Yesterday my school had a study day for the HSC students. About 50 turned up. Sounds good in practice but as i suspected it became a bit of a social/stress/panic/procrastination exercise for some of them. Not all. I had a little band of 6 from my English class who wanted to revise Hamlet.
I wasn't expecting it, I thought it would be more like extracting teeth. I was pretty chuffed that they still wanted to write an essay that somehow reflected all they had put in.
They have been struggling with the bard all year. They DO understand him when we're reading it (funnily enough - because the general consensus is that reading him is the hard part) but when it comes to writing about him that's another thing. I'm sure anyone who has done the HSC can remember that feeling clearly enough.
We found a study room in the library. My stomach felt a bit twitchy and I knew it had as much to do with this being the last time i would ever teach them, as the sushi lunch that had sat on my desk since 9.00 am.
Where to start. We don't want to panic them now. These flighty yearlings.
I asked them what the big issues were and like well trained monkeys they rattled them off - revenge, life/death, love, appearance vs reality, action vs inaction etc. etc. But when it came to writing about it in any depth they stumbled as usual. The model mapping, scaffolds, smart boards and numerous other visual tools, promoted as the next leap forward in the education revolution, only valued added to a certain extent.
Nic said in frustration, "They are all so complicated." The rest nodded and sighed in agreement.
I could sense growing anxiety.
I didn't want them jumping ship.
"Let's look at the complication...How does Shakespeare make these ideas complicated?...Just how complicated is it?....Let's take revenge ...the sons....Hamlet, Laertes, Fortinbras...why....how....therefore."
A discussion followed that, while it might not make them write better essays itshowed that complexity can be a way out of the darkness. Certainly a way out of the black, inkiness that colours the darkness.
Revenge turned into murder, turned into lust, turned into guilt, turned into action, turned into inaction, turned into reality, turned into appearance. And very soon turned into jokes and laughter and a certain comfort in our own ability to dress in Hamlet's clothes. Black though they may be.
Are we meant to grab hold of complexity, complication, confusion and chaos? Build on it - not deconstruct it. Let it take off.
If out of the darkness comes more darkness than learn how to make lemonade (and candles).
And maybe....if all else fails.... upgrade your search engine.???