Currently, I am a regular education fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut, in an inclusive classroom setting with both regular and Special Education students. Betsy Ross serves both urban and suburban students from surrounding areas of New Haven. It is for this reason that we are an Inter–district magnet school; all students from surrounding areas are encouraged to apply and attend the New Haven Public School System. Betsy Ross is founded on the principle that through the arts, students will learn, think, and see their academics in an innovative, challenging way. Each student attends five academic classes and one specific art class (theatre, dance, photography, etc.) every day. Betsy Ross is a middle school serving students in grades five through eight.
At present, I teach in an inclusive classroom setting with a Special Education teacher. There are two teachers in the room, modeling the co–teaching principle. The Special Education teacher collaborates and consults with me on the modifications and adaptations of the Regular Education curriculum for all four of the academic subjects taught in the room (Language Arts, Social Studies, Math and Science). There are twenty–four students in the classroom, nine of whom have individualized Education Plans, which involve many modifications and adaptations to the regular curriculum. The remainder's functional ability levels range from basic–low leveled learners to advanced learners. The classroom has an array of learning disabilities present that range from the intellectually disabled student to the visually impaired student. This is the only fifth grade class, thus far, participating in the biography unit, but I hope that all four fifth–grade classes will participate in the unit next year. My class is unique in that we have a culturally, diverse group of young people who are extremely artistic and creative with their writings and projects presented in class.
The diversity present within the classroom is rich and will lend itself well to this biography unit. My students fall into four categories: Caucasian, African American, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic. When the students first enter in the classroom in September, they are asked to describe where they are from, their culture, and their traditions. The students offer personal experiences about their siblings, and relatives to further define their beliefs and values. Many conversations emerge from discussions about their dislikes and likes as well as their beliefs on many different topics. Since all of the students are different, these conversations develop into richer student directed discussions with little prompting from the teacher.
Students enjoy sharing what makes them different from all the others. At one point, the students were asked to bring in a "Me Bag" with five small items that define them, and present to the class the purpose of the items in the bag. Surprisingly, the most popular item that everyone wanted to share was baby pictures, or pictures of themselves from when they were around five or six years old. The comfort level in the classroom rose and stimulated better relationships among the students, which then led to better cooperative learning group exercises. A large part of this biography unit depends upon students being comfortable enough with each other in the classroom to share writing samples and critique the work of others. Throughout the unit, the students have a chance to expose their diverse origins and tell the story of who they are to each other through pictures, essays, and snapshots of selective moments in time.
Language Arts and Social Studies fifth grade curriculum exposes students to both fiction and non–fiction texts, but only one biography is read. Although The
is a great story it leaves the students wanting to read more biographies. The curriculum, however, does not include autobiographical texts nor does it leave room for reading additional biographies. The curriculum is divided into the following categories: historical fiction, realistic fiction, and non–fiction expository. The shared reading planner that accompanies each of the texts builds upon prior knowledge, sets a purpose for reading, and asks the students to use the six comprehension strategies (picturing, wondering, connecting, predicting, and figuring out) on a daily basis to increase comprehension of the text. The writing portion of the curriculum focuses on editing and revising skills such as mechanics and grammar, as well as a poetry portion that encourages students to learn figurative language. Expository writing is also taught during the first half of the year in preparation for the Connecticut Mastery Tests.