Teaching - The Book Report
Our school system was experiencing rapid growth with many new building projects proposed. A new building, elementary school, was also being opened in the Northern part of our town. Finally our middle school was being taken off double sessions. ( The children get only a bare bones education, sports are limited or non-existent. The second set of teachers report in at 10 A.M. start teaching at noon an end the day at 5 P.M. ) These conditions were very tough for students and never provided a quality education. Three of our faculty members were moving onto other positions in our district. Our building produced 2 new principals and one assistant superintendent.
After ten years under the same command, a new principal arrived to our middle school. He had spent the previous 15 years at the elementary level in the southern most part of our district. This school housed the lowest and poorest population in our district. At first , the principal, often underestimated the abilities and sophistication of the middle school crowd. However, he was a wonderful, kind gentleman and a real dedicated leader. We were very pleased to be able to work with him. He was positive and always on the lookout for acts of positive behavior from his pupils. Eventually, his manner won over even some hard-core members of our school.
Our principal set goals and expected them to be met. One term we were promoting how to improve the writing of book reports. I was teaching a special education class, that year, with six reading levels! I chose to read a story about Thanksgiving . Some of you are familiar with a Hallmark production similar to this book. I started reading this medium sized paperback out loud one month before Thanksgiving. Half in jest, I let my principal know that I wouldn't finish 'til after Easter at the pace we were going. Each afternoon, I would write questions on the board and the pupils had to answer these in their writing tablets. By the time the class was finished their writing; a very thorough book report would have been written, I hoped.
Two students were almost non-readers, the class in general, was two years behind their expected 6th grade level. But they loved the story and started to write with real fervor. However, to make sure everyone understood what I was reading; I would stop and ask questions of my writers during each reading session. This also kept everyone on their toes and insured active listeners.
This day a detailed description about the lake was being read and was important to the understanding of the next few pages. So I asked, "If everyone knew what cattails were"? Something was hidden in them. My oldest pupil and very reluctant reader called out, "Shoot, Mrs. Fed, everyone knows that's the part on the back of a cat." I almost fell off my chair laughing. After regaining my composure , I told the class that they had provided a "Teachable Moment". Of course, after I calmed down , I drew the physical description of the plant on the board. Quite a few 'light bulbs' turned on after that explanation.
Before I left for the day , I shared my story with the principal. He commented, "It's amazing how as teachers we believe, students understand our words, when many,many times they may not."