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  • 1. Percy Jackson & The Olympians A Literacy Project on Children with Learning Disabilities Cheska Lorena The College of Saint Rose EDU 508 – J. Kellert July 26, 2010
  • 2. Cheska Lorena, Page 2 DEMOGRAPHICS This literacy project is based on Rick Riordan’s ―Percy Jackson and the Olympians‖ young-adult book series and is originally designed for a large and heterogeneous sixth grade class in John C. Fremont’s Professional Development Middle School (JCF-PDMS) within the urban Clark County School District of Las Vegas, Nevada. As I am currently unemployed in New York, the Fremont demographics were used for the purpose of this section. For the literacy project, New York ELA standards were adapted to a hypothetical sixth grade class with similar characteristics in an urban school district of Albany, NY. The literacy project will be taught year-long to approximately 171- 6th grade students, 108 boys and 63 girls from all six periods. It will primarily be taught in the classroom, but students will also spend time in the school library and in the computer lab. The lessons will be taught mostly by the classroom teacher, with collaboration and aid from the library media specialist, the traveling special-education teacher, and other sixth-grade content teachers, especially those teaching history, art, and math. According to JCF-PDMS’ 2008-2009 accountability report, overall student ethnicity in the school was broken down into 73% Hispanic, 10% African-American, 9% Caucasian, 8% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian/Alaskan Native. Out of a total school population of 945 enrolled students, 113 students had individualized education plans (IEPs), 341 students were classified as having limited English proficiency (LEP), and 685 students qualified and received free/reduced lunch. During this particular school year, JCF-PDMS was in its fourth year classified as a school in need of
  • 3. Cheska Lorena, Page 3 improvement. It was unable to meet its 2008-2009 adequate yearly progress (AYP) in the areas of English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. In this particular sixth grade class, age ranged from 10 to 13. 80% were classified as LEP students. There were also a high percentage of students with high-incidence disabilities ranging from speech or language disabilities, to learning disabilities, and emotional disturbance. A handful of students were homeless and two students spent part of the day in a resource room. Peer harassment and bullying were constant issues in the classroom. This literacy project was designed to target those issues and create a more accepting, supportive, and culturally-responsive learning community by building student awareness, understanding, and empathy towards peers with high-incidence disabilities, specifically learning disabilities. Students at this age are very social and play important roles as promoters of peer acceptance. The primary concerns of middle childhood (8-12) are to be included by peers and to project themselves to others in positive ways. Students’ ELA scores were also very low and they needed more help with reading comprehension. With this literacy project, I aim to help students build positive self-images, provide them with social-skills training, and help them develop strong reading and writing skills. To accomplish these goals, the literacy project will mostly take form in a weekly reader’s workshop that will utilize literacy centers and the collaborative strategic reading method. The readers’ workshop will be broken down into 3 parts: mini-lessons for reading comprehension, individual and/or group reading, and student conferences. The students will also create a reader’s notebook to act as their daily journal for creative free-writing prompts and as a performance portfolio for their weekly drafts, written work, and technology-assisted projects.
  • 4. Cheska Lorena, Page 4 RATIONALE Content and Theme The large numbers of students with high-incidence disabilities and occurrences of peer harassment in the Fremont’s sixth grade classroom served as inspiration for this multicultural literacy project. Based on Rick Riordan’s ―Percy Jackson and the Olympians‖ series, the major overall themes of the project will be learning disabilities, identity, and the hero quest. By using popular young adult literature that portrays positive images of main characters with ―learning differences‖, the students can build awareness, understanding, and empathy to classmates with learning disabilities. When I was a student teacher at Fremont, some sixth-graders with learning disabilities were frequently harassed by their peers. I witnessed many of the bullying incidents. I felt uncomfortable with intervening, so unfortunately I made the wrong choice: I ignored them. Over time, I have reflected on my student –teaching experiences. Through personal essays in EDU-508, I realize now that my actions reflected biases, and I failed to create a culturally-responsive environment and advocate for those students. I see this literacy project as a second chance. If I were to come back and teach the same students again, I would use this project to address the bullying and teach students about diversity in the classroom. I designed the project with the Fremont sixth- graders in mind, and adapted it to New York ELA learning standards. With this year-long project, it is my hope that students learn to re-evaluate their negative attitudes and behaviors towards people whom they perceive as different. With a new perspective, all
  • 5. Cheska Lorena, Page 5 students will learn how to develop positive self-images, practice social-cognitive skills, and promote peer acceptance. Research More than 2.9 million students are diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD) and receive special education services, representing 45% of students with disabilities nationwide (DAC, 2010). Various studies have put the prevalence of children with LD at 6%-8% of the school-age population in public education. LD is defined as a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information (NCLD, 2009). It is used to describe the unexplained difficulties a student of average or above-average intelligence has in basic academic skills. LD is not a singular disorder; it is a term used to refer to a group of disorders. Half of children ages 6-11 identified with LD also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia (Child Trends Databank, 2003). Because of multiple disorders connected to LD, students with LD have many academic and social needs. They have difficulty acquiring basic skills in reading, written language, and math. They also lack skills necessary for efficient learning, such as attending to task, memory, organizing and interpreting information, reasoning, motor coordination, independent learning skills, and academic survival skills. Students with LD also have needs in several social areas, including classroom conduct, interpersonal skills, and personal and psychological adjustment (Friend & Bursuck, 2006). They have fewer friends, are more likely to be rejected by their peers, and are frequently rated by parents and teachers as trouble-makers.
  • 6. Cheska Lorena, Page 6 Because students with LD experience little success at academics and social relationships, they often have a poor self-concept, which leads to learned helplessness (Friend & Bursuck, 2006). These factors—academic problems, poor social development, and negative self images—make students with LD highly unpopular in peer settings. They are often targets of peer victimization, which ranges from social isolation to verbal and physical abuse. The goals and central processes involved in successful friendship formation shift across age. The primary concern of the 8- to 12 –year period, middle childhood, is to gain acceptance from peers. Students of this age period are concerned with the norms of the group, figuring out which actions will lead to acceptance and inclusion, and which to exclusion and rejection (Parke & Gauvain, 2009). Teachers can address the problems of students with LD by using teaching strategies that stress effort rather than ability, providing social-skills training, and creating opportunities for social interaction that allows students to work in groups with shared learning goals. The literacy project is used as a vehicle to achieve these goals. Book Synopsis Rick Riordan’s five-book series, ―Percy Jackson and the Olympians‖, chronicles the modern-day heroic adventures of twelve-years-old Percy Jackson. The first book, ―The Lightning Thief‖, introduces Jackson as a young troubled student, diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. His learning disabilities make it difficult for him to concentrate in school. He is labeled as a trouble-maker by his teachers, and often finds himself switching to different schools many times. His best friend, Grover, is on crutches and together they are constant targets for bullies. His life dramatically changes one day
  • 7. Cheska Lorena, Page 7 when he is attacked by a Fury, a monster from Greek mythology, during a class field trip to the New York Metropolitan Museum. Crazy events unfold and Percy learns the true identity of his father, whom he has never met: the Greek god of the seas, Poseidon. In discovering his identity as a half-blood or demigod, Percy learns that his disabilities were really blessings in disguise. His brain was hard-wired to read ancient Greek, which explains his dyslexia, and his ADHD were manifestations of his inherent warrior fighting reflexes. His encounters with the Fury and other mythological beasts lead him to Camp Half-blood, a magical summer camp where other demigods seek shelter from and train against the monsters that seek to kill them all. Here in the camp, Percy meets other misfits like him and learns more about the mystical world of the gods. In this book, Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’ thunder bolt. If it is not returned by the summer solstice, a war between the gods will ensue and destroy the human world. It is up to Percy and his friends to find and deliver the lightning bolt to Zeus, and save the world from the gods’ wrath. In the second book, ―The Sea of Monsters‖, Percy finds out that he has a half- brother, Tyson the Cyclops. Percy struggles with his guilt and shame being related to Tyson, who is shunned by both humans and half-bloods. Tyson is big and kind, but slow. Their human classmates bully the gentle giant, and the half-bloods—even Percy’s demigod best friends—refuse to deal with him, justifying their actions with Cyclops stereotypes. Camp Half-blood is in danger; its magical borders have been penetrated and the only solution is to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters. Percy and his friends set out on another quest, where they were repeatedly saved from cannibal giants, demon pigeons, and other conniving demigods by Tyson’s brute strength, and his talented mechanical inventions.
  • 8. Cheska Lorena, Page 8 The rest of the series follows Percy as he meets and befriends more demigods, and battle it out with Kronos, the head-honcho of the Titans, and his mythological cronies over Camp Half-blood and Olympus, home of the gods. I chose this particular series for the literacy project for many important reasons:  The main characters are in the same age range and live in upstate New York, like the students who will be reading the books. The students will find the series interesting and engaging because they will see characters and settings that they are most familiar with.  The main character’s evolution from awkward boy who resents his differences to assertive young man who has learned to view his differences as strengths is the perfect storyline for teaching cultural awareness and responsiveness to children with learning disabilities. Its underlying themes of connections, reliance, and interdependence will also help accomplish the teaching goals of promoting positive self-images and peer acceptance in the classroom.  The series cover many additional themes such as identity, free will versus destiny, different family structures, sense of industry, role confusion, gender bias, and the effect of labels and stereotypes. These can be further explored throughout the year to maximize student learning and exposure to different diversity issues.  The incorporation of Greek mythology in the story line makes the series exciting, which will engage the students and provide excellent multiple opportunities for teaching literacy skills and assigning cross-curriculum projects.  The series are at an age-appropriate reading level for most students. It is easy enough for students of limited English proficiency, and challenging enough for regular students to read at an average pace individually or in groups.
  • 9. Cheska Lorena, Page 9 Methodology and Strategies For the purposes of the project, I have decided to create a weekly reader’s workshop paired with the collaborative strategic reading (CSR) method and literacy centers. These methods are largely based on three main instructional approaches: differentiation, cooperative learning, and project-based learning. Using the demographics data, it is obvious that the sixth-grade students range in their readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Differentiation is an approach through which teachers enhance learning by matching student characteristics to instruction and assessment. Students can access the same curriculum through different entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes that are tailored to individual needs. Teachers can differentiate content, process, product, and learning environments (Tomlinson, 1999). Differentiated instruction addresses diversity in the classroom because it uses students’ characteristics as the basis of planning and instruction. Cooperative learning is an instructional approach where students with different levels of abilities work in small heterogeneous teams and use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of the group has specific roles and responsibilities to help team-mates learn and this creates an environment of achievement. When students work together in shaping all parts of the classroom experience, they develop ownership in their learning and become more skilled at understanding themselves and making choices that enhance their learning and promote better interactions with others (Tomlinson, 1999). Successful cooperative learning help students develop and practice social skills, as well as promote learning and academic achievement, positive self-esteem, positive interpersonal relationships with others.
  • 10. Cheska Lorena, Page 10 Project-based learning (PBL) is another instructional approach built on authentic learning activities that teaches students the content and 21st century skills. These skills include communication and presentation skills, organization and time management skills, research and inquiry skills, self-assessment and reflection skills, and group participation and leadership skills (BIE, 2010). PBL is organized around an open-ended question and requires inquiry to learn and create something new. It allows for student voice and choice, incorporates feedback and revision, and results in a product or performance (Houghton Mifflin, 2009). PBL promotes active engagement of students’ effort over an extended period of time, which is perfect for a year-long literacy project. In addition, the use of projects can promote links with other core-curriculum material, present an expanded view of the concepts taught, and are easily adaptable for different types of learners with and learning situations. Most of the differentiation will take form in a reader’s workshop. The reader’s workshop consists of three parts: mini-lessons, individualized daily reading, and closings. Students will create a reader’s notebook, which will be divided into a daily journal and performance portfolio. The journal will hold student responses to creative writing prompts given at the beginning of class. The prompts will be based on the literacy project’s essential questions. At the beginning of the week, students will pick ideas from their free-writing responses and use them as inspiration for their writing assignments and projects. This is where most of the project-based learning (PBL) will come in. Throughout the week, students will complete learning checklists and choose from tiered activities to further explore topics of interest. Students will use the available literacy centers in the classroom for research and take advantage of the materials and technology tools to
  • 11. Cheska Lorena, Page 11 create and complete their projects. Literacy centers are divided by materials (text resources, art supplies, audio and video tools, and mobile laptop carts). Students will share their work with one another in biweekly intervals. The performance portfolio in the reader’s notebook will house students’ personal academic goals, reading logs, descriptions of their projects in various stages of completion, reflections on their work, and teacher assessment notes. Mini-lessons are ten to fifteen minutes long, and will vary in purpose for instruction. They will mostly be used to introduce, model, and demonstrate reading comprehension techniques for individualized daily reading. Topics for mini-lessons will include vocabulary, concept-mapping, graphic organizers, and reading strategies. Most of the cooperative learning will take form in the last two parts of the reader’s workshop: individualized daily reading and closings. The CSR method will be used for individualized daily reading. In CSR, students read and work together on the literature in collaborative groups. They will use four specific comprehension strategies (Preview, Click and Clunk, Get the Gist, and Wrap Up) that will be used before, during, and after reading. The teacher will first model the strategies for the students, and then the students will take on the role of facilitating each other in their literature reading circle groups (Klingner & Vaughnn, 1998). In individualized daily reading, additional reading resources on Greek mythology and related topics will be also be provided for those who have completed their expected number of pages in their reading logs. Students will also be assigned talking partners, with whom they will periodically meet with and discuss their journal creative writing responses, ideas for projects, and general progress. Closings are when the class comes together for whole-group discussions to reflect on the mini-lessons, their reading, and personal insights. Students can also use closing
  • 12. Cheska Lorena, Page 12 time to meet with their talking partners to ask clarifying questions and share opinions on what they have learned. Longer closing sessions will be held for class presentations, and students will provide each other feedback using student rubrics. The teacher will also use closing to meet with individual students or small groups for conferences. Conference notes will be added to students’ portfolios in their reader’s notebooks. Evaluation of student achievement and performance will rely on a mix of ongoing formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments will be based on students’ daily journal responses, records of work in portfolio, and their social interactions with talking partners, small group and whole-class discussions. Summative assessments will be based on student- and peer-graded presentations, an end-of-the year student-initiated final project, and reflective essays based on personal lessons and insights learned from the book series. By using the reader’s workshop, the reader’s notebook, and literacy centers, the content will be differentiated, student learning and performance will be evaluated through student-initiated projects, and students are given opportunities for positive social interaction through cooperative learning. Integrating differentiation, cooperative learning, and project-based learning with popular young-adult literature on diversity issues such as learning disabilities will help promote more peer acceptance in the classroom and create a more culturally-responsive classroom environment. Learning Standards NYS Learning Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) at Intermediate Level  Standard 1- Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.
  • 13. Cheska Lorena, Page 13 o A. Listening and Reading:  Students will compare and synthesize information from different sources.  Students will use a wide variety of strategies for selecting, organizing, and categorizing information.  Students will understand and use the text features that make information accessible and usable, sequence, such as format, level of diction, and relevance of details.  These standards will be fulfilled via the reader’s workshop’s mini-lessons (modeling and practicing strategies) and use of the reader’s notebook (journal, record logs, and portfolio). o B. Speaking and Writing:  Students will produce oral and written reports on topics related to school subjects.  Students will develop information with appropriate supporting materials, such as facts, details, illustrative examples or anecdotes, and exclusive extraneous materials.  These standards will be fulfilled through the tiered activities offered to students and the additional reading resources provided during individualized daily reading time.  Standard 2- Students will read, write, and speak for literary response and expression. o A. Listening and Reading:
  • 14. Cheska Lorena, Page 14  Students will understand and identify the distinguishing features of major genres and use them to aid their interpretation and discussion of literature.  Students will identify significant literary elements (including metaphor, symbolism, foreshadowing, dialect, rhyme, meter, irony, and climax) and use those elements to interpret the work.  Students will read aloud with expression, conveying the meaning and mood of a work.  These standards will be fulfilled during individualized daily reading time, and when students choose and complete writing tasks from their weekly literacy checklists (list of writing assignments), and work on their projects for their portfolios. o B. Speaking and Writing:  Students will present responses to and interpretations of literature, making reference to the literary elements found in text and connections with their personal knowledge and experience.  Students will produce interpretations of literary works that identify different levels of meaning and comment on their significance and effect.  Students will write stories, poems, literary essays, and plays that observe the conventions of the genre and contain interesting and effective language and voice.
  • 15. Cheska Lorena, Page 15  These standards will be fulfilled during individual sessions with talking partners, small group and whole class discussions during closings, and teacher-student conferences.  Standard 3- Students will read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation. o A. Listening and Reading:  Students will understand that within any group there are many different points of view depending on the particular interests and values of the individual and recognize those differences in perspective in texts and presentations.  Students will evaluate their own and others’ work based on a variety of criteria (i.e. logic, clarity, comprehensiveness, conciseness, originality, and conventionality) and recognizes the varying effectiveness of different approaches.  These standards will be fulfilled through small group and whole class discussions during individualized daily reading time and closings, and during student presentations for projects paired with student rubrics. o B. Speaking and Writing:  Students will monitor and adjust their own oral and written presentations according to standards for a particular genre.  Students will use Standard English, precise vocabulary, and presentational strategies effectively to influence an audience.
  • 16. Cheska Lorena, Page 16  These standards will be fulfilled through talking partner sessions and student- and peer-graded rubrics.  Standard 4- Students will read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction. o A. Listening and Reading:  Students will listen attentively to others and build on others’ ideas in conversations with adults and peers.  Students will express ideas and concerns clearly and respectfully in conversations and group discussions.  Students will use verbal and nonverbal skills to improve communications with others.  These standards will be fulfilled through individualized reading time, talking partners, conferences, closings, and student presentations. NYS Learning Standards for Math, Science, and Technology for Intermediate Students Standard 1 – A. Mathematical Analysis  Students apply mathematical knowledge to solve real-world problems and problems that arise from the investigation of mathematical ideas, using representations such as pictures, charts, and tables. o This standard will be fulfilled through a road trip budget activity. Standard 1 – B. Scientific Inquiry  Students formulate questions independently with the aid of references appropriate for guiding the search for explanations of everyday observations.  Students construct explanations independently for natural phenomena, especially by proposing preliminary models of phenomena.
  • 17. Cheska Lorena, Page 17 o These standards will be fulfilled through inquiry-based research projects exploring natural phenomena such as lightning, thunder, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Standard 2- Information Systems  Students use a range of equipment and software to integrate several forms of information in order to create good quality audio, video, graphic, and text based presentations.  Students use graphical, statistical, and presentation software to present projects to fellow classmates. o These standards will be fulfilled with projects and the use of literacy centers. Standard 4 – Science  Students describe earth and celestial phenomena through principles of relative motion and perspective.  Students explain earth phenomena through interactions among components of air, water, and land. o These standards will be fulfilled through inquiry-based research projects exploring the changing of seasons (the kidnapping of Persephone), astronomy and the constellations, and natural disasters. Overall Project Goals 1. Students will gain awareness, understanding, and empathy towards individuals with learning differences. 2. Students will develop and practice appropriate social-cognitive skills.
  • 18. Cheska Lorena, Page 18 3. Students will develop positive self-concepts and help promote peer acceptance in the classroom. 4. Students will explore various diversity issues, Greek mythology, and interrelated curricula. 5. Students will improve their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Sample Activity Ideas Concepts (including but not limited to): Children with learning differences, forming identity, free will versus fate, different family structures, characteristics of a hero, effects of labels and stereotypes, gender bias, transforming weaknesses into strengths, the effects of Western culture on civilization, environmental pollution, and friendships. Sample Essential Questions:  How is a person’s identity shaped by the perceptions of others?*  How can differences act as a weakness or as strength?*  What is the definition of a hero?  What qualities make a true friend?  Is one’s destiny preordained, or can one overcome heritage and environment?  What makes a family? Sample Journal Prompts:  Have you ever been treated unfairly? Describe the circumstances and how you felt.
  • 19. Cheska Lorena, Page 19  Do you believe in anything that science cannot prove? Why or why not? Provide 3-5 examples.  What skills are valued most in today’s society? How might students who struggle today have been successful in a different moment in history? Sample Reading Activities  Students will work with talking partners during individualized daily reading time.  Students will perform a reader’s theatre to explore dialogue.  Students will compare and contrast the Titans, the gods, the demigods, and mortals. Sample Writing Activities  Students will write responses to daily prompts in their journals.  Students will choose and complete 2-3 writing assignments from a writing checklist.  Students will explore different types of writing from tiered activities. Sample Interdisciplinary Activities  Science Activities o Students will perform a debate on superstitions and myths using tools of science inquiry. o Students will research Greek mythological monsters and modern-day animal hybrids to explain the topics of Mendelian genetics, cross- breeding, and DNA splicing. o Students will create small planetariums to chart the Greek constellations.
  • 20. Cheska Lorena, Page 20  Math Activities o Students will create a road trip budget that follows the adventures of the characters. o Students will graph the number of children of particular gods, and tally the wins and losses of the battles between the gods, demigods, and monsters. o Students will convert Greek currency to American currency, and figure out how much money the characters spent throughout their adventures across the nation.  Geography Activities o Students will use Google Earth to find the landmarks in the book. o Students will plan a road trip from NYC to LA with rest-stops and narratives explaining their choices. o Students will follow the characters’ adventures on a real map and draw in the fictional landmarks and important places in the book.  Language Activities o Students will explore the ancient Greek language and write short captions using the language for their favorite book scenes. o Students will share their own native alphabets with one another. o Students will create a crossword puzzle using specific vocabulary.  Art Activities o Students will create paper mache Greek vases and paint their favorite scenes in sequence. o Students will create monster trading cards and a game with rules to go with the cards.
  • 21. Cheska Lorena, Page 21 o Students will choose their cabin and create a crest that represents their personal values and strengths.  Technology Activities o Students will set up and perform a Skype Q&A interview with the author. o Students will create a wiki-space vocabulary and study guide page. o Have students develop and maintain a Google Site portfolio to which they can upload and share their digital work with others. Works Cited Buck Institute of Education (BIE). (2010). What is PBL? Project based learning for the 21st century. Retrieved from Child Trends Databank. (2003). Learning disabilities. Retrieved from Data Accountability Center (DAC). (2010). IDEA data. Retrieved from Friend, M., & Bursuck, W.D. (2006). Including students with special needs: a practical guide for classroom teachers. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Company Klingner, J.K., & Vaughnn, S. (1998). Reading rockets: Using collaborative strategic reading. Retrieved from Mifflin, H. (2009). Project based learning: Background knowledge and theory. Retrieved from NCLD. (2009, March 26). LD at a glance. Retrieved from basics/ld-explained/basic-facts/learning-disabilities-at-a-glance.
  • 22. Cheska Lorena, Page 22 Parke, R.D., & Gauvain, M. (2009). Child psychology: A contemporary viewpoint. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. Riordan, R. (2005). A teacher’s guide to the lightning thief. :New York, NY: Disney Hyperion. Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).