Head: Gifted students get early introduction to literary greats
By Monique Harrison
When Joyner Elementary fourth-grader Courtney Holliday learned that reading a classic novel was one of the requirements for her gifted program, she was a little alarmed.
"I knew they were big, thick books," the 10-year-old said of books such as "Little Women" and "Around the World in Eighty Days." "I didn't know if they'd be interesting. I expected them to be hard to read, with lots of big words. But I really liked them."
In fact, Courtney and several other fourth-grade gifted students enjoyed their assigned classic novels so much they read more on their own.
"Once they were introduced to the classics, it was like they couldn't get enough," said Karol Voge, who teaches the gifted class. "They only had to read one, but they wanted to read more and more. It's something they've really enjoyed."
Students were required to select from a list of literary classics including "Tale of Two Cities," "Black Beauty," "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "Huckleberry Finn" and "Secret Garden."
After reading the books, students completed a project designed to relate a portion of their book to classmates.
"I told them they couldn't do a book report because they do that in the regular classroom," said Voge, who like all teachers of gifted students, is required to present her students with assignments at least two years above their regular grade level.
Voge's students were not afraid to get creative with their projects.
Courtney, for example, wrote a sequel to "Around the World in Eighty Days." In the sequel, Courtney took readers on a tour of the United States, giving details about the culture and geography of a number of states.
Ti Simpson, 10, used sugar cubes to construct a replica of the castle described in "The Three Musketeers."
"The castle was made from sugar cubes and I painted an ice cream cone to be the tower," Ti explained. "I folded a piece of cardboard and painted it to make mountains. I painted grass and a moat and I bought action figures and glued them to it to show the people in the book."
Other students performed scenes, retold the story in their own words or engineered board games designed to teach classmates about the plot of their selected novel.
Most students are not introduced to classics such as the ones being read by Voge's students until at least seventh or eighth grade. And in many cases, students are never introduced to the works because teachers sometimes bump classic readings to allow students to read more modern books, which may be easier to comprehend.
Voge said she thought students should be introduced to the classics.
"Some people might say I am just an old fogy," Voge said. "But I asked some friends who are teachers, and it seems students are not required to read a lot of the classics. I talked to the students and they didn't have any idea what a classic was. I just felt it was something they should be taught. They need that exposure."
Voge's friend, Ruby Kathryn Patterson, the wife of Bank of Mississippi President Aubrey Patterson, shared those feelings and offered to donate both hardback and paperback books to the class. She also treated students to a pizza party, where she had the opportunity to view videos of students presenting their projects.
Students: Books have changed
Several youngsters said they noticed stark differences between modern books and classics.
"For one thing, the classics are better," said Meredith Lee, 10. "Books today are more futuristic. They are about things that probably can't ever happen. The classics - the books written during old times - are more realistic. They are about things like sisters or about nature. They give you an idea about life. Like in 'Little Women,' those sisters loved each other with all their heart. They can help you with your own feelings."
Several boys said they enjoyed the action scenes found in classics including "The Three Musketeers."
"I liked 'The Three Musketeers' because it was adventurous," said Tays Heyer, 10. "They had sword fights and they were always doing something big - something exciting. When they were together there was always something happening. I like that."