Category Archives: Vocabulary

See Students As Individuals Not As Diagnoses

This post is a wish for a perfect world but if you agree with me, you can do something about it fairly easily. I am really trying to make a conscious effort to adjust my own thinking and the way I talk about students.

I think we need to be careful not to refer to children as special education students or GATE (gifted and talented) kids. The students who are gifted are really students who have been identified as gifted. Students who are not gifted are students who are gifted in ways we haven’t identified yet. Special education students are students who are receiving special education services.

Usually I hate things that are simply a matter of semantics but I don’t think this is one of those cases. The way we refer to a student when we speak about them affects our thinking about that student in subtle and not so subtle ways. Our expectations of our students, of course, influence the achievement of those students. As we know there are inequities in the labeling of children as gifted and special ed, it is even more important that we resist those labels as permanent diagnoses.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t differentiate instruction or individually adjust our instruction in the face of one of these diagnoses. However, what I see happening is that once a student is identified as “special ed,” the regular ed teacher often throws up her hands as if there’s no longer any way to reach that student. Students who are identified as gifted are often given additional access to the limited amounts of technology in inner-city classrooms and this is not fair or beneficial to our society. Often those other students could be gifted if given twenty-first century skills with which to communicate. I say this, having seen how those students who sit in class unmotivated and possibly unnoticed are very often the ones who are most adept at using the computer as a communication tool when given the chance.

What do you think?

Teach Units, Not Stories

I’ve been noticing that a lot of teachers get bogged down by individual stories in the Open Court units and miss the big ideas of the units.

While you do need to teach the stories in the anthology and will need to scaffold vocabulary just enough to give access to English Language Learners, the individual stories are almost irrelevant except as they relate to the big ideas of the unit. So while the 2nd grade Kindness unit has two stories about whales and I show a two minute clip about whales so students understand what they are, how they move, and how they sound, this is not a unit about whales. Whales are in the stories as examples of humans being kind to animals and on a broader level how you show kindness to people who are helpless (animals being an example).

By relating stories to the big ideas of the unit, you can also relate those same ideas to other curricular areas thereby increasing student comprehension and knowledge across the curriculum.

So how do you focus on units?

You need to sit down before starting each unit and figure out what are the big concepts of the unit that you want to teach. The manual makes several suggestions for each story and offers sample questions, you won’t be able to teach all of these. Choose the ones that relate to your state standards, the ones that make the most sense to you, the ones that seem most relevant. I like to do this with my grade level as it’s helpful to bounce ideas off of other people. If you have a theme, then suddenly you have a purpose for why you’re reading what you’re doing.

I’ll offer a few examples…

  • In the first grade folktales unit, we decided to focus on elements of folktales. In addition to the anthology, I exposed the students to as many folktales as I could, each time relating them to folktale elements such as things happening in 3′s, heroes and villains, morals, etc… When students wrote their own folktale, naturally it had these elements.
  • While you certainly teach about camouflage in the second grade “Look Again” unit, the meaning you are teaching is much deeper if you use camouflage as an example animal adaptations and adaptations in general. Then you can relate adaptation to social studies and even getting along with one another on the play ground.
  • The Cooperation and Competition unit could offer much more to students than just understanding what “cooperation” and “competition.” Why not focus on rules for playing games, running for office etc. and then relating cooperation and competition to those rules?
  • My links to the theme are not “the right answer.” You need to choose how you’re going to approach each them and then weave that thread throughout the unit. When you do this, other components of the program such as the Concept/Question Board and handing-off discussions are going to be far more meaningful because you’re no longer talking about just the characters in a particular story. You now have a broader theme that you can relate that story to.

    How to Scaffold Open Court Vocabulary for English Language Learners

    an excerpt from Open Court Resources.com

    Here is an example from second grade “Look Again” unit of how you can scaffold difficult vocabulary/unit concepts for English Language Learners so that all students can participate in conversations and writing about a particular unit.

    Background for Teachers: Four Types of Camouflage:

    1. Protective Coloration: blending in for protection or to surprise prey

    2. Mimicry: pretending to be something else to hide (like the walking stick) or to frighten other animals (like the moth)

    3. Changing Colors: to match surroundings (like the chameleon or octopus)

    4. Costumes: wearing a disguise (like some crabs)

    Scaffolding for English Language Learners:

    Many students, particularly those learning English might try to explain how an animal uses camouflage by saying “The cheetah uses camouflage by camouflaging with the grass.”

    Try to insist upon more exact language when speaking and writing about animals. Provide students with a frame such as this one to assist them in speaking about animal camouflage:

    Some refer to this scaffolding as a linguistic frame.