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Signs of Spring at Bennet Middle School

With spring in the air, or at least on the calendar, units wind up, and lessons focus on a new season. Bennet students get ready to show their stuff on science tests, literary essays, and bar graphs. Included: A description of some spring lessons.

Signs of spring are all over Bennet Middle School, despite lingering cool temperatures.

Tests are are scheduled in many classes the week before the spring break, the chorus is preparing for a spring concert, students are graphing major league baseball ticket prices, and once pristine, gleaming white sneakers are scuffed and grey. Many students are dressing according to the calendar and not the temperature, and come to class in short-sleeve shirts, and with the return of baseball, team t-shirts are back as well.

In David Sutherland's science class, chairs and tables have been re-arranged so students face different parts of the room. The Royal 7's are reviewing for a quiz on cell structures, and refer to index cards on which they have listed the terms they must know.

The class reviews for the test by playing cell Bingo; Mr. Sutherland reads a definition, and students hunt for the correct space on their Bingo cards. They leave class with their index cards and reminders to study.


Students in Jenna Brohinsky's language arts class have a test today, and students review before the essay questions are handed out. Students have spent about nine weeks studying Roar of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the story of an African-American family trying to hang on to its land and pride in Mississippi during the Great Depression.

The day before, students wrote down questions about the book on slips of paper and turned them in. Now they take turns pulling a question from a hat, reading it, and calling on students to answer.

Students are permitted to use the novel and the portfolio of information they compiled about the novel during the essay test. "The goal is not to see how well you memorize things, but to see if you can put the information together," Ms. Brohinsky says. Students can complete the test at home if they don't finish in class.

To complete their portfolios, students had to answer questions after each chapter of the book, and also read background knowledge about issues in the novel, such as sharecropping and Jim Crowe laws. Students also drew a family tree for the main characters, and completed a weather chart, to show the correlation between weather conditions and events in the novel.

"Their final grade becomes a piece of work," Ms. Brohinsky says.

"This is one of the most important books we do. We do a lot of work on this because the novel is rich with curriculum."

The portfolio work is designed to help students understand themes, literature, symbolism, and become active readers. During this unit, "I start to see great improvement in writing, and they start to be active thinkers and readers," says Ms. Brohinsky.


For the chorus, the spring concert is but a month away, and students concentrate on learning their parts.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "When the Saints Come Marching In," are among the chorus's spring selections.

A writing assignment is posted on the board: "What are the most important skills you need to possess in order to be a successful performer?"

Spring also means the opening of the baseball season, and in Taryn Kutniewski's math class, students use different types of graphs to compare prices for field box seats for major league baseball teams. "Look at the bar graph and see what is the least expensive ticket and the most expensive ticket," Mrs. Kutniewski says.

It's fine to talk about signs of spring, but students can't resist the lure of warmer weather. Between classes, during the trek between buildings, a group of students lingers in a parking lot to dribble and pass a basketball. Then after getting a taste of the promise of outdoor play, they hurry off.

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.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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