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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Who says reading can't be fun?
A reading teacher uses a popular comic strip to teach kids the joys of reading.
By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 24, 2007
[Special to the Times]
Intensive Reading teacher Marla Spellman shows off some of her favorite books by Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis at Seven Springs Middle School's library on Oct. 16.
NEW PORT RICHEY - They land in her class for different reasons. Some are reluctant readers. Others have difficulty with comprehension. Then there are those who simply Christmas-treed last year's FCAT.
A lot of times they start out angry. The Intensive Reading class replaces an elective, after all. That means no drama. No P.E. No band or chorus. No art.
As an Intensive Reading teacher, Marla Spellman says her main objective is to make sure her students pass the FCAT. Beyond that is a loftier goal - to make reading enjoyable.
So maybe you fall back on the first thing a lot of folks turn to when they get their morning newspaper - the funny pages.
Sure students have to slug through test taking skill activities. There's time spent on FCAT Explorer.com., Sunshine State books and research projects that enhance nonfiction reading skills that are so necessary for passing the FCAT.
But later - when the FCAT is over and done with and her students are feeling burned out, Spellman provides a little rejuvenation via the funny pages - in particular the characters in Stephan Pastis' comic strip, Pearls Before Swine.
Spellman is a two-year fan of the rather dark strip that features a variety of characters - an egotistical Rat, a dimwitted Pig, a Zebra who's main concern is survival and the speech-challenged Fraternity of Crocodiles.
Spellman especially enjoyed sharing the introductions in Pastis' books - particularly the one he wrote explaining what prompted him to pitch being a lawyer after seven years to finally pursue his dream of creating his own comic strip.
(Note to parents: Spellman advises that adults first peruse Pastis' books as some of the content in two of his books featuring strips that did not make the newspapers might not be suitable for middle school readers.)
Turns out her students liked the introductions, too - and the comic unit that followed. Particularly since the only reading allowed in the classroom was the comics or comic books.
Students also created their own strips through the Comic Life computer program - something that helped with developing inference skills - the ability to read between the lines to understand an author's point.
"The kids thought I had lost my mind," Spellman said.
Still, reading is reading.
The comic unit was such a success that Spellman e-mailed Pastis to ask permission to use some of his characters for future lessons.
She got the okay from a reprint representative, who reminded her to be aware of copyright laws first.
To her surprise, Pastis also e-mailed her.
"I get a lot of e-mail and I try to answer them all, especially when it's from a teacher with a class," said Pastis in a telephone interview from his home in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Pastis is well-aware that his strips have hit a chord with the middle school set.
"It's funny because I would think that I don't skew that young," he said. "But the most (fan) mail comes from ages 10 to 15. I would think that the strip is too dark, but I guess dark appeals to that age."
And what does he think about his work being used to inspire reading?
"It's ironic. I pretty much learned to read from Peanuts," he said. "My aunt had a Peanuts book on her shelf. I didn't know what it was - I must have been about 4 years old. I think Peanuts taught a lot of kids to read in my generation."
"I'm thrilled that it (Pearls Before Swine) can be used that way because any young cartoonist will tell you that we get subjected to the most criticism because we're in the comics and kids read the comics. ... It's kind of neat to know that to the contrary we're actually used to do something good."
Marla Spellman suggests these possible dinnertime topics for parents who want to enhance their child's reading skills: