About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Presentations in Lit class

In my second last post, I described the visit to the computer lab I made with my small student group. Their task: to look behind / below / around a word, idea or phrase. The groups had to then "teach" the rest of the class what they had found, and the groups watching and listening were invited to comment, question, evaluate the information imparted for its communication value.

The words / ideas / phrases chosen by the students themselves were:
1. Studying overseas 2. Cloning 3. Shake

To say I was impressed by the variety and quality of what these students presented is an understatement. Maybe it was because I have never done anything like this in my usual teaching, (where I have eight classes of fifteen students once a week) that the novelty and creativity of the activity made such an impression. I'm struggling to think of how I can do similar things with over a hundred students. Next year, there might well be WiFi enabled iPads in the hands of each student, if the pilot program our college has under way is a success.

The group looking at studying overseas produced a fantastic slideshow, with a story at the heart of it - a Chinese girl coming to Australia to study, and finding dilemmas and challenges in her way, to be overcome. This group showed in their presentation familiarity with the narrative arc of story telling, introduction, complication, climax, dénouement. I learned something important about my students' knowledge which I would perhaps not have uncovered so effectively, if I had just asked the group what they knew about story telling. Enabling them to "show" me, teach others, and share their ideas, brought this important piece of information the whole group in a powerful way.

The second presentation on "cloning" was deeply impressive. For a start, the group researching the word / idea were interested in the science, the potential, the ethical dimensions of this developing technology. OK, so, what has cloning to do with Literature? Well, the students were researching, asking questions, finding answers, and in their presentation they covered history, important moments, explored the positives and negatives, asked one another and the audience questions about possible futures - "Where would you want to keep a clone of yourself - in a deep freeze? In a specialised hibernation chamber? Would you want to spend time talking with your clone?" What fabulous stories such questions would inspire, and what complex and lateral thinking these students showed me and their colleagues! I can now draw on the ideas, problems, and ethical dimensions of this presentation to build parallel understandings with the literary and language ideas we will shortly come to.

The third presentation on "shake" was a fitting conclusion. Each student in the group found a story to match one of the several possible connotations or variations on the term. Physical movement, emotion, surprise, horrible realisations. They worked hard to find expressive visualisations to complement their presentation of the word, and the possible interpretations and uses to which it could be put in language, storytelling, experience. They DID the work required, and went beyond it.

While this isn't perhaps a revolutionary exercise, I hope that it will lay a foundation of ideas, concepts and reference points which might not otherwise have been available for these students, as they progress in the course. They were all explorers, researchers, storytellers, creators of knowledge, sharers of ideas. My aim is for them to continue to be so, but the next stage will be a development on this foundation.

In the next post, I'll briefly outline the next step towards the reading, analysis and writing task to be assigned.

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