Grandville — In the before-school stillness of teacher Megan Klawiter’s classroom at Central Elementary, a low and steady drumbeat pulses from computer speakers.
Thum-thump. Thum-thump. Thum-thump, the beat echoes.
Fellow teachers passing in the hall, getting ready to start their day, are lured in by its sound. They pause to marvel at what once was a third-grade classroom, but now resembles a mini emergency room, the serene space broken up into four “operating rooms” and a table full of “patients.”
Klawiter’s students begin to stream in, ready to start their school day but unprepared for what greets them in the classroom. They dart from table to table, looking for their name among the name badges and touching the gauzy medical caps and gowns neatly arranged on each “operating table.”
“What is happening?!” one third-grader marvels.
The quiet beat continues under the din of third-grade excitement, beginning to infiltrate the students’ consciousness. Thum-thump. It almost sounds like —
“It sounds like a heartbeat!” a student exclaims.
That’s right, Klawiter tells the class: “Today, you guys are doctors, nurses, whatever you want to be in the medical field. And we are going to be doing surgery on text features.”
A Surgical Approach to Reading
Klawiter started “text feature surgery day” several years ago (although she took a few years off during the pandemic, to save the medical equipment for actual medical professionals’ use). The classroom transformation comes at the end of a unit on nonfiction texts, where third-graders learn about structure and text features like charts, headlines, captions, photographs and labels.
“Text features help us learn what we’re reading about,” Klawiter explained. “When I started doing this, I wanted to do something fun, because the kids were really struggling with it. … My hope with (the surgery) is that they can show me that they know what we’re talking about, all on their own.”
On surgery day, students get to dress up as a medical professional, gloves and all, and perform surgery on patients, otherwise known as nonfiction magazines. Each third-grader has their own doctor’s packet, full of surgical instructions like: Remove a FACT BOX from the patient. Glue the specimen in the space below and record your doctor’s notes explaining the purpose of the text feature.
Armed with scissors and glue sticks, the surgeons then spend the morning in surgery, doing their best to find every ailment-slash-text-feature on their patient. At the end of the day, they get to write a “doctor’s report,” describing what went well, what didn’t go as planned and something new they learned while performing surgery.
Like a real doctor
In operating room 1, Alfie Estrada took a “very serious” approach to the process, he said as he carefully turned the pages of an issue of Time for Kids magazine in search of a graph, chart or diagram.
“I feel like I’m a doctor and that feels amazing,” he said. “Time for Kids has a lot of graphs and charts so I feel like I probably won’t have to look through so many magazines.”
Over in operating room 4, Andi Marshall quickly found a subheading, photograph and title in her first three surgeries. The subheading was the most difficult to locate, she said, while the photograph was pretty easy: “You don’t want to get tricked by the (images) that are like a cartoon — you want to look for a real picture,” she said. “I think you can kind of tell pretty well if it’s a real picture.”
While she was surprised to see her classroom dressed up like an emergency room, Andi said she had gotten over the initial shock and was having fun with the project.
“I just heard that heart beating, like ‘boom, boom, boom, boom,’ and it was a little scary and I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “It’s fun to dress like a surgery person and pretend you’re having a surgery. You get to go searching in these books, and cut and glue and write a doctor’s note like a real doctor.”
And that’s the whole point, said Klawiter.
“It makes the learning memorable,” the teacher said. “They’re never going to forget (that) in third grade, when they walked in and their classroom was set up as an operating room and completely transformed. It is kind of a crazy day, but they won’t forget it.”