For a variety of reasons, I have always found the kinds of classroom decorations available for purchase in “teachers’ stores” (what the heck is a teachers store, anyway?) to be insincerely cheerful and annoyingly inauthentic. For that reason, I developed a short unit on making classroom posters. One component of this exercise is this raw text for making classroom posters on English Language Arts topics.
Observing students as they work on creating posters helps me assess a wide range of student abilities, including organizing and executing a task as well as persisting to finish that task, following directions, reading, writing, and spelling, and understanding the basic concepts the text outlines.
If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.
Posted in English Language Arts, Independent Practice, Reference Materials, Worksheets
Tagged building conceptual knowledge, building vocabulary, differentiated instruction, English language learners, executive function and organizational skills, grammar, usage, and style, learning support, planning documents, professional development, skills development, word roots
Elsewhere on this blog, I have written and commented on the issue of poverty and cognition. Friends and colleagues of mine across the country have complained that this is a forbidden issue in professional development sessions in their schools; administrators don’t want to hear about the struggles of poor kids in the classroom, preferring instead to flog the issue of educators’ “accountability.” If you been subjected to this (it happens, alas, in the institution in which I currently serve, as it has in others in this city where I’ve had the misfortune to work), you probably agree that the best thing that can be said about this discourse-ending trope is that it is tiresome.
It is also ignorant.
In any case, reading NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Association over the past couple of days, I came across the union’s offer of this handbook on teaching children living in poverty or surviving trauma. I haven’t had a chance to look at it in depth, but it’s something I want to get out to readers of this blog. If you are working with struggling learners, there is a strong possibility, if not a strong probability, that they have been subjected to these social pathologies. We owe it to our students and ourselves to understand these challenges, and to use that understanding to improve practice.
Now that screen technologies have achieved ubiquity, it is surely time (actually, that time has long since passed in my estimation) to take a critical look at the way they are shaping our lives. My fascination with gizmos has never extended beyond their utility to help me manage my complicated workload. My smartphone is off a significant portion of the week; besides basic productivity applications, I only have word games on it, and I only reach for those in moments of ennui, or when I am stuck on a train.
Perhaps the most important place to apply critical analysis of these devices is in their use by children and adolescents. I don’t think these devices exactly do wonders for kids who already have short attention spans. Late last week, to my relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidelines for appropriate use of digital devices for children. I recommend a look; it’s long been clear to me that kids are spending too much time with this technology and not enough in parks, and in their own imaginations.
I’ve been working my way slowly through Ross Greene’s books, If you teach struggling learners, I encourage you to take a look at his work. At the moment I’m reading The Explosive Child (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), in which Dr. Greene has this to say about homework (I prefer to use the term “independent practice”) and the inflexible child:
“Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe that homework is an essential component of a child’s education. Which is fine, except that many inflexible-explosive children find homework to be incredibly frustrating because they don’t have any brain energy left after a long day at school, their medication has worn off, they have learning problems that make completing homework an agonizing task, or because homework–especially long-term assignments–requires a lot of organization and planning. Thus, it’s no accident that these children often exhibit some of their most extreme inflexibility and explosiveness when they are trying to do homework.
Do these difficulties render some children incapable of completing the same homework assignments as their classmates? Yes. Is it always possible to address these difficulties effectively? No. Does having a child melt down routinely over homework help him feel more successful about doing homework? No. Are these difficulties a good reason to alter or adjust homework assignments? Yes. I’ve yet to be convinced that the best way to instill a good work ethic in a child–or to help his parents become actively or productively involved in his education–is by inducing and enduring five hours of meltdowns every school night. The best way to instill a good work ethic is to assign homework that is both sufficiently challenging and doable in terms of quantity and content. Achieving this goal, of course, takes a little extra effort by the adults who are overseeing the assigning and completing of homework.”
Today is the first day of classes in New York City. While I await my second period class, I’ll take a moment to post something interesting I gleaned while reading my first professional development book of the year, Dr. Mel Levine’s excellent and humane One Mind at a Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). If you work with special education students, and particularly students with limited attention spans, your will recognize the cognitive phenomena Dr. Levine describes.
Selection control, in Mel Levine’s words, is a cognitive process in which “…attention rapidly inspects candidates for admission to the thinking brain, filters out and discards what it deems irrelevant, welcomes a chosen few stimuli into consciousness, and then invites the most timely and informative of these selections to penetrate deeply enough to be understood and/or remembered or else used right away.” In the following paragraph, Dr. Levine spells out the challenges that teachers working with students with attentional difficulties face: “Selection control disposes of worthless stimuli, such as the quiet hum of a fluorescent bulb or the mauve hue of your teacher’s panty hose or totally irrelevant memories that may be competing for attention. Selection control does not actually interpret or put to use what we hear or see; it just picks out the very best items, the most important and currently relevant data. Selection control that works well is especially valuable in view of the fact that a mind has very little capacity from moment to moment for brand-new information. The entryway that leads to conscious awareness is narrow; space is limited. So selection control is obliged to be highly refined.”
Dr Levine continues, with this idea for a lesson plan: “To tighten selection control among his entire class, one teacher I work with, John Reilly, gave students an article to read and asked them to summarize it in one hundred words or less. After they submitted their summaries, he returned these and asked the kids to write a fifty-word summary of their summary. The following week they were asked to write a twenty-five-word summary of their fifty-word summary. All the while he emphasized the critical importance of determining relative degrees of importance in globs of information, a great academic lesson.”
At some point this year, I’ll develop a lesson plan for this form of writing assignment, which looks like a good way to assist students in developing their own methods and habits of selection control.