One of the things that is awesome about my school is its continuous attempt to meet kids where they are and do whatever it takes to move them forward. To this end, we’ve developed an “Intensives” approach. A few weeks into the trimester, we add a 40-minute mini class which either extends advanced kids or supports kids who are struggling. We use all available data about students to put them into an appropriate “Intensive” class each trimester. Some get reading, some get writing, some get different math skills. That 40-minute class is intense, and it lasts 6 weeks, or about half a trimester every trimester.
Because I’m now 7th and 8th grade Humanities teacher and Humanities Chair, I get the advanced reading “intensive,” and I get to create the whole thing. After doing a pre-packaged literacy intensive all last year, with pre-chosen text and scripts to read from and a developed curricula to follow, it was a gift from above to get a real class. Yes, planning another topic is a HUGE burden, but I got to choose my material. All I was asked to do was pick a book which was a genre we’d not studied before, and to pick one that would challenge and push the kids and engage them.
I picked the genre “ghost story,” and chose Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Despite the workload, I am mad excited to teach this book to advanced readers and 7th and 8th grade. I love this story, and the Robert Wise film version too. We will eventually compare and contrast the two in my “Intensive.”
Today I asked the class if anyone knew what a poltergeist was. (Eleanor in the novel is chosen, of course, to participate in Dr. Montague’s experiments because she was involved in poltergeist phenomena as a youth.) One student raised his hand–a troubled young kid who is bright but has tremendous difficulty controlling his moods and behavior. I called on him immediately.
“A poltergeist is like a ghost that plays malicious pranks. It responds to somebody’s emotions, and causes mischief around that person’s moods.” I congratulated him for describing a poltergeist much more succinctly and elegantly than I’d have done. Later in the day, while I was keeping him for detention because of his behavior in Humanities class, I asked him why he was such an expert on poltergeists.
“We had some troubles in our house,” he told me.
This statement set off alarm bells. “Troubles?”
“When I used to get mad, stuff would happen.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“One time I got real mad at my sister, and the power cords in her bedroom all caught fire. Or something would come off a shelf and hit a person I was mad at. Stuff like that.”
I will not be keeping him for detention very often!