When the theme for this year’s Project Day was announced to be art, everyone was a little unsure. With the school’s policy to dedicate second term to the preparation of a final exhibition, every subject is to be taught through the lens of the chosen theme. So last year’s project on forests saw teachers using earthworms and centipedes to teach percentage, and so on. This year, we were dealt with art. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
As a teacher of English as Second Language, my biggest struggle in my first term here was how to make children fall in love with this language that has enchanted me for so many years. Except when your classroom is populated by verb conjugations and subject-verb agreements, it is rather hard to convey that almost obvious statement to a group of middle-schoolers. English is fun, my mind voice would scream while I attempted to instil enthusiasm in an exercise about tenses. But this term? This term asked me to teach them English as an Art.
I decided I would do World Literature. Yes, I know. Ambitious does not begin to cover it. I know. I chose the continents (let’s ignore Antarctica, I decided) and chose prose and poetry that covered a range of genres. I warned the principal that I may not actually be able to cover as much ground as I had planned, and her response hit bullseye. “This term plan is more for you than them, isn’t it?”
It was on that note that I stepped into class one day, confidently armed with a slightly edited version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.’ After going through the motions of convincing them that two sides of an A4 piece of paper really was called a ‘short’ story and identifying Colombia on a world map, we got started.
The thing about project term is that I conduct the same classes with four different groups of kids, all mixed age across grades 6 to 8. While mixed age is really helping the kids, it risks one of two things for the teachers – repetition and boredom, and/or excessive preparation. Given that I was dealing with the same text for all of them, I tried to do what I could to keep things interesting for myself. By the end of last week, I almost knew Marquez by heart.
As a sneak peek, here are some of the things that I heard.
- Akka! Why is he called Esteban? If we are giving him any name, why can’t it be Esappan?
- (In response to a very leading question on how we recognise people by their faces and “not by the back of their heads”) But Akka, we can recognise people even on video, no?
- Akka, if the man really was as heavy as a horse, how were the children burying and digging him up? How did they lift him?
- If he had been floating in the water for a long time, how come sharks did not get to him?
- (In response to asking what the sea smelt of, expecting sand and salt and fish) Plastic, Akka. And waste.
- If they were fishermen and could fit into seven boats, how did they get access to a cargo ship’s anchor? If it was a desert-like cliff where nothing grew, how did they get the wood to build their houses?
And obviously, the cherry on top of the many hours spent circling verbs and sifting through a dictionary – Akka, how did he think of all this? And within that question lies the fascination of literature.
(You can see an annotated reproduction of the average class here, with examples, illustrations, questions, and anecdotes galore.)