On Thursday morning, students throughout H.H. Wells Middle School sat in front of their Chromebooks—but this was no ordinary lesson. Instead of sitting quietly, listening to lectures and tapping out a few notes, students schoolwide were having spirited discussions about Restart by Gordon Korman as part of a Schoolwide Book Talk.
Organized by the Facing History and Ourselves committee at Wells, the book, which centers on a bully who gets amnesia and is faced with figuring out both who he was and who he wants to be, was chosen by ELA teachers and the PTA. Assistant Principal Christian Hernandez said the committee identified recurring themes from the book and planned activities around those themes for both the talk and for upcoming grade level meetings and assemblies.
“It’s all in an effort to support our students’ wellness,” Hernandez said. “Socially, emotionally, and academically.”
Today’s event was a huge success. Teachers and National Junior Honor Society facilitators had a menu of options to choose from when discussing the book. “This year, for the first time, the book talk is 100% digital,” Hernandez explained. “All the materials they needed for discussion were on Google classroom.” In addition, the grade levels were mixed so that sixth, seventh, and eighth graders mingled together.
“I like the fact that it was sixth, seventh, and eighth graders interacting,” said librarian Mary DeBellis. “The students were excited to see new faces and they were engaged.”
DeBellis’s group did one activity where NJHS member Charlie Armon acted as a talk show host. Her fellow students loved it. “She was awesome,” DeBellis said.
Students in other classrooms mirrored what DeBellis noted. “It’s fun because it’s very interactive,” eighth-grader Alescia said while coloring in a diagram of two hands that asked students to consider their present and future selves.
In another classroom, students took that very same diagram and approached it from a different angle. Lester, Anthony, and Yeimy, all Guatemalan immigrants and students in the ENL class, used the diagram to explore who they were in Guatemala and who they are in the United States.
In other classrooms, additional thought-provoking questions were raised. “Isn’t it nice to get up every day and have a restart?” Mrs. Pascale asked.
“What responsibility do we have to guide other people in our life?” asked Mrs. Romaine.
“Is it possible to change who you are?” asked Mr. Daly.
“I was surprised at how the school got mad at Chase for damaging property and not for bullying someone for months,” a student noted as a discussion starter.
Many, if not all, of the skills included in the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan were at play throughout the morning as students adapted to mixed classrooms and collaborated on critical thinking about the book, themselves, and their civic responsibility.