Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reflections on a Creative Lesson

In Term 3, Year 10 English experienced a creating and presenting unit of work based on the novel Destroying Avalon.
The context of the unit was conflict and my class particularly enjoyed exploring the related theme of bullying.
Students were required to read the novel over the holidays in preparation for the term. They were also asked to record first impressions of the novel in preparation for a class discussion.

1. Lively class discussion of the novel's characters and message because most students read the book and recorded notes as required.
2. Viewed the above trailer and discussed whether it reflected the spirit of the novel.
3. Explored and discussed quotes on bullying.
4. Viewed and discussed Celebrities That Were Bullied.

5. Students were invited to share their own stories of being a bully or being a victim. Extraordinary stories emerged. At first, the more vocal students wanted their turn. And they seemed to inspire the quieter ones to open up. One student said she had never shared her story before. Tears flowed. The class supported her and more stories were shared. There was a feeling of amazing bonding in the class after the experience. Many students said as they walked out that they "felt better" and "that was good!" (And yes! Two students admitted to being a bully at some stage. They added that this lesson helped them to understand the victim's point of view.)
6. Relating to the broader context of conflict, we looked at Poetry of Revolution 
e.g. Palestinian poet Mazen Maarouf was raised in Lebanon and recently forced into a double exile in Iceland after criticising the Syrian regime. His third poetry collection, An Angel Suspended On The Clothesline, was published in Lebanon after he had left.
 Tunisia's uprisings were started neither by political action nor a military coup, but by a regime of banners and chants. 
NOTE: I avoided too much war poetry or prose because the students would soon be studying World War 2 and Hitler in History and would be looking at the Holocaust related to their study of the novel Night. I felt that there would be too much, even repetitive, focus on one topic area.
7.  These lessons seemed to inspire the students. They were quite willing to do a practice assessment task.
I allowed them to explore any form of writing response as long as it connected to the prompt and included some reference to Destroying Avalon plus at least one other resource. This was one task I thoroughly enjoyed marking. One student wrote a song and recorded it. Many students wrote two narratives - one with the voice of the bully and one with the voice of the victim.
8. Finally, I had no problem at all encouraging the students to write a haiku for the Casey Grammar magazine based on this unit of work.
Here are some of the haiku:

Propaganda floods
The minds of the innocent
And clouds their judgement
Jacob Cousens

People are dying
Seeking non-existent peace
Conflict has a price.
Tian Pozman

A small evil starts
No attempt of prevention,
A big evil stays.
Jacob Cousens

Shrapnel firing lives
Bodies hit the ghostly dust
Men go down in vain
Regan Bayliss

It will never stop
All this pain will never go
I shouldn’t be here
Kelsey Minton

The endless cycle
A bully destroys a life
For the cost of his
Jacob Cousens

Increasing horrors
Tragic murder of people
Nothing warm remains
Desvilla Zinck

REFLECTION: I felt that this unit of work stirred the students. They were willing to read, discuss and write responses. Beyond just learning information, they seemed to pick up lifeskills. There was a definite sense of feeling more secure in their own identity and more secure in this class environment. At times, lessons seemed to create themselves based on student responses. Not one but many creative lessons seemed to emerge. (There were more beyond those named here! I have selected the most significant ones.) For me, this was exhilerating. My only regret is the time frame. I had more resources than there was time to appreciate. I felt we could have explored more conflict types such as conflict of values and maybe even conflict of interests (to name just two). Perhaps this unit could have lasted all term with little problem.

To teach is to keep learning

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