Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hearing voices

My grade 8s have had enough of studying Billy Elliot and, frankly, so have I. While I appreciate that it is necessary to cover the subject matter carefully and thoroughly, there comes a time when the film in question is, well and truly, dead. Unfortunately, there were still some things that needed to be covered, so I knew that I would need to spend at least another lesson working on it. As I had two lessons left with the class, I decided to give them (and myself) a break for one day.

I am very fortunate to work at a school that is built in possibly one of the most beautiful places I know. In every direction there are mountains rising up and they are covered in paddocks, vineyards and forests. The weather yesterday was perfect and, what with it being Spring and all, nature was out in full force. The scene was so perfect that my headmaster actually commented on it that morning. The school had met outside to hear the results of the recent Student Leadership Council election and so he took the opportunity to get everyone to take stock of exactly how privileged we all are. Using this as my inspiration, I hatched a plan...

When my class arrived, I had them all get out paper and writing implements and then I took them outside. I gave a brief speech about the natural splendour and then instructed them to get on with it.
"Get on with what, sir?"
"Writing. Prose or poetry. Whatever blows your hair back."
"Yes. Have fun." And then I strolled off to admire some trees or something.

After about 10 minutes I began to go to the little clusters where the students had gathered. They had dispersed themselves naturally all about the field area. Some of them were struggling to get started and so I sat down next to them and talked a bit about what was going through their heads. This worked to give them a foothold to work with and they set of at a merry tilt.

When there were 10 minutes left in the period, I called everyone back and we returned to the classroom. Once we were there, I took the opportunity to give this little speech:

"As I have walked around, I have been most interested by your different responses. Some of you have elected to write poems while other have preferred to write prose. What is particularly interesting, however, is that even though all of you have been in the same area and have been given pretty much the same set of instructions, you have all written something different. You have all seen something different and it is on this that I want to put special emphasis. Each one of you is different and because of that you each have a unique way of experiencing and interpreting the world around you. Let me tell you that each of those interpretations is important and beautiful. Let me also point out that because only you know how you experience the world, the only way you can really share that with anyone else is through words. If you do not learn how to communicate what you experience through your voice, both written and spoken, the rest of the world is never given the opportunity to see the beauty that you do."

And with that, the lesson ended.

Now, I've not shared this because I wish to glorify myself or have everyone going "Oo, look how clever/sentimental/inaccurate that was." I just think that it's a valid point. Those of us who teach writing need to remember why it is we're doing what we're doing. Some of you who read this and who teach writing might have a different reason and that's great. This is mine and having realised this yesterday has made such a difference in the way I think about my work. I'm just using my voice, you see :)

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