A springboard to student productions
When reading teacher Bryant Pless worked with his eighth graders at Browns River Middle School in Jericho, Vermont to read and discuss The Revealers, one class got so inspired that they began performing scenes from the book for younger students. A second class wrote, filmed, and produced short, original video movies.
"One of the elements of our curriculum is to understand the elements of a story—the development of conflict, the rising action, climax, and falling to conclusion," Pless said. "I felt this would be a great vehicle for them to explore that. The book is so inspiring that it made them want to write a story of their own."
Working with his school's special educator, Heidi Abbott, and guidance counselor Jason Stevenson, Pless developed a study unit that centered on the novel—but didn't start there.
"We started with a couple of younger kids' stories about bullying," he said. "Then we gave out butcher paper, and asked them to draw a picture of bullies. They'd do these completely outlandish posters: kids with nose rings, big tough monsters, kids who didn't even exist. We'd say, 'Let's look around our middle school. We don't have a lot of kids like that, do we?' They'd say, 'Oh. We don't.'
"We said, 'Let's read this book, The Revealers, and talk about it.' So right after we'd processed the caricatures, we read the first chapter. It's a very powerful way to start."
The in-class reading gave rise to discussions. "We tried to steer it away from the whole theme of 'Everybody should be a leader,' to 'Everybody should have a voice,'" Pless said. "What is it that you can do, to make this situation better?"
Analyzing the elements of The Revealers, one class began acting out certain scenes. That led to the students visiting younger classes. They would introduce the story and perform their scene; then Principal Nancy Guyette would follow, to explain Vermont's new anti-bullying law to the class.
The second class created brief original screenplays and filmed them, using a digital video camera.
"It was amazing," Pless said. "We got 15-page stories out of some of these kids! The quality was really great, too. They put their hearts and souls into it.
"The most amazing thing that happened involved a group of boys whose image was the tough football players and renegade skateboarders. One of them wrote a story about a kid who was disabled, and was being picked on. They were going to act out the part of the disabled student. I said that didn't seem very realistic, but that we had a student in the school who has cerebral palsy. Why didn't they ask him?
"They were frightened that they were going to hurt him—but he loved it," Pless said. "When we screened that piece, you could have heard a pin drop."