School to try Great Books plan

THOUGHT-PROVOKING LITERATURE

January 25, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Instead of asking how many times Jack went up the beanstalk, and what he brought down, teachers at Charles Carroll Elementary School might be more likely to ask a deeper question.

For example, why did Jack make the climb more than once?

The difference between the questions is that the first two have only one right answer, and all you have to do is reread the story to find it, said Robert Bruce, principal.

But there is not just one answer to why Jack went up more than once. And to come up with a response, the child has to think for a while and find some passage to justify the conclusion, Mr. Bruce said.

To give teachers more training in this way to teach literature, Mr. Bruce is bringing in instructors from an educational company called the Great Books Foundation, for seminars Feb. 4 and 5.

He is paying for the $4,224 registration cost and substitutes for his 13 teachers and 12 from other schools through a new in-house grant program in Carroll County schools. Four other schools qualified for grants to do other programs.

Deputy Superintendent Brian Lockard started the grant program with $15,000 from his budget.

He told schools they could submit applications. He selected winners from among 60 applications.

Mr. Bruce was trained in the Great Books method when he was a teacher in Howard County. He said he has wanted to extend the same training to his staff here. Until now, the staff members would have had to go to Baltimore or farther for the classes, and perhaps paid the $70 registration fee out of their own pockets.

But because he has gotten a group of 25 together here, he will be able to bring the instructors to Carroll County next month.

"The teachers are trained not to define just one answer," Mr. Bruce said.

Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary education, said schools throughout the system are trying to do the kind of teaching of literature that Great Books advocates. Most are designing their own programs, but the advantage to Great Books is that for several classic stories and books, study guides and questions are available.

Mr. Bruce said the school system is making available more real books -- such as "The Velveteen Rabbit" -- instead of a story written just for a reading textbook.

But teachers will be on their own to come up with a study plan and questions, he said.

He said the program encourages appreciation of literature, as well as reading to be informed and writing to persuade. Those three goals were set by the Charles Carroll School Improvement Team as priorities for the school.

They are among the list of state standards tested by the new Criterion Reference Tests. After studying Charles Carroll students' performance on those tests last year, the school improvement team chose those three language-related standards to focus on this year.

Mr. Bruce felt the best way to achieve them was through Great Books.

"They take great literature and use interpretive discussion, and of a higher level than what most teachers have used in the classroom," Mr. Bruce said. Lessons are always followed up with the student writing something, he said.

The program is not just beneficial to the more avid readers and writers in the class, he said. The kind of teaching advocated by Great Books is just as appropriate for the lower-achieving students, he said.

Because there is no one answer, a student's response is always valid, as long as it comes with evidence to support it, he said.

Other grants are:

* Sykesville Middle School got $2,320 for substitutes so that faculty who have trained with the state can share what they learned with their colleagues.

* South Carroll High School got $4,097 to train all staff in the Teacher Expectation-Student Achievement program, a "non-threatening" process to help teachers improve, said Principal David Booz.

* Spring Garden Elementary School got $1,310 to better prepare students for the Criterion Reference Tests, particularly in integrating reading, science and social studies.

* Piney Ridge Elementary School got $2,375 to investigate trends in education, such as developmental programs, holding students back a grade, tracking and grouping by ability.

Piney Ridge got another grant of $674 for a separate request to help students develop organizational and study skills.

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