02/26/07 — Teacher publishes new 'reading script'

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Teacher publishes new 'reading script'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 26, 2007 1:45 PM

Gregory Brown, a reading teacher at North Drive Elementary School, has always been a champion of the underdog -- possibly because he considers himself one.

Brown grew up on a farm in Saulston, graduating from Eastern Wayne High School in 1977. After two years at Mount Olive College, he received a theater arts degree from East Carolina University in 1982. In 1988, he returned to ECU to obtain a master's degree in elementary education. He is also certified in reading.

Those three areas of training -- reading, education and theater-- have all neatly come together, he said. In addition to working with youngsters to improve reading skills, he recently had a children's script published by Benchmark Education in New York.

The play, "Johnny Appleseed -- An American Legend," is part of the company's Readers Theater series, which promotes fluency and vocabulary growth.

North Drive has used the Readers Theater model for about three years. Brown described it as being like doing a play but with all the children seated, holding scripts in their hands.

Performances are done before small groups. Each student can invite someone from their classroom or another teacher to sit in.

But, Brown notes, "It's not about the audience. It's for the reader."

The scripts are written so that every character represents a different reading level.

"You can assign the parts without them actually knowing what they're getting as far as reading level," he said.

The biggest benefit of that, he said, is to give students a bit of confidence.

"Oral reading is one of the best ways to become a better read," Brown said, "It's kind of a lost art in a lot of ways."

Prior to writing the script for Benchmark, Brown said he had never considered submitting anything for publication.

"I have only written for my students or for myself," he said.

Two years ago, his principal Carol Artis asked Brown to put something together for Black History Month. "The Great African American Rhyme Travel Machine" was performed for a standing room only crowd at the school.

It would be the sample script he inadvertently sent in to Benchmark, prompting the editors to take notice of him.

"We had ordered a set of scripts from Benchmark," Brown explained. "Some of the plays had more characters than there were books. Every child has to hold a script and track with their finger. We needed them to send us more books.

"Just as a whim, I sent them a script so they'd think I knew what I was talking about. Four months later, I got an e-mail from an editor, interested in having me write something for the company."

That was in April 2006. Brown spent most of the summer break completing the project as a "writer for hire." In August, he turned in his final draft. Typically, he said, scripts are about 16 pages long and the performance piece runs about 15 minutes.

The script has just been released in soft cover form and will be available to schools nationwide in time for the fall, when "Johnny Appleseed" is usually presented to students, Brown said.

"Knowing that all across the United States there will be children holding something that I wrote, it's very gratifying," he said.

It is even more meaningful because the very audience Brown seeks to reach today was where he once was.

"When I was growing up, I was perceived as the smart nerd -- glasses, big nose -- but what they didn't know is that I struggled with reading," he said. "I was always the last one to finish reading, to turn in my test paper, always the first person to sit down in spelling bees.

"I was perceived as being smart but had to struggle to keep up, all the way through. In graduate school, I got so behind in my assignments I had to plead with my classmate Jim Frye to read my reading assignments on tape for me."

Having struggled to be a good reader, Brown jumped at the opportunity to be a part of helping others succeed at it.

"Children, a lot of times, have low esteem," he said. "These Readers Theater pieces promote such joy in their little faces and minds because this is the first time they may have had some success."

"They're able to achieve something they have never been able to do before, without the threatening atmosphere."

In his 17th year teaching -- five at School Street Elementary, the last 12 at North Drive -- Brown said he isn't about to abandon the classroom for the publishing world. But it has sparked some new interests, he admits.

"I do have some things that I want to do. I'm really going to be passionate about any aspect of reading," he said.