T3: Cutting Up in the Classroom

Rebecca Bell over at Notes from the School Psychologist recently started a blog carnival called Teaching Tips Tuesdays (or T3).  This is my contribution to this week’s edition (but linked to last week’s T3, since there isn’t one up for this week yet), and will be cross-posted to/linked from her blog (I think!).

As an English teacher, I taught many sections of our tenth-grade English II course that were designated as In-Class Support (ICS).  In these classes, we would have as many as 10 students with learning disabilities along with another 10-15 students who did not have learning disabilities.  The goal of the ICS model is to allow special education to be as inclusive as possible by assigning two teachers to a classroom, one content area teacher and one special education teacher.    The course content is identical to that of non-ICS general education courses.

Given the high co-morbidity rate of ADHD and other learning disabilities, it’s not uncommon to have students in these classes who comprehend the material well enough, but have serious trouble organizing their thoughts in writing.  This can be difficult enough for 15-year-olds without any other influences, but when you throw ADHD and other SLDs into the mix, the writing process can become incredibly frustrating for both student and teacher.

About five years ago, I had a student who was experiencing great difficulty writing a research paper.  He knew what he wanted to say, but told me he just couldn’t make sense of what was in his head to get it on paper.  Rough drafts were due that week, so I told him to bring in a rough draft and I’d work with him after school to try to help him.

When we sat down together to look at his draft, I saw exactly what he meant.  The paragraphs themselves were more or less focused on a single topic, but reading the paper as a whole, the topics shifted from this to that back to this again.  It was incredibly difficult to follow his train of thought and the defense of his thesis.

I tried explaining why the paragraphs didn’t make sense in the order they were in, but the student wasn’t getting me.  I don’t know how I got the idea, but I eventually got up, walked over to the teacher’s desk, grabbed a pair of scissors, and returned to the student.  After getting his permission, I proceeded to cut his essay up by paragraph.  I then asked him to put all the paragraphs that deal with Topic A in a pile (whatever Topic A was), all the Topic B paragraphs in another pile, and all the Topic C paragraphs in a third pile.

I will never forget the look in his eyes and the widening “O” his mouth made as he uttered he magic words: “Ohhh, I GET it now!  Thanks, Mr. B!”  He reorganized his paper that weekend and, if I remember correctly, received an A or B on the final draft.

Cliff’s Notes Version: Physical manipulatives can be great for getting kids (and teachers!) to grasp abstract concepts like writing or mathematics, and they can be found (or made) in the least likely places.

One Comment

  • Great tip! Thanks for participating! You did it just right. 🙂 I didn’t get a chance to post my link yesterday, but will definitely have one up next week. Keep the tips coming! It is so nice to have practical advice. So often, teacher training programs and professional developments say “The students should organize paragraphs” or “students should work in small groups” and don’t really give concrete ideas on how to do that.

    Rebecca’s last blog post..Why Won’t You Die, Old Habits? Why???

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