I have a confession to make:
We are always behind in our classroom.
And I'm good with that.
Walk through the halls at my school at any given time during the day, and you are sure to run into someone who is in a hurry. When the bell rings between classes, students and teachers stream out of their rooms and speed down corridors like express trains barreling down tracks. Although the students are expected to walk quietly in straight lines, they are more likely moving about in "buzzing" clusters, stealing those valuable socializing minutes while they can because once all they are quietly tucked away in their next class, it is back down to the serious business of "covering" curriculum. And lots of it.
In our classroom, we have the luxury of being self contained.
This model works extremely well in a co-teaching classroom.
Most of the time, we get to ignore the bell. That's not to say we don't have to manage our time wisely, but we have a
lot more flexibility. Thank goodness.
It seems there is a real contradiction between the amount of curriculum we are expected to "cover" in a school year and the level at which students are expected to master the curriculum covered. Simply disseminating information,
assigning homework, providing a study guide, and administering an assessment doesn't ensure deep, meaningful learning. Students need to be active participants in their learning. They need to be involved in establishing "real world" purpose. They need to activate their prior
knowledge and share their wonders. They need to explore, discover, connect, discuss, create, and revise. They need opportunities to learn in ways that address their learning needs, styles, and preferences. All of this takes time.
Active student engagement + time = deep, meaningful and lasting learning
So in our classroom, we go slow to go fast and some how it all works out in the end.
We value quality over quantity.
We believe less is more.
And therefore, we are always a bit behind.
(But please don't tell anyone I said that.)
Jamie, my co-teaching partner, is not in the room first period of the day. This is our science/social studies block. Although a third of our class has diagnosed learning disabilities, the powers that be have determined a special educator is not needed during this time; a para-educator will do just fine. Lucky for me, Charlotte our para is fabulous. She is intuitive and responsive to student needs. Designing and differentiating the science and social studies curriculum, however, is all on me. But here's the thing, more often than not, what's best for our student's with special needs is just best practice and benefits all students.
When beginning our unit on Life Cycles and the Monarch Butterfly, all of the students in our fourth grade classroom needed explicit instruction in note taking. I used a document camera to project a high interest informational text with beautiful photographs on to our whiteboard. Right beside it, I used the Bright Links projector to display lined paper just like the paper in the students' science notebooks.
All students can benefit from visual supports.
I modeled the process of close reading: reading and rereading while stopping to think aloud about the text and determine importance. I modeled paraphrasing key information and note taking with bullets.
All students can benefit from clear models.
I slowly turned the responsibility of close reading and note taking over to the students. First I asked for student volunteers to point out key information from the text, next students determined key information in their table groups, finally students determined key information independently and then shared in their table groups.
All students can benefit from a gradual release of responsibility.
When it came time for the students to strike out on their own, I differentiated by providing a multitude of resources (books, articles, websites, online videos, slide shows, and even a radio podcast). The note taking rule was: if you don't understand it , don't add it to your notes.
All students can benefit from having a variety of resources at
their level to choose from.
Most students wanted to work in partnerships, and they wanted to choose their own partners. I was apprehensive about allowing them to do this at first. I usually match up partners carefully with a great deal of forethought. We decided to give it a try under the condition they chose a "Just Right" learning partner who might not necessarily be a best bud. They did a great job choosing partners. I was so impressed!
All students can benefit from collaborating with a "Just Right" partner.
Over the next several days, the students were completely engaged in their research and note taking. Charlotte and I were able to circulate the room providing support where needed. In the end, all students were successful. They were proud of their notes and amazed by all they had learned.
All students benefit from best practice.