our bulletin board are pages from several different students' journals which I put together to tell the story. So proud of these learners!



Sunday, August 28, 2016

Growth Mindset and Special Education

   The concept of growth mindset embraces the idea that intelligence is not fixed, but can develop and grow. As quoted from Carol Dweck, one of the leading researchers in the area of growth mindset, "A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve." 
   Teachers who encourage a growth mindset in their students teach them to persevere, try new strategies, ask questions, and work hard. With growth mindset teaching, mistakes are OK to make, and are simply a signal to try something new, or to practice skills. Growth mindset applies to academics, sports, social skills, and life in general. Growth Mindset truly applies to children with disabilities, struggling writers, and children learning English. They spend much of their academic and social energy trying to succeed, while being met with many failures and obstacles. 
   I am looking forward to this school year as I try new reading and writing activities with my Special Education Resource students and English Learners. Here are the activities I have recently been working on~ Enjoy!

Growth Mindset Bundle for Special Education, ELL, and All Students






   

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Teaching Special Ed is not for Sissies!

Special education teachers have to love what they do. But it is not for the faint of heart! The field of special education is fascinating and rewarding. But it is hard work. You can't really turn it off when you go home to your own family, and the paperwork and meetings are never-ending. But it is worth it, if you love it!
You get to:

  • Teach children who learn differently
  • Watch them grow and mature
  • Watch their language unfold
  • Help them learn to make friends
  • Teach children to love reading
  • Meet amazing families
  • See your students' self-esteem blossom 

And here's the part that's not for sissies!

You will:
  • Spend hours writing reports and IEPs
  • See children who struggle
  • Advocate for children who struggle
  • Not always agree with the system
  • Feel overwhelmed from time to time
I guarantee it is worth it. Roll up your sleeves and start loving this incredible job of being a special educator! 

I have spent the last few weeks re-doing and updating my special education manual 
Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Special Education Paraeducators are Very Important People!

   I'm at it again! I am updating my Resource Specialist Manual for 2016. Special Education is constantly evolving, and I am learning new things every year that I teach. I am adding a section on paraeducators, since they are such an important part of the special education program. Last year we had 4-5 paras working with resource students in our school. They are key to making sure our students are able to access their education, academically and socially. Below is a new exerpt from my manual, How to Be a Resource Specialist, which I should have revised by mid-July. Enjoy!


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Our Students Who Hate to Write

Special Education teachers know about these students! There are also plenty of students who are not in Special Education who have huge barriers to the writing process. Here are a couple of tips from my new resource: Special Education Writer's Workshop Informational Writing

Enjoy!
Laura