Reading, and in most cases, school in general, is a very frustrating experience for most learning-disabled high school students. What makes learning particularly frustrating for these individuals is not the lack of intellectual ability, but the lack of ability to perceive, process or express information in an organized manner. Unfortunately, the learning-disabled student by the time he reaches high school has had few classroom experiences which developed his ability to think on levels consistent with his peers. This generally results because of continued time spent in remedial classrooms developing basic skills which at best will still leave him several years below his peers in various areas.
In my role as a high school resource teacher, I service two general groups of learning-disabled students, those who can participate in regular academic classes, and those who can not. I have observed that when those two groups of students come to high school, they experience two major problems in addition to their basic handicaps. Those problems are these: The students who are able to participate in regular academic classes not only are behind in basic skills, but also are at a disadvantage because of a lack of exposure to awarenesses and general frameworks of information which the subject area teacher assumes the student has already learned; the second problem involves those students whose skills are so deficient that they will never be able to participate in regular high school academic classes. Although my primary responsibility is to improve these students’ basic skills, it seems obvious that something “new” has to be tried if after years of specific remediation techniques these students are still functionally illiterate. Not only can’t these students read, but they are convinced they’ll never be able to read.
This unit will focus on one small solution to the problems blocking the learning of the high school learning-disable (LD) student. In general since most LD students experience reading problems, the goals of the unit will concern not only improving the reading skills of the LD student, but also will concern improving the LD student’s performance in the regular high school English class. In addition, for both groups my general goals will be to introduce literature in a non-threatening small group situation, to teach some basic elements of fiction, to study the structure of five short stories, and to hopefully have the students enjoy the stories.
To accomplish these goals very specific objectives are needed. In this unit I will develop a plan to meet the following objectives; 1) to motivate the students to read 2) to provide some general information concerning the development of literature 3) to introduce and define plot, character, setting, theme, and point of view as elements of fiction 4) to expose students to the short story as a distinct form of literature, 5) to have the students read and analyze five short stories according to plot, character, setting, theme, and point of view, 6) to have the students recognize that literature relates to their own lives, 7) to allow each student to be exposed to and evaluated on the material presented in the texts according to his individual abilities.
The unit will cover an eight week period and will be divided into two separate sections. Since motivating the students to read is a key objective the first three-week section will focus on it. In this section the lessons will be teacher-centered (lectures, teacher-led discussions) in the beginning with a gradual shift to student-centered lessons involving student deductions, student-centered discussions and related activities created by the students.
The strategies in section one are purposely geared towards discussion with a de-emphasis on reading and writing by the student. This approach relies on the LD student’s strengths while avoiding his weaknesses. The learning atmosphere created, hopefully, will be non-threatening, non-frustrating, and without failure. Another reason for this particular type of strategy relates to the very nature of special education itself. Many times special education in its zeal to remediate all of the student’s deficits in many ways individualizes the student “to death”. Because of the dynamics of individualized techniques, group interaction in the learning situation becomes secondary. This is unfortunate since many times the LD student’s greatest strength is his ability to gather information by listening, asking questions and discussing. This is not to say that individualization does not have an important part in the overall strategy of educating the learning-disable student, but it should not be the total program and must be balanced with small group and large group activities.
The second section of the unit, weeks 4-8, will involve reading and studying five short stories. In this section the first week will center around “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe, the second week “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, the third week “To Build a Fire” by Jack London, the fourth week a short selection from
by Richard Wright and the fifth week a selection to be chosen by the students themselves.
The strategies for section two involve individualized, as well as, group activities. This approach is necessary for several reasons. Since within any class of students with learning disabilities there is a wide range of reading and writing abilities, and since reading is primarily an individual, silent experience, it is particularly important that the texts be chosen with each student’s reading level in mind. For example, it is not unusual for me to have within a group of six or seven LD students three sixteen year olds of average, and often above-average, intelligence one reading on a first grade level, a second on a third grade level and the third on a fifth grade level. Thus, although as a whole the group will be reading the same story each week, several students may have different texts suited to their individual readings levels. If one looks hard enough it is possible to find various stories in texts of different reading levels, I have used several in this unit. The same strategy also applies to written expression. The varieties of writing skills within a class of LD students sometimes requires a separate worksheet format for each student depending on the characteristics of his disability. For this reason I have included in the unit a general chart outlining skills and strategies for developing worksheets and evaluation materials according to each student’s individual written expression abilities. Also within section two a large part of each week will be designated for group discussion and communications among the students concerning the stories they will have read. This will be the most important activity of each week.