A three day in-house workshop was organised by OELP in the month of January. The participants included the field coordinators; the school based and library teams and volunteers. It was a group of about 30 people. The focus of this workshop was on facilitating a deeper engagement with children’s literature.
We chose to focus on literature in the story and narrative forms. The main idea was to build personal connections between literature and our own lives and worlds and work as a “community of readers”. We wanted the participants to move beyond “reading for meaning” and explore the deeper aspects and multiple layers of some of the stories as thoughtful and engaged readers.
The workshop began with the participants writing their own stories- “Meri Kahani“. The sharing of these stories provided the experience of connecting to each other in ways that we had never done before. Each piece of writing had a voice, and it was quite revealing to share a range of stories and experience the variety in the narrative forms in which they were written.
We read all the stories and discussed some of our individual experiences of composing and crafting a story as writers. There was an animated discussion which created an awareness of each individual’s internal processes as a writer. Whether this was to do with the decision of what to write and then build on it by delving into the past; to rely on some lingering memories. to add imaginary creations to add interest or to simply allow a natural flow. More importantly, it made us aware that each story writer perhaps also went through similar inner journeys while crafting a story. There was a new dawning that to understand a story better and appreciate its finer aspects, it may at times be useful to know something about the writer, and what may have been the motivation for writing the story, and how it may have unfolded and grown into its final form. This was fascinating for some of the participants who felt that a similar exercise can occasionally also be taken up with little children. In fact we can locate some information about a particular writer on the internet, if required. This may deepen the children’s engagement with a story.
A Read Aloud of the Hindi translation of a short story called “Samudr Tat Par” by O. V. Vijayan was taken up in the next session. This story takes the reader through an old father’s journey to his son’s hanging. It provides readers with an opportunity to experience Vijayan’s genius as a writer as he engages with the complexities of this multi layered physical, emotional and experiential journey while retaining tightness and suspense in its unfolding.
Through this Read Aloud session we experienced that good quality literature has the power to touch the minds and hearts of readers. The response to this powerful piece of writing was as multi layered as the story. Some of us responded to the story with silence. Others shared the emotions that it had stirred within them; while still others chose to share related experiences and one or two individuals reflected on some related social reactions to similar incidents, and the complexities that are involved.
We briefly engaged with some of these responses. We spoke about the personal connections that we had made and the ways in which our individual responses had reflected who we are. We realised that there was no right or wrong response. We now reread the story and this time focused on a few other aspects such as the setting; the language use and some literary devices that had been used.
After a break, we went into the next session which was an open sharing on the “What ? Why ? and How? of Read Aloud”. There was an interactive discussion in which each participant drew upon his or her experience with Read Aloud sessions with children over the past year. Each one tried to recall one really good Read Aloud session. We examined the elements that we thought made it into a good Read Aloud. This helped us to arrive at a shared understanding about a Read Aloud and the importance of selecting a suitable book and paying attention to the entire process of what goes on before, during and after the Read Aloud. For the newer team members, this was an opportunity to a build deeper understanding about the need for daily Read Aloud sessions and some ways in which children can be drawn into a deeper engagement with the text.
Next, we got into small groups and each group selected a book to read together and respond to it as a group. The purpose of this exercise was to go beyond reading for meaning and engage with the deeper layers of the story as thoughtful readers. Each group was required to plan a Read Aloud session based on the selected book.
This was an interesting exercise. The more experienced team members had designed pre and post reading activities which were more open ended and evoked more probing responses from the child readers. Some examples:
- -If you were xxx how would you have felt?
- -Imagine you were in the story. Who would you like to be and why? or what will you do differently?
- -What was the on thing you liked about the story and one thing you didn’t? Why?
- -why did the writer give this name to the story ? Can you think of another name?
- -Design a different cover picture for the story.
- -Were there some words in the story that you really liked? Why?
These ideas were suggested for either pre reading or post reading activities. We talked about the kind of related questions that will facilitate the children’s engagement. There was a quick recap on the need for both closed and open ended questions.
The newer team members struggled to look beyond the story line and content. The engagement with the deeper layers of the text and language use did not come naturally to many individuals in the group. We realised this will happen through a gradual and organic process. We decided to spend more time discussing books at each team meeting, and to also read critiques and book reviews whenever they are available.
We are excited about this journey and plan to invite experienced experts from time to time, over the next year to guide us and open new windows for us to dive deeper into storybooks!