"...words are just voices on paper." - Maxwell Kane, Freak the Mighty
The underlying rationale for the creation of this unit is that it will allow for the instruction students at multiple learning levels through various modalities to increase both literacy and writing skills. The use of poetry, songs, speeches, as well as movies and television commercials will help students to learn to listen to and express voice, and it will make it possible to instruct students with diverse strengths, weaknesses, cognitive abilities, and learning styles. This unit will be helpful to teachers of classes at all learning levels.
Since the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (ECHA) Public Law 94-142 in 1975-- now entitled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA (Public Law 101-476), Individualized Education Programs (IEP) has been a requirement of law for all children and youth with disabilities found eligible for special education. Each students IEP must list goals and objectives for educational activities and include information about the student's assessment and educational placement, the instructional content areas to be addressed throughout the year, the timelines and persons responsible for activities corresponding to the goals and objectives, how student progress will be evaluated, and the related services that each student needs in order to benefit from his or her special education.
As an eighth grade teacher in a classroom that is inclusive of students with and without special educational needs, I individualize all lessons to address each student's specific learning ability and Individualized Learning Plan (IEP). My students' comprehension and writing levels range from first grade to eighth grade. My students have learning and intellectual disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, as well as behavioral issues. I also have students who speak English as a second language. I typically develop several versions of each lesson plan to address my students' many learning styles and IEP's. For example, a typical lesson with an objective of showing comprehension of the main idea would have the following approaches. Group A students would be required to write a new title for the selection and use specific information from the reading selection to support their response. Group B would be asked what they believe the main idea is but may not be asked to support their response. Group C students may simply be asked to copy the title of the article and write the words "main idea" next to it, while Group D would be given a picture that represented the story's theme and asked to orally explain what the picture is mainly about. Consistently developing and teaching different variations of lessons is necessary for my students to achieve learning objectives.
One requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act (Public Law 107-110) is for all students to be assessed using the same assessment measures. Students are rigorously instructed on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) objectives since the CMT is the assessment measure used by New Haven Public Schools. My students are more interested in how each lesson affects their grades than they are with the actual learning of the desired skills. I believe that students need to be evaluated to assess strengths and weaknesses. I also believe that teachers should create lessons that not only teach desired objectives; but also inspire students to become life long learners. My Assistant Principal who often visited my class informed me of his experiences with using poetry as a teaching tool. He informed me that he experienced students at many learning levels show comprehension when responding to poetry. This conversation inspired me to use poetry to teach learning objectives. I believe poetry allows students at all learning levels to analyze and interpret written works because poems are generally shorter and hold a higher interest level than other texts assigned.
At the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year I decided to use poetry to achieve my goal of having motivated students who read and write due to inspiration instead of simply completing an assignment to receive a passing grade (with little retention of learned skills). I began my first lesson (on the first day of school) by introducing "The Seedling" by Paul Laurence Dunbar and informing my students that they would be required to learn the entire poem and recite it in front of the class. Students' learning styles were easily addressed due to my plan to have students pace their learning of the poem at one sentence per day. I expected my students to organize a revolt. They instead began reading and reciting the poem. Some students even memorized the first stanza during the first class period. I then asked the class what they believed the poem was mainly about. Almost the entire class responded that the poem was about a seed becoming a plant. I next asked what message the poem was trying to convey. I was amazed when almost my entire class responded that the poem was about a child growing up. My students who were at various areas of the spectrum of comprehension and skill level were collaboratively interpreting a written work with little direct instruction. It was at this point that I realized that poetry can be used as a learning tool to achieve many goals in writing and reading. Poems seemed to maintain a higher-interest level than the assigned text and involved expressed messages that were easier for students to analyze through-out all learning levels. Upon the realization of the effectiveness of poetry, I decided to use popular songs to achieve Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) objectives. It is my belief that songs are poems put to music. I was once again amazed at how my students were able to display comprehension of the text from a song. The comprehension was remarkable because my students were not able to show proficient understanding of the same comprehension goal through reading stories from an assigned text. I was equally fascinated when I revisited the assigned text (that my students seemingly were not able to comprehend) and had a majority of my students respond to comprehension questions proficiently. The assigned text did not appeal to my students. They repeatedly would state that they found the text boring and too long. The songs were generally shorter (usually not longer than five minutes) compressed stories. Students were able to transfer their understanding of the text of a song when assessed on the same criteria from an assigned text.
This unit will be helpful to teachers who plan on integrating literacy and language arts lessons creatively. This unit is designed to last for six weeks and is divided into three two-week long sub-units that will each fulfill literacy and language arts objectives. The sub-units are titled "Hip Hop and the Classics," "Who Gets It Right the First Time?," and "What Are We Really Watching?" The selected works will focus on analyzing, comparing, and mirroring the voice of writers, poets, and orators, such as Talib Kweli, Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, Notorious B.I.G., Rudyard Kipling, Zion I, Dylan Thomas, Tupac Shakur, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Materials I will use for movie and television commercial analysis and comparisons in this unit include:
The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, Misery, Holes,
and various television commercials. I will also use the United States Constitution for exercises on revision.