Michelle Gammil, a Los Lunas Middle School language arts teacher, won a $2,999 Golden Apple grant on Nov. 30.
The award comes from the Wells Fargo Teacher’s Partner Program with the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico.
The teacher’s partner program was established in 2009 to help New Mexico teachers of grades K-12 put cash in the classroom by funding special needs and projects.
The Golden Apple Foundation is the fiscal agent that connects grant applications to teachers across the state.
Gammil heard about the grant from another teacher at the middle school, and she thought it was a great opportunity to try to acquire resources for the school, so she decided to apply.
“I talked to other language arts teachers here at the school about the possibility of the grant — that it was available,” said Gammil. “And I had in mind the Great Books curriculum.”
A committee comprised of Golden Apple Foundation Fellows, Wells Fargo team members and community leaders review the grant requests.
In the grant applications, teachers explain what their projects are and supply a budget for the materials.
The grant expense categories included classroom books or supplies for a specific instructional unit, educational field trips with associated class lessons, classroom technology or professional development.
Gammil said the Great Books Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to student achievement through a combination of outstanding literature and shared student inquiry discussions.
“This equips students to become independent readers and critical thinkers, as our school prepares them for the demands of the future,” she said.
The school has been using one of the Great Book series, “Voices of the Holocaust,” that Gammil and the other language arts teachers have used in their classrooms over the past few years.
“Each book has a collection of short stories, poems, speeches, newspaper articles, just all kinds of different literature centered around a topic or theme,” Gammil said.
Students read a section of the book and answer the questions posed at the end of each chapter.
The stories are short enough to be read and the questions answered in one 50-minute class period.
“The types of questions that they ask them to do are higher level questions,” Gammil said. “It’s compare and contrast, and they synthesize the information. It’s things that really get them to think and draw conclusions about what they’ve read.”
The Great Book series are one of the tools the school uses to enhance all the things being taught in seventh- and eighth-grade education, and support the school’s goals of improving students’ critical thinking skills, Gammil said.
“The kind of thing they are reading (in the Great Book series) should make it more interesting for them,” she said.
Students use the Socratic Seminar method to share their understanding of what they read with fellow classmates, and use examples from the selection to support their answers to the questions.
“Socratic Seminar is kind of like a circle discussion,” Gammil said.
She said the books are very effective in teaching critical thinking skills, because it sharpens their analytic skills.
“I really wanted to integrate the language arts instruction with some history and social studies,” Gammil said. “And what I really love about it is that they’re going to learn history at the same time they’re learning literature, while they’re learning how to analyze what they’ve read.”
The books Gammil has ordered are, “The Civil Rights Movement,” “The Great Depression” and “Democracy.” The books are expected to arrive in time for the spring semester.
“We’re still focusing on the most important literary skills like summarizing, predicting and inferencing, things like that, but it’s centered on a particular time in history,” Gammil said.
By purchasing these sets of books, multiple classrooms will be able to use them, she said. Each set consists of 35 student texts, and a teacher guide. The five language arts teachers can rotate the books between their classes.
“We really have some great textbooks, too,” Gammil said. “It’s not to replace our current curriculum, it’s just really to supplement what we’re already doing.”
All of the money from the grant has gone to the purchase and shipping of the books.
The number of students impacted by the set the school already has is 260 students, with the new purchases having the potential to impact 750 students, Gammil said.