August 01, 1990 6 min read

“Weeks after the cooking lesson,’' Jackson writes, “the children remember every detail of the experience. They can read their own little Chocolate Books. They remember the sound/ symbol connection for most of the cooking nouns and verbs, and they have the sequence clearly in mind. Their pride in their accomplishment is long lasting.’'

now establishing a new column, called “Shoptalk,’' which will appear in the “Practice’’ section on an occasional basis. To inaugurate this new feature, we’re devoting a full two pages to some of the best original classroom tips we’ve received during recent months.

Real World 101: At Lebanon (N.H.) High School, a heavy dose of reality therapy has replaced the traditional Career Day.

Teachers and administrators had become increasingly concerned that students were unprepared for life after high school. So the English and guidance departments came up with a kind of boot-camp experience designed to give students a sneak preview of life in the real world.

During three weeks in March, every one of the school’s 700 students is now obliged to submit to an interview. To add just a touch of sweaty-palmed realism to the exercise, college admissions officers, corporate personnel managers, and military recruiters are brought in to put students through their paces. Though it’s only a dress rehearsal for the real thing, most students take the interviews seriously, says humanities coordinator Dan Swainbank.

“An English teacher standing in front of the class and talking about the real world doesn’t have much credibility,’' says Swainbank. “Students assume the teacher has never held a ‘real’ job. But to have a guy in a uniform, or a woman in a smart suit, that’s meaningful to them.’'

Each student receives a formal notice a week or so before the scheduled interview. By the Friday preceding the appointment, every student must submit a package of interview materials, including a resume, job application, and several essays responding to queries on real college and job application forms. For example: How does this particular job fit in with your future plans? How have you prepared yourself for this job? What can you offer our company?

Swainbank says students get “quite excited’’ (translation: scared out of their wits) as the interview approaches. But it’s no walk in the park for the interviewers, either. They all take students seriously, and they’re encouraged to be hard-nosed. “If the kid is chewing gum, then let him have it,’' Swainbank tells them. “If he answers in one syllable, give him that feedback.’'

Earth First: Philadelphia teacher Gloria Hearn Ruffins is already planning to celebrate Earth Day 2010. She’ll be there, in the playground of the A.S. Jenks School--or so she hopes--when they open a time capsule left by her 1st grade class on Earth Day 1990.

The time capsule is at once a symbol of purity and the durable litter that plagues the Earth--a white plastic jug that once contained spring water. If anything is going to be around in 20 years, certainly this nonbiodegradable memento will be.

The jug contains a class picture, 1990 pennies, news clippings about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, New Kids on the Block, and other 1990 cultural curios. But by far the most important contribution to the time capsule is a collection of letters, written by the students of 1990 to the Earth Day class of 2010. They contain references to all the things Ruffins’s students like about the good Earth-- trees, parks, the beach--and to those they dislike--junk cars, garbage, air pollution.

Ruffins, a 20-year teaching veteran now in her fourth year at the Jenks school, says she was trying to come up with a memorable theme for Earth Day, and a time capsule filled the bill.

Unlike other time capsules, this one wasn’t buried. The only available patch of dirt was recently paved over. “We took it to the school office, instead,’' says Ruffins. “It’s there as you come in, on a storage shelf. I’ve assigned a young teacher here to take care of it and to make sure a ceremony does take place 20 years from now.’'

Ruffins, too, left a message in the bottle. It expresses the hope that the children of 1990 will make the Earth a better place for the children of 2010. And it ends with this thought: “Every day, for us, is Earth Day.’' All The Right Moves: Julia Ansley teaches 1st grade at the 102nd Street School in Los Angeles’s Watts neighborhood, just across the street from the crime-ridden Jordan Downs housing project. Not exactly a nurturing environment for the development of young intellects, but that hasn’t stopped Ansley from teaching her students the finer points of chess.

“This isn’t typical for 6-year-olds,’' Ansley admits. “And here in Watts, most of these kids don’t even know what chess is.’'

They soon learn, moving carved wooden chess pieces around their own boards, and well enough to compete in classroom tournaments. But as any chess master would attest, it isn’t all fun and games.

“It really does a lot for their critical thinking skills,’' says Ansley. “You really have to think about what you’re going to do and what the other kid is going to do. It teaches them to sort out consequences.’'

But Ansley is quick to emphasize that the program, funded by grants from the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, also reinforces oral language and math skills. The children have to learn the names of all the chess pieces, how to read chess notation and game directions, and that there are 16 pieces a side and 64 squares.

“Kidchess,’' as the program is called, also has a physical education component. Ansley takes the children out to the playground, and each one wears a card denoting a chess piece-- a pawn, a rook, a bishop, and so on. The opposing sides line up, facing each other across the field. Ansley then holds up large signs instructing a “piece’’ to move so many spaces in a given direction. “If they’re the queen, they can go all the way across the length of the field in any direction,’' says Ansley. “Everybody wants to be the queen.’'

Aside from the educational benefits, Ansley also believes Kidchess promotes pride. Each day, two students get to help Ansley move pieces on an oversized demonstration board set up in the classroom. Even discipline is part of the program; the four best-behaved boys and girls get to be crowned kings and queens of the class. And at the end of each year, the winner of the annual tournament is awarded his or her own chess set; there are ribbons for first, second, and third place.

Ansley admits her approach is unusual. “The way chess has traditionally been taught is to older kids, to ‘smart’ kids,’' she says. But Ansley believes younger kids are up to the challenge. “They get good enough to get into the game and play,’' she says. “If I had them longer, they’d get better and better.’'

In Words And Pictures: Envision Roseanne Barr as a reading instructor. Just turn off the sound--in her case, it couldn’t hurt--and then turn on your handy closed-caption decoder.

The decoder is a device normally used by the deaf to simultaneously translate spoken dialogue into on-screen subtitles, but it often comes into play in teacher Milton Goldman’s remedial reading classes at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. Goldman simply turns on a video of a popular show, lets it run for a few minutes, and then switches off the sound. If students want to follow the show, they have to read the closed captions.

“What I have found,’' says Goldman, “is that the students will watch the screen with more intensity than they ever will when they’re reading a book.’'

Goldman, who has won local and national teaching awards, believes the technology has prompted many of his students to read more.

He says, “I know that they are practicing reading, and that is what helps improve reading skills.’'

Jeff Meade

Got an idea? Submit it to: “Shoptalk,’' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Shoptalk