Symphony 86

When they had run out of suggestions, Tanya said, “Now let’s choose the best ten words;” and she listed her choices. Olivia and Casey liked smelly and wanted to add it. Tanya agreed, took out one of her choices, then said, “Who’s going to write them down?” Olivia undertook that task. Then Tanya’s hand went up and she said, “We’re ready, Mr. McCrae. We made our choices.”

We? Neil thought.

# # #

Neil did no more cooperative exercises until the next day. Then he had them list as many names for characters as they could think of and choose the ten they would like best if they were writing a book. Things went pretty much as the first day until Tanya’s hand went up. Then Neil said, “Today Pedro will read your list.”

Pedro sat up, woke up, and shook his head decisively. Neil said, “Come on, you chose the names. Surely you can read them.”

Pedro didn’t think so. Neil was firm. It was sad and embarrassing to hear him stumble through the list, and throughout the room there was a hushed shuffling as previously disinterested students suddenly began reviewing the lists that they had “chosen”.

Neil learned another interesting thing. In every group but one, the names were a mixture of Mexican and Anglo. In the group that Oscar Teixeira dominated, there were nothing but Mexican names.

# # #

On the third day they read together from Fog Magic.  One advantage of cooperative learning was cost.  Neil could afford to buy nine copies of the paperback out of his own pocket, where he could not have afforded a double classroom set. The children had one copy for each group and they clustered around it as each student read in turn. Neil did not tell them that they all had to read equally, simply that everyone had to have a chance to read, so in most groups the slow readers read only a sentence or two while the better readers took over.

When they had finished, Neil chose a student from each group to read to the whole class from the part they had just finished. Sometimes he chose a good reader; sometimes he did not. Tasmeen zipped through her paragraph, but Martin Christoffersen had a terrible time. When they had finished, Neil announced that tomorrow he would take grades on their oral reading.

“You mean everybody will have to read?” Rafael wanted to know.

“Everybody will read in their group at the start. Afterward I will choose one person from each group just like I did today, and take grades from that.”

“In other words,” Oscar said, “only one-fourth of us will be graded tomorrow.”

“No, everybody will get a grade. The person who reads will earn a grade for the whole group.”

He might as well have told them that tomorrow he would teach the positive values of communism. They exploded into lamentations, but he did not respond to them and they were still complaining when the bell rang.

# # #

Bill Campbell stopped Neil as he came in from the parking lot the next morning and motioned him into his office. He said, “Is it true that you are giving grades to groups of kids based on what the lowest member can do?”

“Not exactly, but that is close enough to the truth.”

“Are you trying to get us all fired?” Bill asked, only half joking.

“Bill, I’m using techniques they taught me in that seminar you sent me to. I don’t like them, either, but I am willing to try them. Give me a week before you lynch me. Okay?”

Bill shook his head and said, “It’s okay by me, but if the parents get you before then, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” more tomorrow


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