SAIIER 2019:Auroville through the teens' eyes and words

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SAIIER 2018-19
Auroville through the Teens’ eyes and words
A project of Deepanam School


The intention of this project was to offer activity-based learning experiences, also know as Problem Based Learning, where the students are put in a situation very close to the reality of a project and/or a situation that they have to solve or carry out. The whole process requires them to dig into the skills they already have as well as developing new ones in order to achieve the target.

This project was articulated around three main activities: a regular monthly magazine, a book compiling text by the students, and a play according to their own words. All activities were done by the 14 students of the Faith group (ages 11 to 14 years old) of Deepanam School.

“Kaleidoscope: The various hues of Deepanam”, a monthly magazine

After a rather slow start over July and August, the first issue of Kaleidoscope was printed in the early days of September. As it was a brand new project, lots of things needed attention. The students had first to choose the format with which they wanted to work, from a school ‘newsletter’ to a full feature ‘magazine’, passing through a larger ‘newspaper’ format. This in itself generated lots of discussion, argumentations and team meetings. Finally the decision came and was unanimous: a Magazine it would be. Therefore a name had to be found and this was another lengthy process that nearly antagonised the group and resulted in lots of debates and brainstormings, which were rather new activities to them. But finally, using an anonymous value voting system where they had to not only choose one and only one name but their top three choices, therefore accepting that any of the chosen names would be acceptable to them, an unanimous decision got taken there too “Kaleidoscope” is the name they chose

Once the format and the name were fully validated and accepted, the actual making of the magazine started. The students had to define all the required roles they would have to fill up in order to come up with the final product. From Editors to Illustrators, through to Page Makers, Photographers and obviously Writers. To support them we visited the News & Notes office so that the kids could be exposed to the making of it and understand all the work required. It was a great experience for them and Sabine was generous to open her doors to us like she did, going as far as offering Faith group the opportunity to design the next News & Notes cover, which they did.

Once the affairs started there was no going back, and slowly but surely the students got to understand a little better every time the full process they had to undergo. The first issue of Kaleidoscope came out in early September and number 8 was handed out to them on Graduation Day, 26 April 2019. Overall more than 200 pages were printed, more than 100,000 words written, 100 drawings, many photographs. One can see it all here: https://issuu.com/faithclass


Kaleidoscope 2.jpg     Kaleidoscope 5.jpg     Kaleidoscope 6.jpg     Kaleidoscope 7.jpg


NaNoWriMo, a November writing challenge that extended to the Third term too

The second part of this project with Faith group was to come up with a book by the end of the school year. Mahavir found out about the writing challenge called “National Novel Writing Month” (NaNoWriMo); we looked at it thoroughly and with great apprehension. We found out that they were running a “Young Writers' Program”, which seemed highly promising, with a strong pedagogical framework that seduced us, we were growing more and more excited, so we agreed to give it a chance.

After a tepid, if not cold reception by Faith group, things got wild and they did participate in a very unexpected commitment and motivation. They had to write and write and write, during the month of November. They even wrote about their experience in the Kaleidoscope of December. It was thrilling to observe the word counter slowly but surely increasing. When we say they wrote a lot, we are serious: more than 200,000 words collectively, across fourteen short to medium sized Novels.

While it contained a lot of ‘hits and misses’, ‘highs and lows’, overall we were quite impressed by the deliveries. Some of these students had barely any experience in writing ‘long distance’ in a language which, if not fully foreign to them, remains nevertheless just a second language. The result is here, it exist, it is tangible and for this we are grateful to these fourteen individuals who have enjoyed the NaNoWriMo ride with us, to the point that most of them are looking forward to go at it again this coming November.

“Sadako and the thousand paper cranes”, the first student-only production at Deepanam

The students of Faith group were fascinated by the story of “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”, a book they all read in class; while folding paper cranes in their Origami Class with Tomoko they also made an effort to finish making their own thousand paper cranes. This inspired them to perform the play from the adaptation by Kathryn Miller, which they heavily rewrote to adapt to their group.

Most importantly, one of the students took up the challenge of directing the play. It was ambitious and required great teamwork to make it to the stage. Eventually, it was entirely owned by the students and teachers were just facilitators to help them with props and stage settings.

All the hard work came to fruition as it was an enthralling performance and well appreciated by the community. It brought tears to the eyes of many. They learned important life skills of patience, perseverance, and tolerance while preparing for the performance.

Outcomes:

Aside from the tangible outcomes of 8 magazines, 1 book and 1 play, the group dynamic has increased tremendously. It was not easy at first and tensions were often experienced but eventually the ‘greater good’ got the best of them and collaboration did happen.

A problem-solving attitude appeared and most of the students if not all of them began to search for solutions before even finding excuses for not making something. That is, we think, one very important step towards free progress.

A sense of pride developed and students' self-esteem went up as well.

General progression in terms of writing English can be noticed too. The skills came as they were required during the process.

As summarised by Bhakti, when Faith group was facing some great difficulties for the making up of the Play and some students were quite close to giving up: “In Deepanam, everything is possible!”. This motto got adopted and we hope it will stay with them in their future endeavors and within the school for the future students.

Reflections:

We are proud of what this team has achieved, though this is nothing in comparison to how important we think it is that they feel proud of themselves for what they achieved. We are grateful to so many people, including all Deepanam teachers and staff for their constant support, the students' parents, SAIIER, and the kids themselves for having responded so well to our crazy call.

It was indeed quite a lot of work to achieve all this, both for the teachers and for the students. But it was the type of work that inspires and motivates; this is the type of work we want more and more of.

Through the continuity of the work during the year, not only can we see and assess the progress, but they can do so too and that is quite a major thing.

The students surprised us with their freshness, their ability to come up with their very own and unique responses. That we value a lot too.

Conclusion:

To conclude around Kaleidoscope, NaNoWriMo and Sadako, we have to come back to what we intended to achieve through these three projects: to bring in our students the deeper understanding of responsibility, through respect of deadlines; creative and collaborative work, both within and out of the school; to create in the students an openness and an understanding towards other perspectives and ideas on a similar subject; to develop their ability to raise and articulate their voice with the inclusion of as much consciousness as possible; to give them the perspective on working on tight scheduling with the monthly commitment, as well as the perspective of a medium to long term project with the book and the play; to make them aware that through team work and thorough engagement one can do pretty much anything and that the Universe will conspire to make it happen; to encourage them to create connections and bonds with the different Units in Auroville that could be helpful and/or interested by the project; to keep improving their command of the English language through all activities related to the making of the magazine, the play, and the book. In order to asses our success regarding all the points above, we had the students fill up a survey. Reading through the students' answers shows us how they made their own assessment, and as we gave them the steering wheel for most of the year, we do want to give them the concluding words too.

  • “I have learnt how to co-operate with other people. I have learnt that working with a deadline is hard at times but it is not so bad… Kaleidoscope should stay in the curriculum as well as NaNoWriMo, it definitely prepared us for the future as well as opening our writing capabilities.”
  • “I don’t really know what I have learnt though I feel like I have. Maybe the responsibility to finish something and submit it. I also feel that my grammar and vocabulary has grown tremendously.”
  • “They all are good ways to learn responsibilities, as well as spelling and grammar, and all in a fun way and that is good for the brain.”
  • “They were all real fun experiences, and I have stopped wasting my time.”
  • “I improved my grammar a lot.”
  • “I definitely learnt how to cooperate with people, to work for a common goal.”
  • “Kaleidoscope and NaNoWriMo should definitely stay in the curriculum, it is arguably the best part of it… I learnt how to write as well as to Photograph and be proud of it all.”
  • “I learnt a lot about English, about cooperating with others and finishing work before the deadline… Also, if everybody was a little more cooperative and responsible it would make the work of the editors all the easier.”
  • “I learnt a lot about leadership and deadlines as well as taking more risks. I got a lot of creative freedom which helped a lot. It helped me take studying a lot more seriously – to study for the sake of studying and not towards some tests.”

When all is said and done, we’ll still have our Kaleidoscopes, Book, and Video of the play.


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