Few Key Takeaways from the ‘Online Creative Writing Courses for Teachers’

Here are a few key takeaways from the two Online Courses I conducted for over 300 Primary and Secondary English teachers on “Teaching Creative Writing” in the last 3 months.

 

1.  We have some brilliant writers amongst our English teachers who can compete with the best in the world.

 

2.  Writing well does not automatically lead to speaking well or teaching well. They require different skill sets. The teaching methodology even in the best schools has shown paucity. Hence training is critical. If children learn with excellent teaching strategies, they carry the learning with them into the future.

 

3.  When teachers work on assignments during the Online Course, it becomes clear that they are significantly undertrained to teach writing. They are stretched beyond their comfort zones and to deal with this is courageous. When we work hard at something, the efforts are not wasted and in the end children benefit.

 

4. The areas where improvements are required are: understanding genres, analysing multi-layered questions, making rubrics. Teachers must break away from the traditional “test taking” mindset and shift to “learning mindset”.

 

5.  Participants are quick to see the benefits of the big picture when they experience it. The assignments make them more empathetic to children’s needs. They realise how much there is to learn and practice and they acknowledge it. They realise how our professional courses fall short in providing them the necessary skills.

 

6. Traditional Workshops are a failed model of training, leading to waste of money, time and effort. There are no assignments, and no rigorous engagement required for effective learning. It’s a feel good model that is tick boxed by schools as professional development.

 

7.  Instead of individual feedback on assignments, collective feedback allows collaboration in sharing content produced by other participants. They generate immense classroom resources and exemplify pedagogical strategies for success. It paves the way for a new mode of collaborative learning and corrections in the classroom that is modelled by the course. This will create a paradigm shift where the teachers are released from the punishing wasteful yoke of traditional corrections and are free to teach instead. No one believes this till they experience it.

 

8. Teachers have benefitted from the question papers they encountered and have seen how students can be invited to recount, comment, use materials for application, make questions, research to share content, and generate own content.

 

9. Teachers experience the inter-relationships between the various arms of English like comprehension, grammar, poetry and reading to impact writing. They practice integration of subjects to economise on time and effort through self-generated questions. Integration is now a definite possibility in the 21st century skill called collaboration.

 

10. Teachers must use volume, frequency and context to teach. They witness the benefits of layering as they journey through the course. It is more than writing that they learn. The course is also about pedagogy, strategy, planning, terminology, corrections and philosophy of learning through practical work. It is both a personal and professional journey.

 

We owe this learning journey to our children.

Story of my pre primary book production..

Pre-primary books

This is the story of my Pre-Primary book production. November end 2019, I was let down badly by the last of the book designers who promised the stars and delivered zilch! I was close to shelving the project.

Come December, there appears on the scene, magically, a design guy – fickle, unreliable, shirking but supremely, wonderfully talented! I imprison him in my office, and we work like maniacs raving and ranting, biting the bullet. The books get designed in a record of 3 months of which one is wasted in the man’s procrastination. The books are ready for print in the raw by March 15th. We lockdown the office and soon the country is locked. Touch and go! Skin of the tooth timing!

Here I am in the picture, with 24 of them babies, (8 for each year) for the 3 foundation years. The last ones couldn’t be printed because of the lockdown. They got delivered just a few weeks ago after battles with containment zones. It’s a labour of pure love! Precious and miraculous! It was meant to be!

You will see the true spirit of holistic education of the NEP 2020 in them. The books for Pre-Primary children are: English Vocabulary & Literacy; Phonics Sight & Rhyme Reader; Numeracy & Logic, Environment; Culture & Science; Talking Pictures; Art & Construction; Stories for Critical Thinking; Oral Activities for Fluency. Set of 8 books each for 3+, 4+ and 5+ years. Nursery, Kindergarten or Pre-Primary years.

Stories, games, songs, clips, poems, critical thinking stories, art and construction work, science and STEM, oral fluency work, sight reading programme, taking pictures that scale for holistic work, numeracy based on discoveries, math stories, games and a language programme that is unique and guarantees success. It’s smashing!

I call them the “Magic Box” Series, as really the effect on children will be magical !

I want to take it straight to parents. With the books, the entire year’s curriculum is in the parents’ hands. No more sporadic work-intensive worksheets. What’s more, I plan to do a course for parents called the ‘Pre- Primary Parent Patshala’. Transparency and sharing are the only way forward. As author and creator, I will train parents on how to use these books with their children. Our children deserve the best to preserve their natural genius.

So, if you have children between the ages 3 and 6 do write to us about your interest in all this. My training programmes, legendary for their effectiveness and value for money, will be for 4 months. We want our kids to shine at the end of the 3 years and truly realize those promises made in the NEP 2020. Foundation Right, Future Bright is our motto!

Buy a set for yourself from our website  or from Amazon or Flipkart. Type ‘Usha Pandit Pre Primary books’ in the search box and you will find them. You will also be able to see some sample pages. They are wonderfully inexpensive. Gift them to kids who are starting life. Let them have the edge and be proper 21st Century champions.

Lending a voice to the Pre-Primary child….

I am a human child. I am a miracle.

I am small but I am very bright. In two years, I moved from a near vegetative dependent state to an independently mobile, wilful, emotionally expressive, and socially empathetic being. On my own!  Don’t you think that’s awesome progress?

I have come to discover this planet. I have people who love me immensely. I can’t read but my mum, teacher and dad can. Please read to me because I can understand, especially if you show me pictures, and gestures, and facial expressions. I would love it if you make me act out the actions. Give me lots of that!  

I will learn to recognise those squiggles you call words very soon. No hurry.  Just let me play with them. I love to play. Play is exploration. That is how I learn. Give me games. Put me in a team and I will learn social skills. Give me labels for my emotions so that I can tell you how I feel.

I can think. Let me problem solve. Invite me to think critically. My moral compass is strong. Activate it. Let me choose what is right. Question me, and I will learn. I like to imagine. Let me make up original stories and objects and spaces. I am curious. I question everything. The world is big. Expose me to it. Don’t fix me in one spot. I’m active. Move me on to various experiences. Give me access to your wondrous world.

Do not limit my little life to reading and writing. Fill me with ideas instead. I’m more than ready for that. If I can’t read and write easily, and with joy, it just means my brain is not ready yet. Didn’t I walk and talk differently from my brothers and sisters? Yet, none of the delay left any of us behind. See how we all run around, and jabber away at the age of 4!

I am part of the world’s heartbeat. I am the rhythm. Make me sing and I will learn anything. I can sing forever.

Tell me stories. They contain so many lives that I cannot possibly live. Ignite my senses. Introduce me to people. Put me in impossible to reach places. Let me share in the magic of other lives and adventures. Let me meet creatures of fantasy.  Read to me please. I must hear the language if you want me to pick up English. Maybe, you can let me view stories on Youtube. My mind makes special pictures that are made of feelings.

I’m a digital native. I will live in the world of Artificial Intelligence. My sense for technology, and my excitement over building things is inborn. Let me experience it. If I fail, I will learn why I failed. It will teach me how to be successful. 

I love to laugh. It is part of my intelligence. Make me laugh a lot. It will build my resilience. I have noticed only we humans laugh.  I’m a natural language learner. I learnt a language with no adult “teaching” me before I was 2. Isn’t that a miracle? Mother Nature is a good teacher. She will teach you how to teach me. Follow her.

 I am very observant. I will put together many things and come up with my own. I can synthesise. Don’t teach me a lot. Just show me a lot. I can link things. Show me the links. My creativity will burgeon. I am in a hurry to learn about how everything works. Technology will help you to help me. The digital world is like an endless ocean where so much knowledge is instantly served up.

Didn’t you notice my speed as a little baby after I learnt to crawl? Did you notice how I abandoned the colourful toys you got me after I had played a bit, and broken a few? I made a beeline for the shoe cupboard, for the waste basket, for the pail of dirty water… they were all at floor level and within reach! I was showing you how I learn. I reach out to everything I can access without discrimination. Don’t over select my learning materials for me. If it is not for me, I will abandon them.

If I could follow my spirit, would I be sitting in a classroom? Would I not be a bird in the air, a fish in the sea, a flower scattering fragrance, a tiger on the prowl, the wind in the mountains, the gurgling of rivers and the stars in space?   Please don’t box me in. I’m small. Let me discover the world and myself. Give me time….

Usha Pandit

Taken from the Preface to my Pre-Primary series being introduced this year called “The Magic Box” series. Take a look at the e-brochure.

Teaching poetry to grade 12 interactively

This is an account of a teacher observation I did that I would like to share with senior school teachers.

The teacher was doing a poetry class with grade 12 – Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. Her presence, voice and knowledge were excellent. I was making notes on her class, word wall good, great commandments on how to approach literary pieces from annotation to appraisal I wrote.

What’s an ode? she begins and I am thinking children should have done a number of odes by now most notably Pablo Neruda’s odes to the onion and other vegetables. They should have written a couple themselves on their sports shoes or mobile phones.

Children are now reading the poem, and when done, the teacher tells them there are 3 scenes depicted on the urn. I would have told them before we started, if I had to tell them,  so that they know what to look for. I’d have asked them to find word clusters and label them as Nature, Time etc. and to examine what they meant in the poem. Instead she asks: What are the lines you like? Too subjective and too early for the kids to give her informed choices. I’m running my eyes through the poem and thinking the 3 scenes are on Love, Time, and Death, besides the iconic line Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. She now begins to start at the start, and analyse. She asks them about the impact of the repeated questions in the first stanza.

” What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?”

They are not able to get it. I am thinking should I let her continue and write a report  or should I demonstrate?

On impulse, I get up and say: May I? She happily gives me the opportunity.

15 pairs of eyes look startled and curious. I smile inwardly.

I read the rhetorical questions again in a tone of wonder… no response…

I say: What a sunrise! What beauty? Whose work is this? Wah! And bingo they get to the emotional impact. Wonder, awe, amazement….they say.

Can you find the lines describing – awe at the emotional state of lovers…. Ecstacy…. Junooon, bekhudi… If I had time (I had 20 minutes left in this period now) I would have done some sufi poetry. 😛

” That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.”

Is love eternal? Does it change with the times? Did the Neanderthal love differently from now? Did his heart beat? His tongue parch? Did his forehead burn in love? Oh yes!!! Love is universal – for all people and all times and in the future. Eternal truth called Love.

So, I go back to the 3 scenes. The first one is of the lovers prancing around the bough…. Is it more exciting to be in love or to finally end it with a kiss I ask… they are totally mesmerised! To be in love miss…. Why so? Anticipation they say. Yes, the thrill of anticipation being sharper than the culmination. Being in love is so much more exciting than being married, I wink. They laugh. I quote:

” Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! “

In the marble urn, he will love forever and she will always be fair. No aging and no death. So, what’s that called? We reach the words ‘immortality’ and ‘eternity’. Frozen in time. Forever young. Time stops. Time defeated. Time captured and defeated. Do we conquer time by stopping it with our intense experiences?

Their eyes are now shining.

Are heard melodies better than unheard ones? Yes miss. How? We hear them with our mind. Do we hear them with our feelings?  I speak to them about how when we read books and imagine characters, we find they never match anyone in real quite as accurately. They are all nodding vigorously. Why is that? Our imagination knows no boundaries. If you were a brilliant artist and I asked you to draw what you imagine you wouldn’t be able to. You are feeling the image… not through your visual faculties but your mind’s endless imagination. An image that uses emotion as its medium and is defined not by strokes of the brush, but by feelings……How cool are we???

They are sitting forward now… almost salivating…

Let’s look at the next scene.

” Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? “

Why is the heifer dressed in garlands? It’s going to be sacrificed miss. Why is it being sacrificed? Look at green altar. What does green stand for? Freshness. Fertility.  What is the concept here in this sacrificial animal? If the first one was Love? We now reach the door of Death. The other big eternal truth. The people who have thronged for the sacrifice will never return home…. Is death too frozen in time? Is movement and life frozen? Is Death defeated by Time? Is Time defeated by Love? Yes. Wow!

I read the rest of the poem and there is barely any need for more questions or explanations. It’s clear as daylight.

So, what does this mean? 
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

They struggle. I tell them we are so close to Indian philosophy here. What is ‘truth’ in Hindi? Sachaai…. another word please….. Satyam… 
‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram!’ they chorus.
Yes. Truth, God (love) and Beauty… are all ye need to know.. they are the same. See how West and East meet. At the end of the day, there is just that one truth. What is Good is Beautiful; and what is Good is God; and what is God is Truth. They are almost clapping. 

What does the urn stand for? I ask finally. What do we call a small thing that contains larger truths or speaks volumes? Starts with an ‘s’ and ends with an ‘l’.’
Chorus: Symbol. 
So, what does the urn symbolize? Eternity. Frozen time. Frozen death. Frozen love. And yet it is but a dead thing….marble, cold, dead…. Eternal life and love contained in dead and lifeless marble.
.
The eyes are twinkling now. They are grinning…

” Cold Pastoral! “

An inanimate urn, used to keep the ashes of the dead…. And yet it becomes the canvas for containing the idea of eternity… Isn’t that paradoxical???? Isn’t that genius??? Life and death, the permanent and the transient…. two contradictions…entwined, eternal, containing one another …. Kya baat… kya baat…

Keats (1795 -1821) my dear friends … philosopher, thinker, poet who died at the tender age of 26!

Thank you, teacher, for allowing me to take your class. 

———–——————-

Ode on a Grecian Urn

 

By John Keats


Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;

More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Critical and Lateral Thinking: Keys to Success in Writing for Overseas University Admissions

Keys to Success in Writing for Overseas University Admissions

Today, I got a mail from a teacher asking for advice on how to coach students for ideas to achieve success in competitive exams in the essay section, for admissions to overseas universities. As an educator and academic consultant, I believe in sharing my insights with all teachers so that a large number of students benefit.
Do read and send me your comments at usha.pandit@mindsprings.in

First of all, to achieve success in any examination we need to analyse the nature of the assignment, and more pertinently, the success criteria given by examiners, to do well. If possible, read their expert comments on excellent student performances.

In this particular test to acquire high grades the essays needed to demonstrate:
a) Originality
b) Unique perspectives
c) Critical thinking

How is the teacher actively going to promote these requirements? Just instructing students to be unique, original, and think critically would not make it happen. Students need to see such skills demonstrated by a model text, analyse techniques, and have clear strategies on how to achieve them.
The students’ essays need to stand out among tens of thousands of essays to be selected for courses abroad. So here, I am demonstrating a process for teachers with examples of critical thinking and methods that the students can adopt using authentic assignment topics given to them.

Topic 1.
Describe a time you were a leader and give examples.

What students normally do:
Take heroic stances.
Give three common examples.
These will not demonstrate critical thinking, uniqueness, or originality.

Strategies:

  • Ask questions on the key words in the topic.
  • Challenge established conventions. State new definitions.
  • Do reflections.
  • Use appropriate target vocabulary.
  • Extrapolate to world leaders

Way forward:
The key word in this topic is ‘leader’.
Leadership can only be defined when we ask: who is a leader?
Challenge common perceptions of power and hubris, and the egoistic thrills of ordering around followers.
A leader must think, collaborate, act, reflect, learn, own responsibility, share credit.
Mental stamina, courage, resilience, and empathy are important qualities of a leader.
Your examples must clearly show:
a) how hard it was to lead
b) courage to lead from the front
c) how you motivated your team in times of struggle
d) how you learnt from failure and recognised that failure itself was part of growth

Topic 2.

Accidentally breaking a table…
What students normally do:
They talk about how they broke the table. How they lied or got yelled at. Express sorrow.

Strategies:

  • Choose a genre
  • Dwell on the key words ‘accidentally’, ‘broke’ and ‘table’
  • Use reflections and values
  • Extrapolate personal response to bigger accidents and materials
  • Reflect on being in the other person’s shoes
  • Explore the ideas of loss, taking responsibility, and making compensations

Way forward:
This can be humorous, (humour is created by exaggeration, puns, absurdity or irony). It is about how you express your anguish with extreme imaginary punishments, or exaggerations on the face and body language of the owner by comparisons that are absurd, or what is likely to happen to you next.

It could also be a serious reflection on the nature of material things… on sentimental values…on what you might want to do with broken pieces, on conservation and recycling and creativity. Or in karma and transience of things as in mandalas.

It could be a reflection on the moral dilemmas when we do something wrong. On our reactions of panic, fear, wanting to distance ourselves from the accident, of planning to lie and escape, discomfort. What if we owned the table? Use the other’s perspective. How do we compensate? What are the things that are hard to compensate? Extrapolate to world situations

Topic 3.

The 3 most important people.

What students normally write:
They write about their mother or father and recount what sacrifices were made, how good their parents are, or what a teacher taught them with a lot of superlatives in praise.

Strategies:

  • Scrutinise the key words ‘important’ and ‘people’
  • What is important beyond the creature and material comforts? Growth, values?
  • Nature and actions of people who impress that are unique
  • Think contrary on learning from negative people. Can they be included?
  • Extrapolate to common characteristics of global role models

Way forward:
Speak of incidents that are unique and rare if you mention your parents, teachers, or neighbours. Even strangers or common people by extraordinary feats of courage or generosity can reduce you to tears. Celebrities, philosophers and political figures who have shown exemplary stoicism in the face of adversity can be role models. People who have nothing, are bereaved, terminally ill or penniless and yet generous, sunny optimistic can become life changers.
If you turn it around on its head and say 3 important people who showed you the way because I learnt what not to do from them – your idea would be a stand-alone and unique one and will draw attention. You will demonstrate contrary thinking here.

Final word
Therefore, mysuggestions for success are:
We should actually teach our students to think laterally and critically, to use controversy and contrariness to their advantage, and to analyse topics for genre and diverse potential, and extrapolate their final observations to higher areas or situations.
As an educator and teacher of creative writing for over three decades, and as an expert in enrichment programmes, I can assure you, these thinking strategies are extremely successful and doable, and they spell guaranteed success.

Teasers:
Do you know: the most coveted university entrance examinations reward you for
a) originality
b) unique perspectives and
c) critical thinking.