Crossing Over: Teaching Meaning-Centered Secondary English Language Arts

By Harold M. Foster | Go to book overview

chapter FOUR
Discussing Books

Introduction

Class discussions that go well, really well, are about as satisfying an activity as any I know as a teacher. When discussing The Pigman, I have had students talk deeply and honestly about their relationships with the elderly, both relatives and nonrelatives. In Bridge to Terabithia discussions, I have witnessed students confess reactions to death experiences similar to what Jess goes through in the book. In my best discussions, students address students, to clarify, analyze, and expand. My best discussions move along effortlessly, so it seems, making the length of class feel like mere minutes.


The School, the Students

Calvin is a city neighborhood, yet it feels like a small town set in 1952. Main Street has a coffee shop, a lawnmower repair place, a public library, and a wonderful old used-book store. Even the prices in the shops seem reasonable, especially compared to those for the same services just two miles away in downtown.

Yet, the high school on the hill looks nothing like an old-fashioned school. The school is a large monolithic, red brick structure, surrounded by parking lots on two sides and old city neighborhoods on the other two. There are no apparent windows anyone looking at the school can see, and, in fact, there are no windows except in the administrative wing where the principal has his office.

The 1,532 students in this school are city kids and come in all sizes and varieties. But it would be wrong to assume that this racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic mix reflects the neighborhood for, in fact, it has always been an enclave of German-Americans who have kept it as a small pocket of convivial, monochromatic ethnicity, surrounded by a very diverse city. The school reflects the city, not the community, because of a busing program that brings students from a variety of city neighborhoods.

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