Teaching teachers

NB aids faculty with 90 in-house workshops

Normally a school district sends its teachers to workshops to expand their skills and learn new classroom approaches. But this year, the North Bergen Board of Education expanded a program with 90 such lessons for staff to be taught within their own classrooms.
According to District Language Arts Literacy Supervisor Janet Sandstrom, in-house workshops have already been held for five years with the Rutgers Center for Effective Practices. During these lessons for teachers, new classroom strategies are given to them in the hopes of improving the students’ scores in the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK), a test that takes place in May.


“I feel as though it was a very useful lesson that taught me it’s important to overcome your fears and be brave.” – Yanita Hernandez, student

North Bergen expanded the program this year by asking St. Peter’s College in Jersey City to join. Jim Jacobson, a St. Peter’s College professor for 44 years and former North Bergen teacher, is scheduled to work with Lincoln and Kennedy Schools this year. On different days, he has workshops with third through eighth grade teachers, giving them tools to strengthen their students reading and comprehension skills.
Last Friday, he spent the morning conducting a workshop for seventh and eighth grade teachers at Lincoln School. He introduced a story, “Harry and the Whatzit,” that was the focus for a new, more pleasurable way to involve students in learning.
In the story, Harry is afraid of his cellar because of an imaginary monster, the Whatzit. However, Harry learns that when he hits the Whatzit with his broom, his fears, and the Whatzit, become smaller and smaller. At the end of the story, he feels bad for it and sends it to another frightened child’s home.
After teaching the teachers, Jacobson demonstrated the technique by teaching the lesson to language arts teacher Christopher Tetro’s class while the other teachers looked on.

Help with comprehension

Jacobson’s approach involved asking the children to describe the characters in their own words, asking questions like who was helped the most, had students play the roles of Harry and the Whatzit, and had the other students interview them.
These fun activities allowed students to practice their inference skills and use critical thinking.
“I think it’s beneficial because it’s a different way, in terms of the interviewing process for [the] summary,” said Tetro.
Tetro said he would use the same approach when his class begins working with Lois Lowry’s science fiction novel “The Giver” this week.
Kathleen Whitmore, a resource language arts teacher, also felt that the new approaches to reading could be used in her everyday lessons.
All teachers, not just language arts teachers, were a part of the lesson.

Life lesson

Tetro’s students agreed that the lesson Jacobson taught them was interesting.
Yanitza Hernandez said that the humor of “Harry and the Whatzit” made them relate to it.
“I feel as though it was a very useful lesson that I feel taught me it’s important to overcome your fears and be brave, and I feel you can use that in life when you come upon an obstacle in life when you are older,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez said that she chose the words considerate, intelligent and determined for Harry, while she felt grotesque, rude, and intimidating best suited the Whatzit.
Omar Serrano said that the Whatzit was dependent on the fears of others that he had scared in the past. He also said that Harry’s fear was “all in his mind.”
Serrano said that the vocabulary exercises could definitely help them get higher scores on the NJ ASK.
Lincoln School Principal Arlene McGowan believed that the workshops being taught in her school were also making an impact.
“Hands-on is the most effective way of getting a point across as far as I’m concerned, in my 43 years of education,” she said. “It’s more reliable, the most proven, and the most beneficial.”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.

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