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Poe, Skills-Building Are Center Stage at Bennet

While reading Edgar Allan Poe helps Bennet Middle School students get into the Halloween spirit, science and math teachers lay the groundwork for more complex lessons. Included: A language arts lesson on Edgar Allan Poe.

October is the perfect month to study Edgar Allan Poe and his dark and eerie short stories. Students in Jenna Brohinsky's classes came at Poe themes from all angles; writing poe-ems about the author, writing about being scared or feeling guilty in their journals, and writing scary stories. They even would create a Poe-Opoly game.

On one early October day, students in the second-third period class brought flashlights so they could read "The Cask of Amontillado" in the dark and get the full effect of Poe's dark themes. Ms. Brohinsky reminded the class it was an important day in Poe-world: he died October 7, 1849.

But first, Ms. Brohinsky asked students to write in their journals about the scariest movie they have ever seen, and describe why it was so scary. The class had lots of questions: what if you can't remember who's in it? What if you can't remember the name? She told them to focus on what they remember about the movie.

Some read their passages aloud. "I saw part of The Ring at a friend's house and I avoided closets after that," one girl said.

Others talked about leaving lights on, checking closets, and bunking with parents or siblings until the fear wore off.

"Part of the reason it's scary is it's setting the scene, right?" Ms. Brohinsky said. She reminded the class that what is scary to one person may not be scary to another.

To prepare for reading the Poe story, the class divided into groups, and Ms. Brohinsky passed out white cardboard and markers. Each piece of cardboard had a word or phrase on it - Edgar Allan Poe, Italy, carnival, revenge -- and students had to brainstorm about the word, write their word associations on the cardboard, and then pass it on to the next group.

For Italy, one group listed "Cute Italian boys." Others, garlic, pizza, pasta.

One boy asked if the class was doing this because, "It's a Poe story involving revenge at a carnival in Italy?"

Soon they were on the floor reading with their flashlights, but the students were restless and some complained about the difficult language. Ms. Brohinsky said they will continue reading the story the next day.


In David Sutherland's science class, students were reviewing how to set up an experiment, noting whether an item is the control, independent variable, or dependent variable. The experiment has to do with whether chickens that listen to music lay more eggs. "Name a type of chicken," Mr. Sutherland asked the class.

"Fried chicken?" a boy responded.

The other question of the day: Does the height at which something is dropped into a glass of liquid make a difference in the size of the spill?

"Are we going to test that?" Maggie whispered.

They would, but not by dropping, say, a tennis ball into a bucket of water. The class would drop colored water from different heights from an eye dropper into a glass.

"I don't think it matters if you drop it from here or here, the spill is going to spread out the same amount," Maggie said, talking to her partner, Sean.

"I agree with her," Sean said

In seventh period math with Taryn Kutniewski, students also were preparing for bigger concepts by reviewing fractions.

For a different perspective on the basics, students used plastic shapes to illustrate fractional portions.

"By doing it over two days, they can absorb it better," Mrs. Kutniewski said. "Sometimes, we do a different thing every day and they get overwhelmed."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

(Editor's Note: All students' names have been changed) 

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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