Chennai, July 29, 2019: The Centre for Writing and Pedagogy at Krea University held its inaugural workshop for schoolteachers in Chennai on Friday. It was facilitated by Dr Anannya Dasgupta, Director of the Centre. The workshop was primarily aimed at unpacking pedagogical methods used to teach reading and critical writing to students and encouraging conversations—about challenges faced in the classroom—among teachers across disciplines and grades. Rain notwithstanding, 22 teachers participated in the workshop, hailing from areas such as Science, Philosophy, English, among others.
The workshop was structured around three interactive sessions woven around themes of script, sound and sense: wherein the multiple aspects of language—as the written word, phonetic sound, a system that allows meaning-making—were explored extensively. The facilitator centred each session around exercises wherein each participant had to read aloud lines from a passage, discuss its meaning with other participants, and eventually write a summary and analysis of the excerpt.
After a round of introductions, the first session began by emphasizing the visual nature of language as a script. The session aimed to go beyond the existing idea of reading as a technique that creates functional literacy, instead, reading for meaning, seeing patterns across texts, joy and pleasure were the focus of the session. To emphasize this approach to reading in the classroom, participants were encouraged to read aloud excerpts from Paul Ricoeur’s essay “What is a Text?” (1981) and poet Mark Doty’s essay “Word into World” (2010). During this reading exercise, they were encouraged to use the dictionary to look up word meanings. The dictionary, it was realized, was a medium that would aid students in tracing the biographies of words, and bringing a sense of adventure to the classroom. The teachers were then split into groups that allowed them to discuss with each other how the content of the excerpt was reflected in the manner in which each sentence was crafted. These exercises not only emphasized the aural aspect of the script but also came to be seen as methods to bring texts alive in the classroom.
Having moved from script to sound, the next session focused on processes involved in how we make sense of words on the page. To unravel those processes, the participants were encouraged to find patterns, connections across the selected excerpts by annotating every sentence in the excerpt. They began by looking at each excerpt individually, breaking it down to see the function of its constituent sentences. During this close reading exercise, it was found that most paragraphs are structured around a series of claims and supported by evidence. As a result, they gleaned the differing rhetorical strategies employed by authors while writing academic, literary and philosophical essays. This reading exercise was followed by a written activity, wherein participants began by writing summaries of each selection, after which they moved to analysis. The movement from understanding what the author is saying, to how the author is saying it, and what the author means was possible only after multiple sessions of close reading.
The workshop ended with a close reading, followed by a discussion on an excerpt from Derrick Jensen’s book A Language Older Than Words(2000). The pedagogical techniques that unravelled during the workshop, and the use of three excerpts to evoke interest, intense engagement and pleasure over the course of the day was well received by the teachers who believed that these strategies would be highly effective, across disciplines, when employed in the classroom.