Rosenberg stops the tape to give the kids time to formulate their questions. Took the long way through Memphis/The third deck down from Trinidad.
After pausing the tape again, she asks the kids to think about words or lines that confuse them. "What are you wondering about?"
Their pencils race. A wrench of heart from Goree Island/To a place called Harlem.
After they're done reading the poem, the kids share their questions while Rosenberg writes them down on an easel of large, lined paper. Where were they living before they came to Harlem? What does "fat round woman in a rectangle" mean? What does the song mean to people? What was the purpose of coming to Harlem?
The student population at this school on 37th Avenue and Josephine Street is much like that of Greenwood Elementary: 78 percent of the 526 kids are Hispanic; 20 percent are black; 47 percent are native Spanish speakers; and 97 percent receive free or reduced-priced lunches. Both schools rated low on last year's accountability reports. But Harrington is not a brand-new school, and it employed literacy coaches even before DPS introduced its program.
"Harrington was already working toward developing a program like this for six or seven years, so naturally it's stronger," Mentor Hay explains. "Every school started from a different point, and schools that had been working toward a strong literacy program were able to make a greater jump, but schools that were starting from square one have further to go."
Rosenberg has worked hard to create a set of rituals that moves the class seamlessly along. When it's time for the kids to break into small groups, she flips on the overhead lights, and the students know to find their seats.
While the kids are busy discussing their questions with one another, Rosenberg works with a group of four students who are behind in reading. Instead of giving them answers to their questions, she asks the two boys and two girls more questions. They want to know why the black people in the poem came to Harlem. Rosenberg asks them what they know of black people from a recent Martin Luther King Jr. lesson. "He wanted people to treat people nice," one girl offers.
"Were black people treated nice in the South?" Rosenberg asks.
In unison, the kids say, "No."
"I know -- maybe they went to Harlem because white people didn't want them in the South," the other girl offers.
With a satisfied grin, Rosenberg says, "I think we're getting somewhere."
At 11:05, it's time to regroup. Rosenberg claps her hands several times to a beat. The kids immediately stop what they're doing and repeat the clapping pattern. It's their signal to gather in a circle on the rug. Rosenberg asks them to put their thumbs up if they thought the exercise was helpful, down if they didn't, and sideways if they're unsure. Most of them raise their thumbs. Rosenberg then asks them how drawing inferences and discussing questions with their classmates helped them understand the poem.
"It helped us communicate more," says one girl.
Another girl has a different answer: "It made me stop and go back to the text to look for clues."
At this, Rosenberg lets out a triumphant "Yes!" It's one of those moments teachers live for.
These kids are getting it.