Great Books at Parkway
Parkway Elementary School is a Great School, literally! All staff and students in grades two through five have been engaged this school year in inquiry-based instruction and learning using Junior Great Books as a literacy resource. As you may be aware, Junior Great Books have been used as a gifted resource in elementary schools for years. However, students at Parkway are using the books to enhance their skills in critical reading, thinking, and conversation, and according to their teachers, they are having a great time doing it!
Several teachers and I worked last year "tinkering" with the Junior Great Books resource, getting to know its intricacies and methods of instruction. As a result of this collective effort, Parkway teachers and administrators decided that Parkway should become a Great School. This is what the Great Books Foundation which created the Junior Great Books program labels the first school in a state to undertake a schoolwide, full implementation of the program. This includes the required five days of professional development(PD) that teachers receive in order to learn how to use the program properly. As a point of information, Parkway teachers were so taken with their PD, they requested additional training. As a result, the Great Books Foundation consultant, Kriko Michaels, traveled from Richmond to provide three more days of training for teachers in December and January. To date, staff have received eight full days of professional development and they are hoping to receive more!
The Junior Great Books program involves students at Parkway, all students, in close reading of the texts they are provided. In fact, each student in grades two through five has received two grade-appropriate anthologies and a reader's journal for his or her personal use. The program involves students in shared reading, individual reading, directed note taking, discussion, and writing as they read various stories in the anthologies. Students are taught specific note-taking and questioning strategies and these lessons lead into a Shared Inquiry discussion during which the teacher facilitates student discussion through “attentive questioning,” helping students work together to discover meaning in a story. Students learn how to support their thinking by citing evidence from the text. Interestingly, teachers have a difficult time ending the discussions because students are so engaged in conversation. Not a bad problem to have!
Such 21st century skills are naturally rolling over into instruction and learning that extends throughout the school day. When was the last time you heard a fifth-grade boy ask, “So, what's our next story going to be? Can I read it ahead of time?” Or a fourth-grade special education student say, “Do you remember that story we read before break? Well, I read it again, twice, and now I really get it! Can we talk about it some more?” This is what teaching, and Junior Great Books, is all about at Parkway Elementary!
For more information on Junior Great Books go to www.greatbooks.org.
Thank you to Parkway Elementary School reading specialist Grier Crosby for submitting this article.