Open Court in the Special Education Classroom

This question comes frequently from special education classrooms who are teaching the Open Court Reading Program…

I have a classroom of fifth graders reading at a first grade level.  Can’t I just teach my fifth graders the first grade curriculum?

While fifth grade students may not be able to read, they can certainly comprehend, are curious, and need access to the content contained in the fifth grade curriculum as much as they need to know how to read.  Maybe they can’t read but they’re not babies.

If you’re teaching fifth graders the first grade curriculum (which includes things like we take a boat to travel somewhere on the water) your students are falling behind not only in reading but also in content knowledge.  You are putting your students at a severe disadvantage in school as well as life.

That said, it’s difficult teaching a program that’s rigorous to students who are far behind.  However, program components like the workbook, the reading anthology, and word knowledge are all done whole group.  You are providing exposure to concepts that students won’t master yet but they will need.   I would hope that in special education your pacing can be modified to allow a longer period of time to work on the same units.  Nevertheless, just like in the regular ed classroom, your differentiation comes from your independent work time/workshop period.  That is when you meet with small groups, pre-teach, reteach, and support students in ways that are specific to them.  During that time, if you want to bring in a first grade decoable book to reteach the /i/ sound then feel free…although you might do better to bring in some authentic literature in that time to not only reteach skills but also support students’ appreciation of literature.

For more on Special Education, read Special 2 Me, written by a special education teacher who teaches Open Court, or Teachers At Risk, written by an always inspiring Canadian educator.

6 thoughts on “Open Court in the Special Education Classroom”

  1. You’ve asked a very important question and while I’m not familiar with the Open Court Reading Program, I am familiar with students who are working way below grade level, so the comments I’m going to make are just general ones.

    I think that it’s very important to make sure whatever you do that the students won’t consider the topic, handouts, workbooks etc too babyish. As a special education teacher, I try my best to have age appropriate graphics and age appropriate topics . Older kids are really turned off by “babyish” graphics and topics. They are quick to accuse me of giving them grade three work when that’s exactly what they need, so I have to be sure to “package ” the grade three work differently to look age appropriate for may grade nine students.

    I think the emotional component is very important because if the kids are turned off by anything they think is too babyish, they won’t learn. They already know that they are not at par with their age group and certainly don’t want to see that confirmed by graphics and topics they deem babyish.

    What you don’t want to happen is for an 11 year old student to notice that he is doing the same looking work sheets etc as his or her much younger sibling. That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s tough teaching kids that lag several grades behind. We need to be creative and flexible and collaborate with other teachers who teach these kids.

  2. Mathew, you are very right when you say that fifth grade students who are reading far below grade level need to be exposed to grade level curriculum. I have 5th grade students in my class who are at least 2 grades levels below who I have to mainstream to general education classes. When I first started teaching last year, I thought that mainstreaming them was useless. However, once I thought about it and discussed it with other teachers and educators, I realized that it made perfect sense. The learning disability usually impacts their reading & writing abilities. However, their reasoning ability (unless they’re mentally retarded) is usually fine. Almost all of my students’ reasoning abilities are not far below grade level.
    Another thing you mentioned that I’d like to address is the work. When I am making copies from a 1st or 2nd grade book, I have to make sure they don’t see the grade level because if they do, they won’t want to do the work.
    Teaching multiple grade levels is such a challenge, but I’m adapting to it. Most teachers of single grades ask how I do it, but it’s just a matter of taking the students’ concerns into consideration. It is a lot of extra work, but the payoff for the students is so worth it.

    Thanks for listening!

  3. Thank you both for your responses. Leila, you bring up teaching multiple grade levels which I didn’t even talk about. Thank you for your insights.

  4. I haven’t used Open Court but I have taught high school students whose reading levels ranged from first grade to fourth grade level. Content information was extremely important to these students so I was having to constantly adapt textbooks, magazines, and reading books so that I could accommodate all of their needs. Just because some of them had difficulties reading didn’t mean they didn’t contribute a lot to discussions or complete projects to show understanding. As teachers we need to make sure we look at different ways to assess understanding that doesn’t always involve reading. My students sometimes became so interested in a topic that their reading actually improved as they worked to learn more about something that was relevant to them.

  5. Hi Pat,

    Thanks for making the important point about students being able to discuss and comprehend grade level content even when they’re not able to read it.

  6. I taught fourth grade and the challenge was getting help finding the resources that the child could comprehend and learn the required material. This could involve, software, websites, audio (CD’s), visual materials (VHS/DVD), as well as lower level books. Librarians and special education teachers both need to be involved in the process of finding appropriate materials that provide the same material but in a different context. Since I have started freelance writing instead of teaching I have been doing more research for friends and family on alternative strategies. The main reason is time. I can write articles and find the resources. Mainstream teachers face the challenges of time and money to acquire those sources. Assistance is needed if we want more success.

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