Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Learning and Comfort Zones

The twins love stories.

Jordan loves writing and reading them. Evan loves reading them, listening to them and creating them in his head. He may not have the patience Jordan has to write it all out but his imagination is wilder than hers at times. We know this because the monsters that hide under their bed at bed time are huge and scary to him. Even Muffin, whom we've had to teach to 'pluck' bad dreams out of his head and throw out the window.

A few months back, I received an invitation for the twins (and Muffin) to take part in a writing workshop. That one was called EnchantINK and had to do with princesses and princes. It would have been totally up Jordan's alley except for the fact that we were away at that poin. We got invited again, for this June break and the workshop was aptly called Monster HuntINK which I loved. The group running it was called Monsters Under The Bed and the name stuck with JED.

So we went, reservations and all.

1. The twins would be too young. After all, they have had only about 6 months of primary school under their belt.

2. It was 3 hours long per session and it was going to be 3 hours of writing based activity. Would they lose interest and start to fidget?

3. Evan hates writing of any length. How would he survive this?

We were banking on the content and the interest in the topic to get them through it.

Both Packrat and I sat in for it. And the problem with us sitting in was that we couldn't take off our teacher hats and began looking at the sessions from a pedagogical point of view. And as with teachers observing other classes, we came up with things that we felt could have done better.

1. The younger children flailed a little bit. Most, like the twins, had not been taught the elements of composition. They had an idea of how they wanted to create their monster and their story but they needed help connecting the dots. Scaffolding. 

2. The lead trainers were great but they got college students to facilitate the groups and 18 year olds don't really understand the pedagogical needs of 6-7 year olds. After all, they are students themselves. 

3. The younger ones and the ones with less writing exposure just couldn't keep up. Packrat found himself, informally facilitating a discussion between two 9 year olds because they had no idea how and where to start.

And when we talked about it, we decided that it would have been better if 
1. The older and more able kids be grouped separately from the younger bunch. That meant the smaller ones could do the same theme but simplified and perhaps a more active variation of 'monster-making'. 

2. There were more physical and role-playing activities; less writing even if this were a writing workshop. This is just so that the kids get to expend some energy, be moving around. Some kids think better kinesthetically and not everyone communicates their imaginations through pencil and paper. 

3. Make sure the student facilitators were up to the needs of the kids or have them with the older kids and the main trainers helping the littler ones. 

But that's us being pedantic teacher types. 

And that's where the kids surprised us. Despite what we saw as taxing for them, all of JED including Muffin, loved it and couldn't wait to get back. They loved

1. All the monsters that were introduced. So they sat through a 30 minute presentation of the different monsters in literature. Evan was enthralled. It was his kind of thing. 

2. Talking to the older trainers about their favourite monsters and bringing books they had with monsters in it to show the trainers. 


3. Creating the monster, coming up with its weaknesses and a plan to defeat the monster. Of course, when Jordan does it in bright metallic pink, it does take some of the 'fear factor' out of the monster. 

4. Dressing up in somewhat Halloween get up.

5. Having a full run of Old Parliament House.
Chocolates, just in case. Just in case she, the Monster Hunter, got hungry.

We have Jordan's work because Evan's became crumpled and unreadable plus he claimed his monster was invisible so whatever he wrote couldn't show up in the photograph. He did write in pencil and it was very faint. But his monster was an invisible one and how you tracked it down was to bring a pail of paint with you. He could have written the script for a Scooby Doo episode!

Jordan's plan to trap the monster. We especially liked the 'hide somewhere safe' part.

At the end of all that, both stood at the front of the cafe where we were based and read their end product out loud for everyone to hear. They were proud of their work and we were proud of them. So despite our reservations that it was a class too old for them, they survived it pretty well with whatever 'weapons' they had and came out from it, a little wiser and a little bolder.

That in itself was pretty metaphorical. Small kids with only wits, facing off huge beasts of sorts  MacGyver-ing their way through it and ultimately emerging successful in their own right.

But the best things about the workshop was
1. How it implicitly taught the kids how to break down something potentially scary and intimidating into smaller bits (the monster, its characteristics and eventually how to defeat it) thereby making the problem more manageable. That way, it didn't seem so big and frightening anymore.  So, the meta-idea of the workshop was great and something of more value that the writing that they did.

2. The lead trainer, Eugene and Evan became great pals. They talked, for hours about monsters leading to Eugene giving Evan a book about monsters. Packrat realised only then, that he had the same book. Game geeks (more specifcially, role-playing geeks) and all. It made Evan feel so important and he spent the whole day reading up on the monsters he liked (the hydra and the choker and goodness knows what else). 

So,  how did they over come the bits that were beyond them? They asked what they could then simply and blissfully ignored what they couldn't, going on to the bits that they could do. That's a pretty good skill to have picked up too.

Incidentally, MUTB is going to be running a workshop for parents on how to help your child be a better writer.

Here are some details.
The MUTB trainer will reveal the same techniques that good writers use, and how your child can apply them. You will learn:

• Simple writing tips that add style and polish

• The common mistakes that prevent writing skills from progressing

• To use character and plot elements that will awe even older readers
• How to nurture the right reading habits in your child

Event Details

Date: July 19 2014 (Saturday)

Time: 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Venue: National Design Centre

If anyone is keen, please contact Riza at riza@mutb.com.sg. 

JED received a complimentary invites to Monsters HuntINK, and we were not compensated for this post. All opinions and stories are Packrat and mine. Workshop photos are courtesy of  us and Monsters Under The Bed.


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