Reading Between the Lines
fine. I don't care. I hate this class and besides, my mama says
that I don't need to know this stuff anyway!" Barry's voice was
loud and angry. He was often somewhat loud and I was used to him
playing the class clown, but that was the first time I saw him really
lose his temper. He was looking for a power struggle and I was beginning
to regret taking his paper in front of the class.
B was one of two six-grade classrooms at Laclede Elementary School,
a small, rural school, and had only 19 students at the time. Sixth
grade students were the oldest in the school, which began with
pre-kindergarten, and although they had many privileges, they
sometimes said that they were treated "like babies" because of
the nature of the elementary school environment. At Laclede, each
classroom was "self-contained," meaning one general teacher taught
all subjects except Physical Education, Art, and Library Skills.
Teachers ate lunch with students in the cafeteria in lieu of monitors,
and alternated recess duty. Being a small school had its benefits;
the teachers and students knew each other well. On the other hand,
in the eyes of the sixth grade, it was too controlling and prevented
them from being "grown".
students in Six B were a diverse group and most came from working
class families. Many of the students were close, and often times
related. The classroom had a bright and cheery arrangement, but
was limited on space. There were 21 desks in the middle of the
room, sometimes divided into four "learning teams" that
Ms. Briggs created and posted on a bulletin board. There was a
reading corner with a bean bag chair, a book shelf with some leisure
and resource books, and office type mail boxes for the students
to use in lieu of passing notes during class. Also in the back
of the room is a stereo and the set up for the class store incentive
program called Briggs Bucks. Ms. Briggs created the Briggs Bucks
system to help students experience managing money, as well as
reward them when they accomplished certain group or individual
goals. With the "money" they acquired from these accomplishments,
they could purchase items in the class store at the end of each
month, or save it in an "account" until the larger class
auction at the end of each quarter.
schedule for the day was fairly predictable, with language arts
and math taking place in the morning and social studies, science,
and enrichment classes in the afternoons. Any student receiving
special education services were "pulled out" for "Resource" and
the general education teacher was required to give a copy of the
weekly lesson plans, with any relevant teacher-made instructional
materials, to the resource instructor. There was one resource
instructor for the lower elementary grades (k-3), and one for
upper elementary grades (4-6).
Cynthia Briggs was a second year teacher and loved teaching sixth
grade because, as she said, "the students are independent but
still care what you think." She understood that sixth grade could
be a difficult year for pre-teen kids in a school like Laclede,
but felt that it was good for her students to experience being
big fish in a little pond. Described as enthusiastic, open minded,
but temperamental, Mrs. Briggs admitted she was easily disappointed
when her students didn't engage in activities, and sometimes took
it personally. She was happy to work in a small school, but was
often frustrated with the lack of resources and support in the
district. In the previous year, she voted for the adoption of
the new reading series, which was more literature and theme-based,
rather than focused on basal readers. She enjoyed looking for
ways to integrate subjects and connect them to the already existing
reading themes, and wanted to try project-based learning approaches,
but found it challenging to "rearrange" the order of the traditional
scope and sequence of other subjects. Although her favorite subjects
to teach were Reading and Social Studies, she had a hard time
assessing students in those areas because it was more time consuming
than a subject such as Math, which was less subjective and required
less writing. She tried to find ways to make learning fun and
interesting, but didn't always have the time or freedom to plan
the way she wanted.
Russo was a sixth grade student who received resource services
for reading and spelling, but attended his general education class
the rest of the day. Barry worked with the special education teacher,
Mrs. Reeves, for fifty minutes each morning. He seemed to enjoy
working with Mrs. Reeves, but was slightly embarrassed when it
was time for him to leave his class and go to "resource."
The traditional resource interventions were enhanced by two computer
lab sessions per week, in which he worked on basic skills in reading
and reviewed vocabulary. Barry liked the computer, and wished
they had them in Ms. Brigg's classroom. Barry was diagnosed as
learning disabled during his fifth grade year, which was later
than most students at Laclede. His family had moved many times
prior to his move into the Laclede district. In fact, he missed
so much school in second grade from moving that he repeated it,
and was therefore slightly old for his class.
was strong in math and enjoyed science (especially labs), but
was described by classmates as somewhat of a class clown. He was
particularly rowdy in social studies. He seemed to lose focus
and was consistently off task during silent reading. Ms. Briggs
had a system for reading out loud in class that seemed to keep
him focused. She placed everyone's name on a popsicle stick and
then selected a stick at random from a jar. The student chosen
read the next paragraph from the text. Barry usually read aloud
well and knew how to pronounce the new vocabulary words, but didn't
do well on the comprehension activities at the end of the reading.
He took poor notes, turned in incomplete classwork and homework,
and did poorly on tests. He liked participating in group discussions
and did particularly well on a recent oral assignment following
a video that the class watched on the Pyramids. He liked working
with peers. His friend Jeremy was in his learning team, and they
seemed to work well together. Jeremy was quieter and less vocal
than Barry, but seemed to be motivated by helping Barry. Ms. Briggs
knew that he worked with Mrs. Reeves on issues in reading, spelling,
and on new social studies vocabulary words, but this didn't seem
to be improving his social studies grades.
was the first quarter of the school year and Six B was into the
second chapter of the social studies text. The first chapter had
been reviewed, and Barry managed to pass the first chapter test.
Barry's frustrations in class were growing more obvious and were
beginning to affect his behavior. Ms. Briggs had allowed the boys
(Jeremy and Barry) to work together when appropriate, but became
aware that Barry was taking advantage of Jeremy's good nature.
Ms. Briggs thought this was because he failed the first quiz on
the new chapter. This was especially discouraging to Ms. Briggs,
because she thought he really enjoyed the chapter topic, Ancient
Egypt. On this day, Ms. Briggs was preparing to give the class
another in-class assignment, but she was apprehensive about how
Barry would respond. The class had prepared for this activity,
but Barry had not been engaged.
Briggs was about to return to her classroom from her recess break,
but stopped by Mrs. Reeves' room on her way. Mrs. Reeves was a
veteran teacher, and had been at Laclede for almost twenty years.
Ms. Briggs respected and valued her opinion, but thought that
the only interventions Mrs. Reeves used consistently with Barry
for social studies were vocabulary games and drills. She didn't
know what interventions were used for reading because Mrs. Reeves
was responsible for his grade in that subject, and they hadn't
had an IEP meeting yet. She decided to tell Mrs. Reeves about
current unit in the social studies text is Ancient Civilizations,
and he likes to talk about the ancient Egyptians and how they
lived, but doesn't complete any of his work or participate, except
for when we are doing a group project or watching a video. He
seems to be interested in the chapter and was disappointed when
he failed the last quiz. Now he won't engage at all, he's distracting
other kids, and it's starting to affect his work in other subjects.
I was wondering if we could get together to talk about it before
it gets worse." Mrs. Reeves agreed to meet with her after
Incident, according to Ms. Briggs
objective for the in-class assignment was to have students interpret
a short reading from the perspectives of people from different
groups. The short reading was about the burial ceremony of a pharaoh,
and it was to be read and interpreted from the perspective of
an Egyptian slave and one of the pharaoh's children. The perspective
could be either male or female in both cases. The length requirement
was flexible, but should have been between two and three paragraphs.
Ten minutes in to the test, I noticed that Barry was copying from
Jeremy's paper and Jeremy seemed to be allowing this to happen.
I wanted to catch them in the act, you know, to make a statement
about cheating, so I approached the boys.
said, "Excuse me, Barry. Please give me your paper."
He looked at me as if to say, "Why?" I looked at him
until he gave me the paper and then moved to Jeremy's desk. Barry
dropped his head on his desk with a thud and other students looked
up from their papers. Jeremy saw me coming and handed his paper
to me with a sigh. He looked to Barry for some sign of acknowledgment,
but Barry only moaned into his desktop. I wasn't really that angry,
but I knew that if I let them sit there with some other assignment,
they'd only disrupt the class, so I decided to send them to the
whispered, "Boys, please go to the front office and I'll call
for you when the test is over." I then wrote and handed them a
note to give to the front office secretary. They got out of their
seats to leave and I used the intercom to buzz for the front office
to notify them of the incident.
the boys walked out, Barry turned to me with a scowl, and said
defiantly, "That's fine. I don't care. I hate this class
and besides, my mama says that I don't need to know this stuff
anyway!" Barry's voice was loud and angry. He was often somewhat
loud and I was used to him playing the class clown, but that was
the first time I saw him lose his temper. He was looking for a
power struggle, and I was beginning to regret taking his paper
away in front of the class. I watched the two boys as they walked
down the hall, and then I looked at the rest of the class. They
had all been watching and were completely stirred up and distracted
from their work. I tried to refocus them, and decided to give
them extra time to complete the assignment.
few minutes passed, and the class was finally refocused. I thought
I'd be able to deal with the situation after class, but Mrs. Scott,
our school principal, arrived in my doorway. She motioned for
me to come to the door for a "word."
Briggs, I know we need to discuss what happened, but Barry is
very upset and has never been sent to the office before, so I've
called his mother and asked her to come in this afternoon. Please
meet with me after school so that we can discuss this before she
arrives." As usual, Mrs. Scott's face was expressionless, and
she waited for a response.
was shocked that she had gone ahead and called Barry's mom. I
agreed to meet with her right after school, but wondered what
I should do about my meeting with Mrs. Reeves. If only we had
met sooner. How did this get so out of hand?
the student characteristics that are important in this scenario.
did Barry's apparent reading difficulties contribute to the
Describe the teacher-related and professional role issues that
impact upon this scenario.
reading interventions appear to be appropriate in this situation?
would you do if you were Ms. Briggs?