The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows…Sydney Harris

I love that quote.  Students, as teenagers, only notice a mirror. They only see themselves. Their main questions in school are: “What does this have to do with me? How will this benefit me now?”  So many students complain about the curriculum at school.  What does algebra teach us in our daily lives?  What does literature teach us?  Why do we need to study science and social studies? These subjects teach us about the world around us.  Like the quote says, they turn a mirror into a window.  They give us a peak of others in the world.  Looking through the window, we become curious and want to know more. Looking through the window inspires us to look beyond ourselves.  Wow!

In the book, Samir and Yonatan, that my 10th graders are reading, we are learning about two boys (one Jew and one Muslim) who are building a friendship.  Instead of hating one another, they are learning to love.  My students have compared this story to America’s divisions in race, religion, nationality, and finances.  It is amazing how it is opening the window to conversations about the lives of their family, friends, and loved ones.  I’m really looking forward to their project where they will try to “heal the hate.” I’ll keep you updated.

So next time you hear a student or an adult complain about education, remember this quote and teach it to them:

The purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows…Sydney Harris

window 1




To be or not to be…

shakespeare  As a high school English teacher of 15 years, I have always enjoyed the classics.  Recently though, there has been a great debate on whether to continue teaching the classics.  For the past several years, I have studied both sides of the argument and can proudly say that I have no clue what to do.  On one side, the classics are written by some of the greatest writers ever, with such timeless themes and beautiful language.  The classics are truly an art form.  How could we deny our children their right to be a part of great art?  Then on the other side of the argument, most of our children are not reading at a level that will permit them to understand and appreciate what they read.  Are we missing the opportunity to teach them how to read well so that they can, in the future, understand and appreciate the classics?  Should we continue to force these classics down their throats even though they can’t understand them and risk the chance that they never want to read again?

This makes me think of famous paintings and sculptures throughout history.  Have I ever seen them in person? Do I know about all of them?  Is my life any less fruitful because I have missed their beauty? How often do I need to know about them? Are there other ways to learn about them? Mona Lisa

I do not feel that I have missed out on the beauty of life because I have not studied these paintings.  I am, however, aware that if I did study them, I would be richer in my knowledge and value of art.  But never, ever, was I taught about the famous pieces of art in school.  I learned about Mona Lisa from a television show.  I saw The Statue of David on the History Channel.  Would I like to learn more?  Yes.  Now I have the maturity and intrigue to want to know more and to appreciate the amazing skill and talent that went into each piece.  I can start to understand and appreciate the master of art.

I want my students to one day be awakened by this same desire.  I think the love for art, in all its forms, comes from maturity. We can’t just tell students that a piece of art is great and that they should love it.  We must teach them to love art step by step.  Through scaffolding, we take one step at a time, not rushing, just tasting each bite along the way. This is what I desire for my students.

So am I suggesting that we stop teaching the classics?  No, not really, but maybe we should slow down.  We don’t have to teach as much.  Currently in World Literature, American Literature and British Literature, we try to chronologically follow the literary periods and give excerpts of many different authors of the time.  Other teachers teach by theme.  Some teachers just teach novels.  Maybe one or two stories is enough, expose our students, don’t inundate them.  Focus on vocabulary so that down the road, they can pick up a classic and understand it.  Teach them stylistic techniques of great authors so that they can notice and appreciate them when they do read, and build their ability for basic comprehension and fluency along the way, teaching empathy with books that relate to them better.

LotFI once had a mentor who told me, “We need to reach down to get a student, but then we can bring him up…”  Maybe that’s true.  We don’t need to be in a hurry.  Let’s don’t throw away great art, let’s learn to appreciate it so that we can continue to read it the rest of our lives…one bite at a time.

What do you think?FB_IMG_1448636690162


Happy New Year

I’m still in a state of confusion.  It’s January 1, 2016, and I don’t have an answer.  I started a blog to encourage reading and writing. Then recently, if you read my last post, I was wondering if I should focus more on special needs.  So, until things become clearer for me, I have decided to do both.

I am a special education teacher teaching English to students with learning disabilities in high school.  This is what I know.  This year, I thought I would include ideas, lesson plans, and reflections about my classes, which focus on reading and writing.

Feel free to comment on what I am doing, add suggestions, and ask questions.  I would appreciate your help teaching the wonderful students that I have.

Let me give you the background of my students.  I teach a 10th grade World Literature class, 11th grade American Literature class, and a 12th grade British Literature class.  Yes, I teach literature to special needs students.  To be more honest, we read some literature, but we READ and WRITE a lot.  This is the run-down for next semester:

10th – We will start each day with vocabulary strategies.  I usually start with prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  On Fridays, we will complete reading comprehension with small passages and answer five questions.  We will keep track of the scores weekly to see how students improve.  Next, we will read Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Cami.  This book is out of print, but it is an excellent story about a young Jewish boy and Palestinian boy who become friends.  I thought it would be relevant due to our current world situations.  It would give us an opportunity to explore both sides of the issue and understand more of how we can help.  Usually, we read Night by Elie Wiesel.  It is about the Holocaust, but I thought I would try something new this time around.  We will see which works better for my students.


11th – We will start each day looking at great sentences in literature and discuss what grammatical structure and word choices make them so great. I will also continue to give them reading comprehension passages every Friday as well.  Our main focus of the first nine weeks of the semester will be on a research paper.  Students will get to choose the topic — something that matters to them — fishing, music, etc.  The students will research this topic and write a solid five paragraph essay with internal citations and a works cited page.  At the end of the nine weeks, they will present their research through a formal class presentation.

12th – Same as 11th.  The difference in the paper is that it is a required persuasive three to four page essay on an issue in the career field the students are pursuing.  It may take more than 9 weeks to complete, so we will be flexible in the timing. At the end of the semester, the 12th graders will present their research to community members.  When the paper is finished, the students will then read some British Literature, such as Shakespeare, of course,  Animal Farm by George Orwell, and possibly more, depending on time.  I like to focus my second part of the semester on leadership, so our reading will focus on this theme.

So, what do you think at first glance?  Follow me and help me teach my students.  You know, it takes a village!