I teach in an inner-city school and work with students who have a variety of disabilities including specific learning disabilities, autism, behavior disorders, and many other labels. My students are smart and capable, but they’re not always able to display these traits without some accommodations. Two years ago, I was assigned a caseload of 13 amazing, funny, and energetic students. I had worked with many of the students for at least one school year and very much looked forward to working with all of them again.
The hitch was that I was assigned to teach English Language Arts to this group of 11 14-year-olds spanning three grade levels and testing between kindergarten and fourth-grade reading levels in a 60 minute period, without being provided a curriculum source we could share. Many of the things I liked most about these students (their big personalities, decisive natures, and an unending supply of energy and enthusiasm) also made them very demanding members of a class.
I had spent the previous time we had worked together in much smaller groups spanning two or fewer grade levels and usually six or fewer students. I had tried before to work in centers doing short mini-lessons and sending students off to work independently, but it just didn’t work well for students who wanted and needed my full attention. In my previous writing assignments, I spent a lot of time consulting with students one-on-one, conferencing frequently, and helping them edit and revise every sentence until they produced a draft that satisfied them and me. There was no way I would have time for this kind of one-on-one attention in my writing assignments this year. Besides, many of my biggest personalities in the group would often capitalize quickly on my divided attention to joke around or otherwise stall to keep from working. This kind of behavior was especially frequent on my most difficult assignments, suggesting that students were likely to misbehave when they didn’t feel confident enough to complete an assignment on their own. Continue reading