Last Friday my school sent me for a professional development for our literacy program, but with the angle of being for teachers in ICT and self-contained classrooms. I was wary it would be a repeat of the session I attended last year at the same time (first full week of school). However, it turned out to be a different presenter and therefore, I came away with some really great new ideas.
One of the arguments the presenter made was that in special education classrooms, you have to readjust your timeframes and expect that work around the grade standards is going to progress at a different rate than in a general education room. This is music to the ears of anyone who teaches special ed but feels the pressure of meeting the demands that we are all under. That it came from the mouth of this staff developer makes the music even more melodic, as it is encouragement to continue on the path I am on with my students.
She shared some wonderful books that can be used in special education classrooms as a way of celebrating differences as well as addressing the inevitable frustrations that school and life present. (ADDED BONUS: You’re still doing your read alouds and other literacy work!) Please consider taking a look at:
- The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
- Unlovable by Dan Yaccarino
- Don’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
The first three books on that list were new to me, and I wanted to seize the momentum of this PD and bring it to the classroom immediately. Conveniently, we had already read Chrysanthemum, as well as another wonderful book for building community and learning to deal with adversity, Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus.
Yesterday, I brought in Giraffes Can’t Dance. It’s a wonderful book about Gerald, a giraffe who longs to dance but struggles to move with the music. He meets a friend who encourages him, and through the power of self-belief, winds up becoming the star dancer in Africa. His story is quite similar to Leo’s, a tiger who starts school unable to speak, write, read, eat neatly, or draw. Leo struggles to learn these things, but eventually, through his perseverance, does. At the end, he celebrates his newly harnessed skills with the simple but poignant declaration, “I made it!”
With these two books in my students’ minds, we had a talk today about our own current limitations. My main point was for students to appreciate that, even though the books are fiction, they provide important lessons for believing in oneself and knowing that one day, you will achieve your dreams.
Students were open about their limitations. One girl talked about having trouble reading. Another lamented the fact that writing is sometimes difficult because she doesn’t always remember letters. When I asked them if they could try to remember Leo and Gerald when they were struggling, they said they could. I also told them I would remind them about those stories. They were heartened by this.
It was really nice to see the students so honest and introspective (especially since we’ve only been together for what, 8 days?) Can simple characters like Gerald – a clumsy giraffe – and Leo – a late blooming tiger – provide inspiration for them this year?
You know what? I think they can.