Inspired at this year’s VATE conference by Sarah Boland, author of To Love Veronica Bee, I thought it was time to give the hoary old beast, Of Mice and Men, the multimedia treatment. I explained the concept to my Year 10s. (And by the way, for the past three years, most of these students have been passive recipients of entire novels being read aloud at them.) They were to read the entire text, then produce an ‘art form’ based on their reading. We had a bit of a discussion about what they could do and they actually seemed moderately aroused by the idea. Is it do-able? I asked, knowing little about getting students’ work on-line. Yes! beamed Girl In The Back Corner, normally resistant to anything. That was enough for me.
Thought I’d need to be very regimental about deadlines for this project, so I set the due date four weeks in advance. The students seemed okay with that. I intended to use the expertise in the classroom to overcome my shortfalls with technology. (You have to understand that I’ve never even held a video camera.) I devoted all class time for each of the four weeks to completing this project. To assuage my fear that they might not actually do anything during that time, I anchored them, and me, in their regular language development program, so they were submitting written work each week and getting their usual feedback.
The outcome? Seven weeks later, the project is still a work in progress. The positives? More students were engaged in what they were doing. The whole experience reminded me of my drama teaching days. Kids who work, get on with it; kids who bludge are even more conspicuously bludging.
We had some Japanese exchange students and their teachers visiting the school at the time. Very conservative people. (Our Japanese teacher, bit of a comic, warned me not to mention the war to one of the older men!) Anyway, these teachers wandered into my chaotic classroom. Students sitting on tables, hats on, swinging their legs; someone rolling on the floor in the corner; the Japanese exchange student seemed bemused at the freedom compared to his school back home. I asked him what it was like at his school. Another student translated my question and the boy keyed in what translated to ‘discipline’ and ‘regime’ on his little computer.
I explained the project to the visiting teachers, and despite the mayhem, I managed to throw in a couple of words like ‘multiple intelligences’, ‘ICT’, Middle Years Literacy, VELS – like they really cared! – and pretended, fraud that I am, that I was in full control of a planned, highly educational, literacy enhancing ‘unit’. Smiles set on their faces, they bowed out of my classroom. Wonder what they thought.
So what did my students do with Steinbeck?
Two groups decided to make films of scenes. Both groups wrote huge scripts; lines were rehearsed. The girls filmed Lennie and George doing the ‘ketchup’ scene. They dressed up and brought props. I was treated to the sight of this little group, sitting amongst the trees, one of them stabbing at the top of the can with a knife (!) and Lennie, improvising in a southern drawl saying “Why don’ you just use the ring-pull, George.” Pity their video camera wasn’t working properly. No sound. They had to do it all again.
The boys did the fight scene where Lennie crushes Curley’s hand. They didn’t bring along any props, but as they were filming in the sick bay, they took advantage of what was available. So Curley wore a surgical glove to keep his hand soft. This was a feature of the film. So was the mercy dash through the admin block and out to the canteen, with groaning Curley and his mashed hand on the sick bay stretcher. A couple of concerned teachers made spontaneous cameo appearances.
Both videos are in the process of being edited.
Three students decided they were going to write a children’s picture book based on the novel. These girls struggled to motivate themselves. Full of good intentions, but quite often off track with Dolly and gossip. Then they had a fight and one of their group, Girl In The Back Corner, decided to go it alone. What did she do? Presented a very nice looking book of character studies, but with very little evidence of actual engagement with the text. She copied the lot from a text book. No doubt developed her copying and typing skills. The other two approached me at the eleventh hour to show me their kids’ book. In one illustration, two cartoony hayseedy looking bumpkins are sitting under a couple of trees by a stream A blonde frilly floozy is talking to them. The accompanying text says: This is Candy, Curley’s wife. She’s going to give her money to George and Lennie so they can buy the farm they’ve always wanted.
- Have you actually read the book?
- Bits of it.
- Well, you didn’t read the bit about Candy being a bloke.
They panicked. One of them did an all-nighter and managed to produce a very effective cartoon strip, which the other one coloured in.
Another student dressed up as Crooks, the stable buck, and filmed a plausible dramatic monologue. Another devised a Power-point slide show based on a chapter of the text. Another did a collage.
A couple of boys worked laboriously on a animation using Flash. This was particularly good, because one of these boys hasn’t done any work, at all, this year. He proved to be a bit of an expert and taught the other boy how to actually work the program.
Three boys did very little, but they did hang around on the periphery of the other groups and occasionally read the parts of absent students or operated the video camera. I have to see this as a positive. They were more involved than they are when we are doing more conventional English.
I learned how to operate a video camera and how to design web pages. I also had lots of exercise charging around the school checking on the various groups.
Did the kids have fun? Definitely. What did you learn? I asked. You’ve got to read the book! they chorused. You’ve got to cooperate; work as a team; learn your lines; learn to use the computer programs for animation and editing; keep on task. In their evaluation, however, they conceded that it was really easy, and tempting, to bludge. This is problematic. And the whole thing looks very casual and I spent a lot of time wracked with guilt because students easily got off track. Hence the frantic running from place to place. I suppose the lesson is to stick to deadlines, make sure the equipment is available and functioning properly and be prepared to push and support those students who are inclined to relax.
And no one said This is shit. Why do we have to read this shit book?
Check out Sarah Boland’s website www.bumble.com.au It’s very inspiring.