Try as I might, there are some things I simply cannot teach without a fair amount of talking. I can throw in some visual stimuli, get the kids involved in discussion, add some inquiry and generally try and be student-centered…but there are just too many difficult ideas that need to be talked through. One such topic is the media concept of representation. In short, this is a consideration of the way in which reality is portrayed and distorted by the lens of media. A typical example, and one of great import, would be the way women are objectified by an industry led by men.
Whilst my course is officially titled “ICT & Media”, I am no media guru, and the students spend much more time on the ICT side of things. However, representation is one area I really want students to work on, as it is fundamental in becoming a critical thinker. For the last few years I have used the extended trailer of Miss Representation to look at this issue, and it has been generally successful. This year I had another video, The Mask You Live In, which I planned to add into the mix. I feeling pretty pleased to have two excellent, thought-provoking videos which looked at, amongst much else, both sides of gender in the media.
A few months ago, having seen a very impressive talk by Germain Greer, I was toying with ideas of how to be a better orator for these lessons that must be talked out. I came to the conclusion that if I sat level with the kids, we might establish a better personal connection. So, I dragged a group of Year 8s out of the classroom, and we had a lesson sitting on the lawn. This was great, but within 10 minutes everyone was mosquito-bitten and itchy, and desperate to go back inside.
In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that an indoor version of this might be more effective and workable during the summer months. This seed morphed into the idea of an informal “carpet picnic”, where students could bring in food, drinks, blankets and pillows. And what better time to try this, than in a lesson looking at representation. Being the end of the year, the kids are also desperate for something novel.
Having now tried this with two classes I can report it is an effective technique, and the kids really enjoyed it. Pleasingly, the discussion was deeper, and with broader involvement, than when kids sit at their desks. Some of the students really opened up, sharing sides of themselves that I had not previously seen. At times trading of food was distracting, but on the whole I think the experience was positive. In both classes, enough students made the effort to bring in blankets, and those without clearly wanted to share and be included. There were even some stuffed toys, as well as a pretty cool poncho, on display. In the end it seemed to be a cross between regular lesson and end-of-year party, with the students in a good, yet focused, mood.
Ultimately I was most pleased to see students take an interest in issues of gender, equality, diversity, history and their own place in the world. It was also nice that, on leaving, one student paused to say “thanks for this amazing lesson Mr. Parker”: as lovely as my students are, such compliments are a rarity.
The carpet picnic will become a regular feature next year, but come November I will definitely have the kids back out on the lawn.
Image credit: Carpet image shared by PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay under CC0 (Public Domain)