I’m posting here about the Media Workshop I was commissioned by the Department of Youth Affairs to conduct instead of posting it at my Jhohadli blog because as a youth specific event, it seemed a good fit for the Wadadli Pen blog.
It was an all-absorbing two weeks (July 14th to 25th) – by which I mean I got very little else done during that time, writing included. In fact, the only writing I remember doing was the writing that came out of my field trip with the kids from the writing workshop I was facilitating. In the end, though I’d like to think that we got a lot done during those long days.
The focus of the workshop was feature writing; and the goal given to each participant, to produce an article by the end of the second week, was achieved by almost all – and what was produced was quite thought provoking. The best of them consistent with our mantra for the two weeks: “this is not talk as yuh like but back up yuh chat.”
Each day we began by reading and discussing a feature article, pulling it apart: how it approached its subject, how it used language, the attitude of the writer to the subject, how the story made them feel, how the writer achieved that, what sources were used, were they effective, how was language used, was that effective, and so on. We also discussed themes and the articles covered a wide range of them – touching on girls/women/human rights and patriarchy; on female representation in parliament; on the brutality meted out to the indigenous people of the new world – this actually wasn’t a very well written one (but that too was a learning opportunity); articles on environmental activism; the marine environment; subtle forms of censorship including self-censorship; diversity (or the lack thereof) in popular culture products – books, TV, film; bullying and cyber bullying in particular – this one caught on as a number of them ended up writing on this very topic. Sidebar: won’t break any confidences but we really need to pay attention to what our kids are going through; it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there and confident as their posturing is, they’re really just trying to feel their way through it. Writing their experiences is one very profound way of bringing clarity and/or catharsis, and I applaud the DYA for the initiative and hope they find the funding to make it continuous.
The weeks were punctuated by a couple of field trips, one a city walkabout, one exploration of the former sugar plantation cum open air historical museum that is Betty’s Hope– in the former case, the challenge was to observe and practice descriptive writing and in the latter case they were expected to journal the experience – and from that we did a pretty successful group writing exercise when we returned to base.
Another approach to edutainment was video screenings of films, music videos, and mini-docs – followed by discussion and critiques. These provided opportunities for comparative analysis of different tones and styles, even or especially when there are common themes. One of the 20 or so participants said on review at the end of the two weeks that his/her favourite activity was surprise, surprise “…the movies and the discussions because I learn better that way and it is fun and entertaining.”
I don’t know what I expected of the last day but it was wonderful. Most completed their articles as mentioned; others had articles in various stages of progress. Three were selected to present. That went very well – the three presented on women’s rights, women’s representation in parliament, and corporal punishment. I think in preparing the articles, they learned it’s easy to have an opinion, it’s much more challenging to articulate that opinion in a coherent and artful way, to back up yuh chat by putting in the research time and doing the appropriate sourcing (and crediting said sources), and just sitting down and doing the work – no shortcuts.
There were tears and procrastination, complaining and contradictory behavior – never let it be said that only old people are set in their ways; we challenged each other – prove it, I would say in the face of every conspiracy theory or wild statement and I’ve never heard “Miss” said with so many variations of whine before. So perhaps we were both a little surprised at the end to find that we had enjoyed our time together. “What did you learn from us?” one asked me at the end. “Patience,” I quipped. And that’s no joke (between lack of focus, resistance, and more I had to put it to use) but I learned more too. By finding ways to engage the reluctant learners especially, during the summer months, for six to seven hours per day, when they’d rather be outside (in theory, since even our outdoor games attracted some whining), I continue to learn (the hard way) how to teach what I love to those who may not love it as much and to those who love it maybe but need to realize that it’s more than just bursts of creativity but actual work. In this regard, as in so much else, I continue to be a work in progress.
I was in line at the ATM when I got around to reading their evaluations of the two weeks. I’d done everything I could to assure them that their feedback would be anonymous and it was. So I’ll take it at face value that they had as good of a time as they said they did. I’m not surprised that highlights for them included the films and field trips, the friendships and the music, so much music (blame me for that, I love music and it is a form of storytelling that kids can relate to). But some of their comments did reassure me that for them it was also a productive two weeks filled with learning and, surprisingly, fun.
They wrote about gaining confidence, learning the basics of journalism and how to express themselves via the written word, how to edit what they’d written, and indeed how to back up yuh chat – “balancing my thoughts with facts”. One that jumped out at me was, “after being reluctant to come, I actually learned a lot. My writing skills have improved.” And, this person went on to say, he or she, I’m not sure which, had also learned a lot about him or herself. Sidebar: I also hope they learn to question more before swallowing everything wholesale…whether it’s the finer points of history or today’s conspiracy theories.
So, let’s see, let’s see, what else did I learn…that teens are contradictory, so conservative about some issues, so off hand about other things, and seeing no irony in it at all… treating journaling like a chore (why? Why? Why? Do you journal every day????) and then naming it as one of their favourite activities…go figure…what else, what else…oh that I am “a funny teacher” … which is a neat trick considering everything else that was going on in my life at the time.
Educational…fun were the two words repeated most often in their reviews, and you know what, that’s an okay mix.
“P.S. Ms. Hillhouse, I love your approach to criticism. You never just state what needs improvement but what was great already, thereby making you approachable.”
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