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A new model for reading instructionOdyssey attracts the attention of Maryland public television.
"The Maryland Public Television film crew reviews raw footage from the morning's shoot in a darkened corner of the room.The subjects of their video - Barry Hoonan's Odyssey Multiage Program students - use the time to unwrap sandwiches and break open cartons of milk.It is Thursday, the fourth day of filming, and everyone seems to have the routine down. One could imagine that these kids always had six guys from PBS underfoot; the TV crew could be furniture, for all the attention they receive. The producer of the series, Marilyn Phillips, is impressed with the students' aplomb. These kids are incredible, Phillips says. They aren't goofy like other kids we work with. They don't make the peace sign or wave at the camera and say 'hi, mom.' We are pointing hand-held cameras right in their faces, and they just keep working.Hoonan's classroom is being featured in a professional-development series on teaching literature by the Annenberg Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Maryland, to be viewed by teachers nationwide.Phillips and her crew are working at a relentless pace - the production schedule has them filming in eight cities in as many weeks. Washington is the second stop, with New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas, New York State, Maryland and Illinois still to go. Phillips, sitting on the end of the cot in the nurse's office with her head in her hands, is only half joking when she says that she might just lie down and take a nap. Working with students and school personnel can be difficult, Phillips says. She alludes to school security guards that shadowed the film crew in south Miami, and near-indecipherable educationspeak on the part of school personnel. Bainbridge has been a good experience, however. She finds the school a relaxed environment and the kids strike her as well-prepared.Hoonan used his month's advance notice to discuss the upcoming filming thoroughly with the children.We talked about it as an opportunity to talk to other people and kids about books, he said.Hoonan was selected from a nationwide search by the PBS education advisory committee - headed by Judith Langer, whose research on literacy is at the heart of the TV series - for promoting critical thinking, and for meaningful student-teacher interaction in his classroom.Despite the criteria for his selection, Hoonan believes that if he is doing his job right, the video will have little footage of him and a lot of students discussing books among themselves in small literature circles. Hoonan says the educational focus, nationwide, has shifted from the early years of learn to read to the next step, read to learn, where students apply the skill to comprehension of reading matter.Hoonan cites teachers instructing students to infer - to grasp meaning in literature beyond what is literally specified. Simply pointing out a main theme resonates with strong readers, but not with poor readers. If you read the passage: 'The airplane took off over the mountains,' and then ask the weak reader to tell you what might be on the plane, that kid will just reply 'The book didn't say that,' Hoonan says. But when we add drama, they get to inhabit the writing. We create a rich environment for kids to look at literature as participatory.Through dramatization, students who couldn't imagine what might be on the plane are soon airplanes themselves, flying through the sky, embellishing the story, trailing allusion and metaphor in their wake. Hoonan, who has taught the Odyssey program for three years, has given reading a lot of thought. He sits on the National Reading Commission, an teachers' organization, and was featured in a book by noted reading researcher Jane Braunger - which is how he came to the attention of PBS.When the Maryland station asked him for two or three kids' profiles, Hoonan sent them eight to represent a broad spectrum of students, from advanced readers to kids who have recently learned the skill. The station decided to interview all eight; they have had a generally positive reaction to seeing themselves on film. It's fun to be on camera - it's exciting, sixth grader Theresa Gildner says. Having the camera right in my face can be kind of annoying, though. Fifth grader Ian Powell put such minor inconveniences in perspective.It's all going to pay off in the end, he says, to encourage other teachers to teach better. "