Thursday, March 19, 2009

Character Day in Cloverdale's Schools. A Reading Incentive.

Dear Friends,
On March 18th all schools in Cloverdale celebrated Character Day. Character Day was a coordinated effort between Confederacy Elementary, Cloverdale Middle School and the Comprehensive School (St. Bartholomew's didn't participate. They claimed all their students read above grade level). Its purpose was to encourage reading. Reading scores in the Shire have been flat for the past several years. Teachers blame television, video games, and the internet for this lack of student interest.

The Shire’s Board of Governors called for a special conference of local educators to find solutions. The Board was under pressure from the Ministry of Education and Unemployment to take remedial action. If they didn’t, the Shire faced sanctions imposed by the Most Children Can Learn Act passed by Parliament two years ago to improve the Confederacy’s test scores.

The conference was held in The Hairy Lemon's party room at the beginning of the school year. Thirty minutes into the conference, after the first round of lemon drinks were served, a bloody debate erupted in the Party Room between two camps of teachers with opposing philosophies on reading rewards.

“Students must be rewarded to read,” Mr. Preffley said. That innocent comment caused the fire storm. Nearly half the teachers in the room believed any kind of external reward for student performance sent the wrong message. They preached that students should love to learn because of an inner drive for excellence. The reward should come from the subject matter learned and how it is applied in their lives. The majority of teachers believed in the burning house approach. Throw everything you can on the fire in hopes of putting it out. If a candy bar or an extra recess resulted in more books read then the external reward was worth it.

The bribery teachers reminded the inner reward teachers that they taught for a pay check. Take away the external reward of a pay check and most, if not all, of their motivation to stay in the classroom disappeared. The argument silenced the opposition and brought the room back to order. It also helped that lunch was being served.

After a delicious lunch and a few rounds of darts, the teachers reluctantly rejoined the conference. They were stuffed on good food and drowsiness was setting in.

“Listen, we can debate for hours on new techniques and get no where, or we can quickly agree on what’s been done before and claim research shows it works but hasn’t been applied properly. We do that and we get out of here early,” suggested Mr. Preffley. Mr. Preffley was chosen to be chairman because of his indifference to trends and his heavy use of rewards to motivate students. Mr. Preffley learned a long time ago to agree to everything said by your superiors in teacher training meetings and always leave the room by commenting that the time spent was the most productive training he'd attended in his thirty three years of teaching. Once said, he returned to his room and did his own thing.

Mr. Preffley's students did fine on their tests. He made sure of that by drowning them in incentives and rewards ranging from tootsie pops to the class’s famous Fishing Day on the Pond. It seemed his student’s were rewarded most of the school day and worked on their studies at home - thus giving them permission to be rewarded again the next day.

The teachers saw sense in Mr. Preffley’s suggestion as a way of getting home early and created a list of reward activities to encourage reading. Miss Pelgree agreed to find the necessary research on the internet to prove incentives worked far better than anything else, including those expensive new reading programs pushed by the textbook salesman that haunted the school’s halls at the start of every year. When the list of rewards and incentives reached the bottom of the portable white board everyone cheered, got up, and left the conference.

Character Day was the last item on the list from the conference. On Character Day, every student came to school dressed like a character from their favorite book. Each student was given a few minutes during class to talk about their book and the character they chose to represent. The teachers were excited. Character Day gave them ample time to sit in the back of their classrooms and grade papers, surf the internet or sleep with their eyes open while apparently taking notes. Yes, another skill teachers develop over the years in the classroom.

Pictured above is Leena Nancy. She is is one of the more popular students at Cloverdale Middle School and known school wide for her taste in fashion. Leena presented her 'favorite' book Magic in 3D (actually she only reads when her parents threaten to take her cell phone away). The book didn’t have characters, so for her presentation she wore the 3D glasses that came with the book and told the class they were seeing her in 3D. She spun around twice and curtsied. The room broke into thunderous applause. The students seemed amazed they could see her in 3D considering she was the one wearing the glasses. They didn’t get her humor. She didn’t care. Her teacher laughed at her cleverness and gave her an A.
“Hopeless,” he was heard mumbling under his breath - referring to his students. He was tempted to tell them that humans saw everything in 3D because of our two eyes but he couldn’t be bothered.

Leena was satisfied. She went back to her desk, chewed her gum and resumed a flurry of texts with her friend Nora. It would take a minimum of 50 lines of text back and forth for them to decide what to do after school.

Pictured above is Egbert Ellsworth Parker. He is a student in Confederacy Elementary’s Mildly Gifted First Grade. He read War and Peace by Tolstoy. He came to school dressed like a Russian General. He cried most of the day because everyone in his class kept mistaking him for George Washington.
Egbert won best costume of the day. The Head Mistress also mistook him for George Washington when she called him forward during the rewards assembly to receive his prize. He stabbed her in the thigh with his plastic sword and ran out of the gym crying.

Character Day is over. I enjoyed the day. Some of the students were very creative and others were - well, just there.


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