Opening Children's Minds CARROLL COUNTY

February 04, 1993

As any parent can tell you, young children incessantly ask "why?" as their rapidly developing minds begin to explore their new world. But that open-ended inquiry seems to fade as formal education, at home and in school, takes over and the rote skills of counting and memorization are stressed.

So it's refreshing to see that teachers at Charles Carroll Elementary School will get a chance to discover an interpretive literature teaching program developed by the Great Books Foundation. Principal Robert Bruce is bringing the instructors here this month to explain the program to 25 elementary teachers, under a grant for educational innovation given by the Carroll school system.

The essence of the method is that teachers encourage children to think of more than one answer to questions about the stories they read, and to justify their answers with information from the stories. Interpretive discussion of stories adds to children's understanding and encourages them to think about more than the obvious response.

"The teachers are trained not to define just one answer," explains Mr. Bruce, who experienced the system when he was a teacher in the Howard County schools. Pupils may have more than one answer to the same "why?" question, all of which are valid as long as they can justify them with evidence from the story.

Another advantage of the Great Books program is that it uses children's classics as reading material, instead of standard reading texts, and provides teacher study plans and guides to direct questioning. Certainly, all teachers should aim to stimulate pupils to think for themselves and to do more than simply recite memorized facts. The Great Books program is one way to aid them in that pedagogical pursuit, something that might well be adopted by other elementary schools within the county.

The teacher instruction program is funded by the Carroll school system's new grant program that invites competitive proposals from teachers for educational improvement. Other proposals awarded grants will help to improve teacher evaluations, to better prepare students for taking standardized reference tests, and to teach organizational skills to students. These thoughtful proposals validate the grant program and encourage better education results in Carroll County.

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