Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Today's Lesson Flopped ...

It's easy to understand why teachers get jaded, especially after a day like today!

After eleven years as a classroom English teacher at the secondary level, I made the change to a Literacy Interventionist (basically a Reading Specialist). I get to work with kids of all ages, and I get to run diagnostics to figure out their strengths and challenge areas and then design individual programs to address those specific needs (and bolster specific strengths). 

I love my job, but at times it is very frustrating. I have one class that has me digging into the very dregs of my bag of tricks, and I'm coming up empty.

If you imagine struggling readers at the middle school level, you can probably imagine that sitting in a desk doing seatwork is not going to fly for these kiddos.

With this particular crew, I'm working with their core academic teachers to provide support through pre-teaching vocabulary, exploring articles in advance, and allowing class time to work on writing assignments. 

Teaching content vocabulary has been a flat-out nightmare ... 

"Why do we have to do this?" "Can I go to the bathroom?" "I don't want to do worksheets!" "I can't sit still after lunch." "I have to go to the bathroom!" "You're not our science teacher!" "I really have to pee!" "Why are we doing science in here?" "If you don't let me go to the bathroom, I'll pee in front of the door."  

It's seriously like something out of a bad movie.

I've tried given students lists of words to define. They hated it. Refused to do it.

Gave them a list of words defined and asked them to use it correctly in a sentence to show that they understood meaning. Hated it. Refused to do it.

Make a visualization sketch of a word when given a definition AND sample sentence? Hated. Refused.

So me being me, I asked them for suggestions after their cries of, "This is boring!" bore completely through my eardrums. It is, I explained, my job to improve their reading skills, and working with content words for an upcoming science article will make them better prepared to read the article. 

"We're not going to read the article anyway, you know," one of them pointed out.

I shrugged. "Hope springs eternal."

Then I asked them more directly, what can I do to improve your experience? 

One of them mumbled something about wanting to do work that was a bit more hands on.

Okay! Hands on! A direction ...

And so I scoured this article for potential vocabulary words. I pulled them from the text and wrote them down onto two sets of note cards (actually, they were printed on colored paper cut like note cards by my amazing paraprofessional), one green and one yellow.

I was so pumped that I almost asked my supervisor to come observe the activity. Haha, good call on not sending that particular e-mail ...


I had them do a quickwrite about what they think would be the greatest challenges faced by miners at work (the nominal topic of the article), then I divided them into groups, gave them a stack of words, and instructed them to work together to tape each word on the correct definition written on the board.

Objectives were essentially:
* Students will be able to read grade level vocabulary
* Students will be able to use process of elimination to identify definitions for a set of word
* Students will be able to work collaboratively 

Yeah, after about twelve seconds, they started whining that they wanted to sit down because they were tired. Then they said it was too hard and they refused to do it.

I showed them strategies--read through the words and make a pile of words you know, read through the definitions and see if any words jump out at you, try to narrow down options using the definitions, et cetera. They didn't care.

I told them the winning team would get a prize tomorrow. They cared enough to try for another seven minutes before flat out giving up.

I'm only a little daunted. Thirteen years of teaching, after all, and there's more than one way to skin a cat ... or teach vocabulary, as the case may be. I'll get back on the horse tomorrow and try to come up with some other creative way to reach these reluctant readers.

Today, though, I'm wallowing in the experience of my lesson flopping.

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