Feature stories

The magical world of words

Bronx teacher uses ‘Harry Potter’ to cast a spell with books

Teacher Alessandra Giuffre works with one of her students at PS 140, the Bronx. Jonathan Fickies

Teacher Alessandra Giuffre works with one of her students at PS 140, the Bronx.

Giuffre’s classroom is for wizards only.Jonathan Fickies

It’s common knowledge that Muggles — nonmagical people — aren’t permitted to visit Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But if there’s an exception to the rule, the students in Alessandra Giuffre’s class at PS 140 in the Bronx couldn’t be more deserving.

Giuffre has been reading the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling to her 12 students, a mix of 4th- and 5th-graders with disabilities, every morning since September 2016.

“When I was in 5th grade, I hated to read,” remembers Giuffre. “Then ‘Harry Potter’ came out, and I got hooked.”

She thought the same might be true of her students, many of whom were reluctant readers and writers.

The books in the series are on display.Jonathan FickiesThe books in the series are on display.

“So many people think they wouldn’t be able to handle the complexity of a story like this. But we stop and talk about it, we make thinking maps to organize our thoughts,” she says. “I’m so proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.”

Her students’ interest in the series is a testament to Giuffre’s own enthusiasm.

“She’s so passionate about it and consistent with reading it,” says Noelle Clark, a special education teacher who teaches many of Giuffre’s students. “It’s become a great part of the day that the kids really look forward to.”

The class begins each morning with a read-aloud — “It helps get them to school on time, too,” says Giuffre — and a related writing activity.

As they approached the conclusion of the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” in late November, students worked together as a class to summarize the events of the past few chapters. Then they wrote individual paragraphs about their favorite plot points.

Students in Giuffre’s class add to their own personal “Harry Potter” narratives Jonathan FickiesStudents in Giuffre’s class add to their own personal “Harry Potter” narratives as they read.

The writing becomes part of each student’s own growing narrative of the book, which Giuffre laminates so they can take them home to reread or retell the story to family and friends.

Each time they finish a book, they celebrate by watching the accompanying movie and comparing and contrasting the text to the film.

“The movie plays it so fast, and the book has so many more details,” observed 5th-grader Isaiah. “I like the books better. The further you go, the more interesting it gets.”

There’s certainly magic in the air in Giuffre’s classroom, where the door bears a sign that reads “No Muggles Beyond this Point.”

“It’s such a boost to their reading morale,” Giuffre says of her students, some of whom read independently at a 1st-grade level. “I hope they always remember doing this.”

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