‘Revenge Exercises’: Becoming a brand

When I correct notebooks, one of the biggest recurring mistakes I often point out is children slipping tense, shifting inexplicably from present to past to future and back again. ‘I went to the market and I am going by bicycle’ and so on. So today, I decided it was time to fix this situation. The second thing up for fixing this bright Monday morning was continuity. Sometime last week, I told Class 9 kids about how there was a difference between ‘make a story using the given words’ and ‘use these words in individual sentences’. As one child helpfully read out when I asked what continuity meant, the session was about having “logical connections between your sentences and not jumping from one to the next.” It took me a minute to realise he was reading my note on his last essay.

So, the next few worksheets of what are fast being referred to as my ‘Revenge Exercises’ (following the punctuation/capitalisation exercise I wrote about here) had two classes working on tense and continuity.

When I sat down to plan this week’s lessons, I had a choice. I could either make them sit and write out verb conjugations (“I ____, You ____, He _____, She ______; that is so easy, Akka”) or make a fill in the blanks worksheet. Or I could think of something harder and also hopefully slightly more interesting. Not too thrilled about writing the passage out myself, I thought about what would be the next logical possibility. Nursery Rhymes. Of course. So for a full hour and a half, ten kids pored over nursery rhymes in a classroom, changing present tense songs to past and future, and past tense songs to the other two. Betty buys some butter, Mary will have a little lamb (“Why is everything coming three times, Akka!”) and how I wondered about the twinkling stars! They even got me to sing a little for background entertainment and confessed they hadn’t laughed through the entirety of a class like this in a while.

Semiya Kheer on top and Jack and Jill at the bottom.
Semiya Kheer on top and Jack and Jill at the bottom.

And then the next session. Class 9 and continuity. While I sat in class writing ‘Aa Bb Cc Dd’ in four-ruled notebooks for another class, another ten students struggled through recipes for rava upma, curd rice and semiya payasam. Complaints of ‘we don’t know how to cook, Akka’, ‘this is how my mother makes it, Akka’ and ‘what is rava, Akka’ flew through the air as they hobbled through it. We discussed the answer for the rava upma recipe after class when one kid quipped “Akka, if you make rava upma based on our answer, that won’t be upma at all.” And that, I told them, was the problem with disjoint stories.

#win

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Sweet (grammatically correct) Revenge

On one Saturday afternoon, the founder of the school sat all us teachers down for the bi-monthly staff meeting, and spoke to us about how to go with the flow. “You might have lesson plans but if a question comes up, don’t stifle it, don’t brush it aside. Engage with it, and follow that thread no matter where it might lead you.” There was something about that that stuck.

Soon after, in Class 10, we were working with advertisements, brochures and the kind of writing it involves. While the class was intended to be about informative writing, phrases and effective information dissemination, we went off to understand what exaggeration was, what a USP was, and who brand ambassadors were. We also spoke about whether Sachin drinks only Boost, how many free toothbrushes Kohli (?) must get and whether Dhoni will ever drive the bikes he endorses. But eventually, like the roads in Rome, we found ourselves back at parts of speech, and in due time, the ball (which I have just started keeping in my class cupboard) came out and rapid fire was played. There is something about the insatiable energy in an adolescent classroom that makes a simple sponge ball a really useful teaching tool.

But the icing on the cake came with the exercise I did a few days ago with both class 9 and 10. Part out of fatigue, part (a small one, I promise) out of a sadistic sense of pleasure and largely out of the noble desire to teach grammar (of course!), I set up a worksheet for capitalisation and punctuation. A 500-word story of Deepa, her doctor mother and stay-at-home dad (because obviously, who can pass up an opportunity to question gender norms!) and how she wants to go to college and all that. Deepa’s best friends are Pinky and Rahul (because um, girls and boys _can_ be friends) and they all live happily ever after. Except Deepa’s story was lost in a complete lack of capitals or any kind of punctuation. For almost twenty (class 10) to forty (class 9) minutes, the kids cried and complained through a plethora of commas, full stops, quotes, question marks and exclamation marks. I even threw in a colon and hyphen just to shake things up a little!

Sneak peek at the worksheet!
Sneak peek at the worksheet!

While I was having my fun, one kid from the last bench looked up from his sheet and asked “Akka, is this revenge?” We all laughed and I half-jokingly said of course it was. “But we only give you 250 words, Akka. This is so long!” Before he could finish, a particularly conscientious classmate reminded him that they give me that much every other day, and then turned to me and said “revenge is also constructive, Akka.” Here I was, teaching a bunch of kids who had the confidence to laugh in class, at themselves and at me (unsurprisingly, I slipped up and got caught on my Math ignorance today), while always aware that even the mundane, the difficult, the painstaking could turn out to be useful. I reminded that them I wanted them to “check, recheck, and triple check” before they gave it to me, so there would only be a “tick mark and a signature on that page.” Later that evening, as I sat for correction, there was a tad bit more than a tick and a sign, but the knowledge of kids who were willing to try, to commit and follow up with that knowledge (“we will come and ask you tonight” said the boys who were staying on campus temporarily) is worth the pens that I am running through by the day.

Faith in the classroom restored.