Thursday, October 30, 2014

The FIVE Best Differentiated Reading Websites

I spent my first four or five years of co-teaching and supporting students in the inclusive classroom by reading grade level nonfiction texts and then slowly rewriting the texts at a lower level. I have entire social studies and science books modified to meet the different needs of students. It was nuts! During my fifth or sixth year, I discovered online reading passages and I've never looked back! Here are my top five favorites.

5. The website: www.manythings.org/voa/history/

    The pros:

  • It's free, free, free! 
  • There is an audio for everything!
  • The audio is done by people and not robots and some of them are GREAT!
  • There are so many nonfiction resources and topics
  • The American History for English Learners is perfect for social studies 
    The Cons:
  • The text is not differentiated so the audio component is important
  • There are no comprehension questions built in but the texts are so rich that it makes it easy to come up with your own
  • It would be great to have more science texts here!

4. The website:www.readinga-z.com

    The pros:

  • It is organized by reading level
  • It is also organized by topic, skill, and teaching focus 
  • There are an incredible number of texts 
    The cons:
  • A lot of people like Reading A-Z and I just don't. I don't have a really strong justification but...
  • It costs money- I recommend your school signing up for this service
  • I personally don't like the format for middle school. 
  • The paper books seem wasteful.
  • The concepts for the lower level texts tend to not have comprehension points that are as strong or meaningful

3. The website: www.school.eb.com 

    The pros:

  • It has a variety of texts at the elementary, middle, and high school levels meaning they have the same concepts at different levels- natural differentiation! 
  • The text can be read aloud 
  •  Each topic has pictures with captions that connect to the content
  • They provide links to other texts that are connected to the topic 
    The Cons:

  • The elementary texts are pretty long and involve higher level vocabulary words.
  • It costs money- I highly recommend that your school signs up
  • It's hard to scroll down and read along with the text when the iPad is reading aloud. 
  • The printed version does not include pictures. 

2. The website: www.readworks.org/books/passages

    The pros:

  •  You can sign up for free!
  •  There are informational and literary passages
  • All the passages are short
  • You can search by topic, grade, lexile level, text type, and strategy

    The cons:

  • There isn't much to complain about- it's a great site. I'd love there to be even more stuff to choose from!

1. The website: www.newsela.com

    The pros:

  • You can sign up for free! 
  • The same texts have been set up to read at different Lexile levels
  • There are comprehension questions connected to each text
  • The texts are current and change each week
  • This is a great site to use for all students for current event assignments

    The cons:

  • It doesn't read the text aloud BUT I use the accessibility tab on the iPad so everything can be read aloud- easy peasy!
  • I wish that they had a literary version of newsela. How wonderful that would be! 




Are there great sites with reading passages that I should know about? Fill me in!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

People First Language

People First Language matters so much to me both as a teacher and as a person. This way of talking and thinking is so important to me that sometimes I have a difficult time speaking about it eloquently or meaningfully. This blog is my best shot of doing just that.


People First Language is important because it puts the person BEFORE the disability. In an article about People First Language, Kathy Snow writes, "A disability is, first and foremost, a medical diagnosis, and when we define people by their diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals (www.disabilityisnatural.com/)." One of the best (and easiest) ways to combat prejudice surrounding disabilities and people with disabilities is to focus on the language that we use. When we put the person before the disability, we are describing what the person has and not what the person is.



From a teaching standpoint, this is important because the way we talk about students ends up- subconsciously or not- coloring the way we support and teach them. When we talk about "IEP kids" or "SPED students" or "the Learning Disabled girl" we are lumping students together by their diagnosis. The unspoken assumption becomes that all students under the "SPED" or "IEP" label require the same supports and have the same needs.


Remember, the I in a student's IEP stands for Individualized. By putting the person first, we are able to see them for the complicated, interesting, and unique individual that they are.  I'll end with something else by Kathy Snow: " People First Language reflects good manners, not 'political correctness'...(www.disabilityisnatural.com/)". Totally, Kath.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day Three with Math Rotations!

This is really a dream come true!

Sandy and Jenn- two middle school co-teachers- agreed to give math centers a try for their 6/7 grade math class. I became obsessed! I trolled the internet for good explanations and organization around math rotations or math centers. I found the perfect resource at one of my all time favorite sites right here. Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 does a great job of breaking down how to set up math rotations. I used her blog and worksheets as a guideline to make this work for the 6th/7th grade split. So, here's how I broke it down:

1. Structure:
The 6th/7th split has two co-teachers and 16 students. There are also two different tutors that come in once a week each. This means that on 2 out of every 5 days there are three adults to every 16 students. A dream scenario for small group instruction. We have 60 minutes of math class time.

Math time looks like:

9:05- 9:10     Do Now (entrance slip)
9:10- 9:30     Rotation 1
9:30- 9:50     Rotation 2
9:50- 9:55     Exit Slip

There are three stations available. Students rotate through 2 of them each day.

Instruction with the math teacher, Sandy. Students see her for 20 minutes every day.

Skill practice and review with the learning specialist, Jenn. All students see her for 20 minutes every other day.


IXL on the computer. Students practice math skills for 20 minutes every other day.


2. Using Stephanie's template (found here), I created a schedule for each student. Each student received a clear, plastic sheet with their schedule and IXL password on one side (hidden from the picture below) and Math Rotation expectations on the other. We used Stephanie's expectations and I created a partially completed note sheet for the students. This way they had to write down the key behavior expectations and key words instead of passively listening to a teacher telling them to "just behave"! It allowed for a little more ownership.



Students are split into 6th and 7th grade. This is the easiest way for us to teach 6th grade math to the 6th graders and 7th grade math to the 7th graders. Otherwise, the groups are completely heterogeneous. This is actually easier for us as there might be one student in each group who is learning above the content given and one student who needs modifications, more scaffolding, or specialized instruction. This allows the teachers to more easily meet students' needs within the small group.  


3. So what does this mean for inclusive schooling?

  • Modifications and accommodations can be more easily met in a smaller teacher led group
  • Students can work on differentiated work on the IXL computer activity
  • Teachers are more easily able to reteach material and informally assess when students are confused or are not understanding the material 
  • Students are able to move and be active after 20 minutes of work
  • Students are able to learn in two different groups and in two different ways in one 60 minute block 


I will be back with updates on how it's going.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Middle School Norms

Yesterday after school I met with the middle school team in the school library. It was a Thursday- the day the general education lesson plans are due- and everybody was busy. Even so, everyone made the time and commitment to spend what ended up being around an hour of time to talk about the nitty gritty day to day expectations and procedures of co-teaching.

We are five weeks into this school year.

We had already had a co-teaching PD.

Schedules were made for both the general education teachers and learning specialists.

Small group instruction, team teaching, and alternative teaching had already started to take place.

Now was time to reflect on those last five weeks and put some true norms in place. Attached is the chart we made as well as the typed up version given to every middle school teacher. I came up with the norms surrounding IEPs but the team came up with the rest. Honestly, some of these norms are different than what I have done in the past. But that's kind of the point, isn't it? This is our team for this year and our needs are based on our current experiences. Feel free to take a peek and use as much or as little of the chart when creating your own norms. My expectation is that this chart will change and grow throughout the year.




I just received a book with pages upon pages of supports around working as a team so expect more about this topic as the year progresses!