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.

Butterfly Rsearch
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.

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