Teach for India Diaries 9: Fairy Tales vs Life Stories

Would your life be a fairy tale or a story? Either way you are the writer…

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. Stephen King was right when he said this. Just how I came to write this one is when I read an article about how our mind is actually very unimaginative and lazy. We need external stimuli to make it think. We will only think or write about what we have read, seen or experienced. One doesn’t not write about things that are beyond ones horizon of existence and being. We think about what we can perceive and we write about what we know, have seen and experienced.

I tried digging deeper into each writer’s story.

Charles dickens’s financial stricken upbringing is reflected in most of his work. Be it “Pickwick Papers” or “Oliver Twist”. There is always an orphan in the plot who moves from one welfare home to another asking for more.

J K Rowling’s Harry potter talks of a misfit wizard, much like herself, who was destined for greatness in the wizard world which he was never even meant to enter. Her commencement speech at Harvard reflected her learning in life and how she took the best from the worst making it into the million dollar franchise.

Reading and writing. It’s a symbiotic cycle.

After almost 8 months of rigorous reading and almost no structured writing with Grade 2, we decided that there has to be a process for writing. I went back to how I began writing anything. A poem, a letter, a story, an article or even a single nagging reminder on a post it, there was always an idea that gave birth to the first few words, phrases, immature sentences, filled with wrong grammar spelling mistakes and then finally the piece of work  we can call our own. For the past few weeks we have had a process which is called the IDEEP process of writing. Ideating, Drafting, Enhancing, Editing and Publishing. It took a while to explain the process to the kids. We gave them graphic organizers and idea webs to put their ideas on paper. How does one get ideas? We just gave them a topic and told them to ask their brain all the “Wh” questions, Who, What, When, Where, Which  and How? Once their brain gives them the ideas they need to Draft sentences out of the ideas. Once they have these sentences ready they need to enhance their sentences by adding more details to them. Editing makes them look at their Word Walls and correct all the spelling mistakes and of course follow Capital letter starting, finger spacing and full stops. Once they have this ready their work is ready to be published! It takes us a whole week to produce one piece of work. But it’s been fabulous to see the journey from almost a blank paper in the beginning of January to now where we have a full fledged piece of work that reflects their personality!

I could not expect my kids to write about fairytales or daring dreams when all they ever saw and experienced was violence and hopelessness. When I gave them the prompts of “My neighborhood”, I got sentences like “my neighborhood is bad. Bad boys live in my neighborhood. Big people hit small people. It is very dirty and garbage is on the roads.” When I gave them prompts like “I am angry when; I got to read sentences like “When my father hit me I am angry. When my brother hit me I am angry. When my mother not give me food I am angry.” I stopped for a minute and thought about giving them more positive prompts like “I am happy when”; I was amused to still see many children writing sentences like “I am happy when my father don’t hit me. I am happy when my big people don’t hit me. I am happy when my mother give me food to eat.” This is not to say that I don’t get sentences that are “Happy”.

But what I realized was that kids’ work is going to reflect things that they see around them. When I showed them the Earth song by Michael Jackson, they suddenly shifted focus from the petty issues with their neighborhood to bigger things like “I get angry when people cut trees. I get angry when elephants are killed for teeth. I get angry when little children don’t have food to eat.” It was still about negative things but what we can notice is that the focus shifted from “My issues” to “Our World issues”.

It was amazing to see how 7 year olds could make this virtual shift with a little bit of exposure to the real world out there. I often make the mistake of trying to surround my kids with the good, happy and sunshine filled world out there thinking that they already see so much of the bad of it. But Its striking to see how much more they were drawn to see malnutrition kids in Somalia than Little mermaid or how engrossed they were in the Earth Song than they were in snow white and the seven dwarfs… It made me think a lot about the importance of the exposure I should give to my kids.

They have so much personality already given their backgrounds. They are survivors and fighters in a constant battle. They are snow whites and little mermaids already fighting the wicked queens and Ursula. They are already on their way to making their own fairy tale stories but only with a fabulous twist.



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