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"asking questions of its teacher" [NORW]

As the seasons change from summer to autumn, it is that time of year every child dreads - the end of summer and the start of the school year. While students begin their study of such subjects as Literature, Physics, and Algebra, it is good to note that a good number of pupils will also be delving into the extremely important study of Sherlock Holmes. Many teachers (myself included) teach their students the Sherlockian method of deduction as well as an appreciation of Sherlock Holmes stories from the original canon and also pastiches.

Each year one such teacher is honored by The Beacon Society, a scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars which provides educators with grants and awards to help bring Sherlock Holmes into the classroom, with the Beacon Award. This award is, according to the Beacon Society website, "recognition for exemplary educational experiences and other significant activities exposing young people to the Sherlock Holmes stories." Only one educator receives a Beacon Award each year.

To tell us a bit about the Beacon Award and about her students' incredible Sherlockian educational experiences I interviewed Shannon Carlisle, the 2013 award recipient.

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: In 2013, you won the Beacon Award, an award of recognition for exemplary educational experiences and other significant activities exposing young people to the Sherlock Holmes stories. What do you do in your classroom to expose your students to the great detective?

Shannon Carlisle (SC): My classrooms have always had themes. For years, my 4th grade classroom was “the garden.” I was the “kid gardener” charged with nurturing the “seeds,” or students, I had been given. Five years ago, when I became our school’s accelerated learning teacher, I wanted a classroom theme that would inspire and embrace my new learners. I had earned my master’s degree in gifted education early on in my career. I was trained to meet the needs of my advanced learners. However, year after year, I knew some of my advanced students were not making optimal growth.

After reflection, I concluded that they did not always possess the mindset and skills necessary for growth. Therefore, my classroom became 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes’s home, because I felt that my students could relate to/learn from Sherlock Holmes’s character traits, observational skills, capacity for critical thought, and inductive/deductive reasoning. Over the past 5 years, the Sherlockian theme has encouraged students to employ the mindset and skills needed for growth, provided an engaging framework for learning, and supported students in their attempts to be productive citizens.

As the self-proclaimed “Chief Sherlockian,” I adorned the hallway with Baker Street signs and decorated my classroom door to resemble the front door of the great detective. Sherlock Holmes, Victorian London, and the British culture is woven throughout our day. To take attendance, each student recites a portion of Russell McLaughlin’s poem, “How can you get to Baker Street?” If there is a break in recitation, someone is absent. When I state, “keep calm and carry on,” my students know to line up.

IHOSE: Why do you feel it is important for students to know the Sherlock Holmes character and his methods of deduction?  Why is Holmes relevant to students today?

SC: During the first week of school, I invite all 4th grade students to participate in Sherlockian Training to learn how to think and act like the great detective. To begin their week long training, the students are introduced to Holmes’s observational skills in "A Scandal in Bohemia." I refer to Holmes’s words to Watson, “you see, but you do not observe,” often throughout the week. Then, the students use their observational skills to examine a crime scene and use their deductive reasoning to draw conclusions about the crime after listening to suspect interviews and analyzing forensics lab results.

By the end of the training, the students are taught to be observant, active participants in their learning, and critical thinkers… just like the great detective. Throughout the school year, when they employ these traits, the students move up through the 17 Scotland Yard Police Ranks of 1895 — from constable to commissioner. For the past two years, our school resource officer has participated in the trainings and has presented students with shillings he purchased from London. He has presented over 150 shillings to date. Then, throughout the rest of the school year, my advanced reading/language arts students complete a more in depth study of Sherlock Holmes’ character, read the abridged stories and pastiches, and conduct research related to the canon.

Students move their clothespins up the ranks when recognized for employing Sherlockian traits.
Although I teach advanced learners, they are not able to access the Canon as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. Often the vocabulary is too advanced and/or the content is inappropriate. Therefore, I rely on abridged versions of the Canon or pastiches. Every December, my 2nd-4th graders study "The Blue Carbuncle." The learning activities vary by grade level. While studying this adventure, the students might complete a visual literacy task of the Covent Garden Market, sequence the story using Sidney Paget’s illustrations and Chris Schweizer’s paper dolls, and/or compete Dr. Marino Alvarez’s cryptograph. Top performing students on a modified William Dorn quiz are awarded prizes donated by Mrs. Francine Kitts and Mr. Al Gregory.

Each year, my 3rd-4th graders analyze "The Red-Headed League." Again, the learning activities vary by grade level. The students might complete a visual literacy task of Fleet Street, read the graphic novel by Murray Shaw and  M.J. Cosson, and/or perform the play adapted by Dr. Alvarez. Again, top performing students on a modified William Dorn quiz are awarded prizes donated by Mrs. Francine Kitts and Mr. Al Gregory.

Dr. Marino Alvarez visits The Sherlock Holmes Museum for the Young, Curious, and Observant Mind.
Additionally, my 3rd and 4th graders read the "The Six Napoleons." After reading the adventure this year, my 3rd graders created analogies comparing "The Blue Carbuncle" and "The Six Napoleons" after noting the similarities between the two adventures.

"Put the pearl in the safe," says Holmes to Watson at the conclusion of this adventure.

During the spring of 2013, a group of 4th grade boys completed research to determine the type and owner of the safe. Their research questions focused their investigation on the owner of the safe, the date it was purchased, style (freestanding or built into the wall), and brand. By the time they concluded their research, they had had conversations with Roger Johnson in Great Britain and the president of the Empire Safe Co. in NYC. They concluded Dr. Watson owned an 1882 Chubb’s safe No. 33.

They had completed their research so skillfully that their work was embraced by the Sherlockian community. It was published electronically to over 840 Sherlockians worldwide. The Sherlockian E-Times published an extra edition of their electronic newsletter just to share this research- something that had only been done four times in 20 years.

The research was also published in The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes quarterly, The Serpentine Muse. The students were recognized by our school board and presented with certificates of merit by our district’s superintendent of schools. Our county’s newspaper reported on the event by publishing an online article and photo detailing the students’ research and its impact on the Sherlockian community. Because of this experience, the students saw themselves as contributors to society. The parents said that the experience enhanced the boys’ perception of themselves as viable sources of knowledge thus increasing their self-concept.

During the course of their research, one of the boys mentioned that he wanted the research to be completed so well that he would be welcomed into our local scion, The Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem. In January 2014, he became the youngest member to be invested into our group. He requested that his investiture name be “The Red-Headed League” because it was the first Sherlock Holmes adventure he had ever read. Recently, his father formally joined the scion. His investiture name is “John Clayton,” the cab driver in The Hound of the Baskervilles, because he provides transportation for his son to our monthly meetings.

The entryway of the 221B classroom
In addition to the adventures, the 3rd graders read The Sherlock Files. In the pastiches, written Tracy Barrett, the great-great-great-grandchildren of Sherlock Holmes inherit his unsolved casebook. They prove to be observant, persistent, and possess fine powers of reasoning. The plots, in the 4 book series, are dotted with references to the Canon — Baker Street Irregulars, shillings, 221B, Watson, lion’s mane, “when you have excluded the impossible…”

In the first novel, Xena and Xander Holmes are given a note stating, “Please allow the SPFD (Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives) to welcome you more formally. Go to the Dancing Men and ask for a saucer of milk for your snake. Then all will be revealed.” This past year, my students created The S.P.F.D Club for those who have read all 4 books in the series.

Each year, my kindergarten and 1st grade students read Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Snowman, by David Ruffle and Rikey Austin, as an introduction to Sherlock Holmes and his character traits. In the pastiche, a little girl claims that her snowman has gone missing. Although Dr. Watson is inclined to tell her the truth, Holmes helps her investigate its disappearance.

Last year, my 4th grade students created The Sherlock Holmes Museum for the Young, Curious, and Observant Mind in our classroom. The museum displays donated artifacts along with interpretive labels. As we prepared for the creation, we researched museum types and determined that the museum would be object-centered, client-centered, and narrative. They learned that museum visitors expect interpretive labels but only read approximately 50% of them. They also learned that the interpretive labels should be layered for the paddlers (those who will only read the first few sentences), swimmers (those who will read approximately half of the text), and the divers (those who will read the entire label).

At the entrance to the museum, the students added the following disclaimer: “If you are a true Sherlockian, you believe that Sherlock Holmes is still alive, retired (for the most part), and living in South Downs Sussex; and John H. Watson wrote the Canon and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent.”

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the museum was dedicated to Dr. Alvarez and Mrs. Francine Kitts for their support of our Sherlockian endeavors. Dr. Alvarez and his wife were present for the event. Richard and Francine Kitts attended by Skype. After the event, the Kitts took my students on a virtual tour of the Sherlockian artifacts in their home. Not only did this year's 4th graders add new artifacts with interpretive labels, but they also added a new section — Singular Sherlockians. In this area of the museum, students will highlight distinguished Sherlockians. Al Gregory was the first notable Sherlockian to be inducted.

During the first day of Sherlockian Training, students use their observational skills to examine the crime scene.  
I always encourage my students to be productive citizens- now and in the future. Twice, The Serpentine Muse has published my students’ work. In addition to the boys’ safe research, last year’s third graders persuaded Ms. Susan Z. Diamond, co-editor of the quarterly publication, to publish their Blue Carbuncle themed poem.  In their email to her, they stated, “Because The Serpentine Muse is written to ‘amuse and intrigue the discerning reader,’ we would encourage you to consider our poem for publication in the quarterly journal. Not only would it encourage your readers to read or reread the adventure, but it may also inspire them to write poems of their own.”

IHOSE: Tell us how you were nominated for the Beacon Award. Also, what was it like to win and receive the award?

SC: In January of 2013, I was awarded The Beacon Award. My assistant principal had nominated me for the award. Although I could not attend the annual Beacon Society meeting to accept the award, Dr. Alvarez returned from NYC to tell me all about the event. In March of 2013, I was invested into my local Sherlockian scion society with the canonical name “221B Baker Street.”

As a life-long learner, I enjoy attending and participating in the monthly scion meetings. My increased knowledge/understanding the detective and his stories aids in my development of exceptional learning activities in my classroom. Members of the group have supported my efforts by donating extra copies of the canon or have been guest speakers. Dr. Alvarez visits my classroom multiple times each year.

During his visits, he shares with the students how he has been a “producer” (a productive citizen) by creating the Sherlock Holmes’ resume we analyze, writing the Red-Headed League play we perform, developing “The Blue Carbuncle” cryptograph we complete, and publishing the book A Professor Reflects on Sherlock Holmes. I often encourage the students to be producers, and he is a fine example for the students. He is a former education professor and has taught me how to create visual literacy tasks to help students understand the settings of the stories better. In April 2014 and 2015, he organized a panel of educators, including myself, to discuss “Teaching Sherlock Holmes” at 221B Con in Atlanta. During my presentations, I shared my classroom theme and goals, the learning activities I implement throughout the school year, and effective resources to use with elementary students.

When visiting The Sherlock Holmes Museum for the Young, Curious, and Observant Mind, the students first learn about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the main characters of the canon.

IHOSE: If you were stranded on a desert island with just one Sherlock Holmes story, which would it be and why?

SC: If I were to be stranded on a deserted island with just one Sherlock Holmes story, I would choose to be stranded with "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." It is the story I spend the most time with in the classroom. With the students, I have enjoyed studying its vocabulary, “It’s a bonny thing,” and tracing the journey of the Blue Carbuncle from the Hotel Cosmopolitan to 221B Baker Street. Also, I enjoy reading their persuasive essays encouraging me to believe that Sherlock Holmes  should or should not have let Ryder go free at the end of the adventure. In addition, every December, Dr. Alvarez visits my classroom to help us analyze the plot of “the whimsical, little incident.”  We enjoy attempting his cryptograph.

IHOSE: Any last thoughts?

SC: I am very grateful to the Sherlockian community for their support. In particular, I am very thankful for The Beacon Society. In education, I am a member of multiple professional learning communities (PLCs). The Beacon Society is my Sherlockian PLC. This past January, I was invited to participate in the birthday weekend events in NYC. During the birthday weekend, I had the opportunity to thank in person the Sherlockians that have supported 221B Baker Street at Moore Elementary. Again, I am very grateful for their support.

Shannon Carlisle is a 19 year teaching veteran who is the accelerated learning teacher at Moore Elementary in Franklin, Tenn. Shannon earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in special education: teaching the gifted and talented from the University of Northern Colorado. In 2013, she was selected by the Tennessee Department of Education as the PreK-4th Regional Winner of the Tennessee Teacher of the Year competition. Additionally, she was runner-up in the Best Public School Teacher section of Nashville Scene’s 2012 Best of Nashville contest. In 2014, she earned National Board Certification as an exceptional needs specialist. Her husband is wonderfully supportive of her Sherlockian endeavors, and she is raising her three children to appreciate the great detective.

Derrick Belanger is the author of the #1 bestselling book in its category Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Peculiar Provenance, which was in the top 200 bestselling books on Amazon. He also is the author of the MacDougall Twins with Sherlock Holmes books, the latest of which is Curse of the Deadly Dinosaur, and he edited the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle horror anthology A Study in Terror: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Revolutionary Stories of Fear and the Supernatural. Mr. Belanger has recently started the publishing company Belanger Books which released the Sherlock Holmes anthology Beyond Watson. Derrick Belanger also is a frequent contributor to I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. He resides in Colorado and continues compiling unpublished works by Dr. John H. Watson.