Percy Jackson & The Olympians
A Literacy Project on Children with Learning Disabilities
The College of Saint Rose
EDU 508 – J. Kellert
July 26, 2010
Cheska Lorena, Page 2
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
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.
Cheska Lorena, Page 4
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
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
Cheska Lorena, Page 5
students will learn how to develop positive self-images, practice social-cognitive skills,
and promote peer acceptance.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
NYS Learning Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) at Intermediate Level
Standard 1- Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and
Cheska Lorena, Page 13
o A. Listening and Reading:
Students will compare and synthesize information from different
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
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
o A. Listening and Reading:
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
Students will write stories, poems, literary essays, and plays that
observe the conventions of the genre and contain interesting and
effective language and voice.
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
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.
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
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.
Cheska Lorena, Page 17
o These standards will be fulfilled through inquiry-based research projects
exploring natural phenomena such as lightning, thunder, earthquakes,
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
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
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.
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
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
Cheska Lorena, Page 19
Do you believe in anything that science cannot prove? Why or why not? Provide
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
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
Students will explore different types of writing from tiered activities.
Sample Interdisciplinary Activities
o Students will perform a debate on superstitions and myths using tools of
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.
Cheska Lorena, Page 20
o Students will create a road trip budget that follows the adventures of the
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cheska Lorena, Page 21
o Students will choose their cabin and create a crest that represents their
personal values and strengths.
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.
Buck Institute of Education (BIE). (2010). What is PBL? Project based learning for the 21st
century. Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl
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 http://www.readingrockets.org/article/103
Mifflin, H. (2009). Project based learning: Background knowledge and theory. Retrieved
NCLD. (2009, March 26). LD at a glance. Retrieved from http://www.ncld.org/ld
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
Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all
learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum