Sunday, September 7, 2014

The First Week and Washington, DC

Well, the first week of 2014-2015 is in the books! I have to be completely honest here - it was a tough week. I knew my class this year was going to be collectively much lower-functioning than I've had in the past several years, but I underestimated just how different it would be, as well as how affected the students I've had before would be by the change in classmates. Add to the lower cognitive level, a new student with some extremely severe/intense sensory needs, and it was a less successful first week than I'd hoped it would be.

However! I have a plan (as much of one as I can have - it just feels good to say I've got a plan). We got our occupational therapy assistant who specializes in sensory in to see our sensory kid and give us some strategies, suggestions and materials to tide us over until he can do a full evaluation. And I've spent the weekend completely reworking my lessons and activities for this coming week.

Our September curriculum unit is focused on government, and since our first curriculum reader is about a young man who goes on vacation to Washington, DC, I decided to keep DC and the President as our narrower focus for the month. My guided reading/social studies books for the month were going to be nonfiction texts about some DC landmarks from Mary Firestone's American Symbols series: The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, and Our US Capitol. I really like these books and their "tour guide" format, but for the second week of school at least, they are going to be too complicated for this group.
(sadface - I really wanted to use these books!)

I decided to switch to fiction and go with Clifford Goes to Washington for this week. I don't usually love using character books, since they are not age-appropriate for my students, but it was the level we needed - and this book actually does cover several of the landmarks I wanted to introduce to my students, and the illustrations of said landmarks are pretty accurate! To make this book interactive and hit on some of the non-fiction info I wanted to include, I made it into a guided reading activity:

I have the book from my public library, so I scanned several pages on my printer and laminated. Then, I found real photos online of the Washington, DC landmarks shown in the book and laminated those with the official names of the landmarks:

I bound the scanned pages with book rings and put velcro on the pages and the photos. As we read the book, students will match the real photos to the corresponding scanned pages, and we will talk about each landmark as we do. I didn't scan every page in the book, just those with the landmarks I wanted to highlight. I will still read the entire book - from the library copy - and my student helper (a weekly job) will move around the group to show the scanned pictures and so students can match the photos as we go.

For my lower students, this will work on visual discrimination and matching photo to icon. My higher students will still be getting some of the nonfiction info I'd wanted to cover. I'll probably use the Mary Firestone books still with my higher students during small group time. I'm hopeful we will all be able to work up to a higher level in whole-group guided reading eventually but for now this is going to work.

Moving on...I've talked before about how I like to make a youtube playlist for each monthly unit. Have you all heard about Smart Songs? Hip hop artists/rappers Shoeless Jeff and Scott Free say, "With catchy beats and rhymes, interwoven between skits and stories, our songs explore themes in History, Social Studies and Science." Many of their songs and videos are on youtube, and my students and I love them! Here are the three I'm including in our Washington, DC/Presidents playlist for this month:

"Welcome to Washington, DC" - Many, if not all, of my students will never get to actually visit Washington, DC, so I love this video for the visual tour of DC and its landmarks. For older/higher-functioning kids, there's tons of great factual information in the rap, too.

"Presidents Rap - Washington to Obama" - I'm totally impressed by this fun recitation of the Presidents in order along with a little fact about each one. My students won't "get" most of this, but they will certainly learn the vocabulary "president" and will recognize Obama's photo at the end (love that they make the two most recent presidents' photos full screen so students really recognize them) - and it's a very catchy song!

"American Flag Rap" - The most recognizable American symbol for my students - this also has great info for higher kids but is still appropriate for young or lower functioning students. I love that they rap the Pledge of Allegiance (which we say each school day) and the Star Spangled Banner at the end of this song.

I'm so glad I discovered this group/youtube channel, thanks to a coworker! They have a lot of other videos (mostly about US government, voting, etc., as well as money and others) on youtube, as well as DVDs and CDs for sale on their website. They are also on iTunes. I love that they produce fun, cool videos and songs for today's students and still keep the info accurate and appropriate for even older students!


  1. I'm having to do a fair amount of reworking this year, as well. Most of my students are between 1st-4th grade level. My new student is cognitively about 24 months. It has made me turn things upside down a bit. But that's what we do, right? :)

  2. This is my first school year starting off with ULS. I thought we had the same band...but I guess not. Mine is more about class rules and that the US has laws. Still, thank you for the resources. My students are very low...some maybe under 12 months or at 24 months, so if I can help you in any way, please let me know. I am a little overwhelmed trying to figure out how to plan with ULS, so I enjoy seeing how you do things. For some reason I can't see your scanned pictures. I wonder how you have the time to make all these great materials? :)

  3. I love the songs, thanks for sharing! I can't wait to share with my teachers! I hope things settle down for you sooner than later (:

  4. Thank you for the songs - tried them out in class and the kids seemed to enjoy them. One of my kids was even imitating the rappers "moves." Fun. Thanks.


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