Oral expression courses in English offer a great platform to try creative courses with my students and tailor lessons according to their needs and their dreams .In one of the most challenging courses entitled ‘Erased’, selected students show their creativity in producing literary works in a tense competition judged by their peers. The idea sprang after watching ‘Chopped’, a cooking competition show that evaluates skill, creativity and ingenuity in making delicious meals using a mystery basket of ingredients. The aim of the video was to discuss difficulties in such a challenging creativity and elements that might help competitors survive pressure and manage well their time , also analyze the ways judges make their criticisms and what lessons might be derived from that amazing competition.
‘Erased’ is planned in three sections where four competitors are challenged through three phases in which they can create short poems, guess the end of a short story and finish a short passage from a play .In every section competitors are given ingredients to create their poems, find the end of the short story or complete the play .Their classmates observe, assess and judge their final works through objective criticism. Every time a competitor fails in convincing the judges, his /her name is erased from the board. ‘Erased’ is a game of passion, skill and fun. Competitors are not experts in literary works and their classmates are not literary critics. However, this competition helps students conquer their fear, focus on correct English and test their creativity. When it comes to evaluation, students enjoy to assess their anonymous friends’ work and try to be objective. They are more focused and more involved in the discussion. The aim of the whole experience is to engage everybody and have fun.
Key words: challenge-creativity-evaluation-literature
Creative teaching means thinking of creative magic ways that make learners more interested and more involved in learning. They can be engaged easily when they are given more chances to express their abilities and when they feel in control of the learning process. ‘Erased’ is a challenging course in oral expression in which students show their writing creative skills and objective assessment through discussion and dialogue. Encouraging innovative work and participation make learners go beyond the traditional boundaries which are the cause of their dependency and demotivate.
The course is planned to have a creative challenging context in which second year undergraduate students of English participate and try to show their competencies in creative writing and assessing. The idea of the course was inspired by a cooking competition show ‘Chopped’ seen by the class in which creativity is challenged during three phases. Every competitor is given a mystery basket of ingredients and is asked to make extraordinary three dishes. Judges, who are expert chefs, evaluate their cooking according to presentation, taste, and creativity. Every time a competitor fails, he is ‘chopped’, that is, eliminated from the competition .The winner will receive money by the end. All students agreed that it was a tough competition but rewarding and they showed their readiness for a similar challenge. Planning for such a course needed their involvement, they had to be prepared and guided. During the three phases, a mystery box will be checked to find out which words are given to create a poem, then which short story is chosen to think of its end and finally which short play needs to be finished. Students may use dictionaries while working on their writings. Evaluation of their final work is based on correct English, beauty of the language and creative imagination. Each time a competitor fails in convincing the judges, who are the classmates, his/her name will be erased from the board. The winner will get a magic pen by the end.
- Why literary Challenge in Oral Expression Class?
The use of literature in English language teaching has undergone an extensive reconsideration within the language teaching profession worldwide .Many claims have been made for the effective role literature plays in teaching the language and culture. According to Collie and Slater (1990), there are four main reasons that make language teachers use literature in the classroom. Literary texts are regarded as authentic material, cultural enrichment, language enrichment and personal involvement. Literature, as the area of knowledge most relevant to human experience can be intentionally used as a conductive domain for literacy learning and language acquisition, and its use may result in the literacy development of the learners involved.
However, many students find literature classes boring and not welcoming creative writing especially for those who are able to write poems and short stories successfully in English. Literature in our department is taught as a body of knowledge rather than an integral component of language learning. Very often, literature courses are teacher dependent and this makes students rarely acquire literary competence. The class is thus, less motivated and there is no sign of creativity or innovation. The challenging oral expression course ‘Erased’ tried to make them enjoy creating and evaluating literary works. The aim is to learn many things at once using listening, reading, speaking and writing skills. The results were satisfactory because they were all involved in that literary experience and this shows that creativity in literature can be accessible with assistance and practice. When guided and constantly encouraged, students are willing to learn and can produce. Bruner (1986), in this respect, states that ‘literature is used as an avenue to literacy and can be a powerful way for English language learners to find richness in their own tales, to use them as a point to contact with others ,and to learn to inspect and rework their own stories to make them more understandable to others’. So this is an opportunity for competitors to express and share their ideas and emotions through a tense competition, and also a chance for their classmates to read and analyze their work critically in order to select the winner.
The participants are thirty six second year undergraduate students who regularly attended oral expression classes and were always engaged in classroom activities. Four students volunteered to participate in the competition; their level of English is good. Their names are written on the board. Their peers formed four groups to discuss and evaluate the competitors’ work. The competition lasted two hours. Each phase is 30 minutes long. Competitors have 15 minutes to work on each phase; their peers also have 15 minutes to evaluate the whole work.
The competition began by opening a mystery box; competitors had to use the following words (love-broken-strong-wings-dream) to create a poem of four lines. After fifteen minutes their anonymous works were given to the four groups, each group had a grid for evaluation; they discussed and criticized the final outcome of each candidate in turn. Then, the most exciting part came when students shared their final evaluation and gave arguments. The candidate who was least appreciated, his/her name was erased from the board. In the second phase, three groups were formed and candidates have in their mystery box a short story written by Ernest Hemingway, Cat in the Rain (see appendix 1). The groups also were given handouts of the short story so they could read it and could evaluate the candidate’s’ work which is writing the end of the story. The evaluation was done the same way as in phase one. Students favored surprising and unexpected endings .In the last phase, the magic box contained a play by Lord Dunsany, The Tents of the Arabs (see appendix 2). The play was taken from Act 1 and candidates had to finish it. Only two candidates remained and the judges had to evaluate the last phase and later discuss the whole creative writings done by the last two candidates and choose the winner.
4. Role of the Teacher
As mentioned before, creative teaching is thinking of magic ways that make students participate and be involved in the learning process. Magic ways are easy to find and apply. Students in this context were responsible of evaluating the candidates; they were given a chance to assess and control the context. They were taught how to work in groups, how to listen to each other, how to make arguments, how to assess objectively and how to work cooperatively. They had all the necessary tools to do their job effectively. Why not giving them a chance to criticize and do the teacher’s job?
On the other hand, the four candidates tried to challenge their creativity in a limited stressful time .Their work was judged and criticised by their classmates who were not critics, just students who were sharing and discussing their thoughts and feelings. Observing students while working and exchanging ideas was awesome, a feeling of a successful magic way implemented in using literature to foster their creativity and communication. It made me resist the temptation to be involved and let me enjoy their independent way of working.
5. Outside the Magic Box
The whole experience affected students in many ways and conversation was still going on. Later, there were attempts from some of the judges to accomplish those tasks. Even two of the competitors who failed in the competition had tried to make better poems. This is what I could call ‘creative learning beyond classroom walls’. They did it because they wanted to participate more and wanted to show their interest. They understood that creativity as a skill could be developed by anyone. An essential part of that challenging course was shedding some light on other issues related to creativity and learning and asserting the role of literature as a resource in language teaching and learning.
Creative students are a result of applying certain pedagogy that allows them to be autonomous and more creative. Lack of skills and confidence can be an obstacle for students’ creativity. The role of the teacher, then, is to overcome those gaps, so his/her students could be ready for any challenging learning atmosphere. The process may take a long time with some students but creative teachers always find a way, a magic way to foster their skills and confidence.
Creative writing and critical assessment during that course showed how interpretations differ. From a pedagogic perspective, ‘multiple interpretations’ allow for creative and critical thinking to take place in an atmosphere where there are neither threats nor any compulsion to learn for the ‘correct’ answer or to compete for the ‘best’ interpretation. Literature can be one of the best resources to encourage different interpretations, so why not using it as a pedagogical tool to teach language, foster imagination and develop creativity.
In teaching English as a foreign language, opportunities should be sought for more extensive and integrated study of language .The idea behind ‘erased’ course was to offer students opportunities to show their creativity and interact with each other in ways that promote language learning. The overall atmosphere made students collaborate enthusiastically using competition which was conducted in a spirit of fun and friendliness. All of them were winners whether competitors who tried to accomplish their tasks under a tense atmosphere or the judges who took a great responsibility in reading, discussing and judging the creative works. It was a great way to boost the collective energy of the class and to looking forward for more creative magic ways in teaching.
Bruner,J.B.1986. Actual minds ,possible worlds .Cambridge ,Massachusetts: Havard University Press.Collie,J.&Slater,S.1990. Literature in the Language Classroom: A source Book of Ideas and Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Appendix 1 Ernest Hemingway – ‘Cat in the Rain’ Downloaded from (http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/resources/seminars/activities/handouts/Hemingway.pdf)
There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.
In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the
bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea. Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square.
The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched
under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.
‘I’m going down and get that kitty,’ the American wife said.
‘I’ll do it,’ her husband offered from the bed.
‘No, I’ll get it. The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.’
The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows at the foot of the bed.
‘Don’t get wet,’ he said.
The wife went downstairs and the hotel owner stood up and bowed to her as she passed the office. His desk was at the far end of the office. He was an old man and very tall.
‘Il piove,1’the wife said. She liked the hotel-keeper.
‘Si, Si, Signora, brutto tempo2. It is very bad weather.’
He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious
way he received any complaints. She liked his dignity. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.
Liking him she opened the door and looked out. It was raining harder. A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the café. The cat would be around to the right. Perhaps she could go along under the eaves.
As she stood in the doorway an umbrella opened behind her. It was the maid who looked after their room.
‘You must not get wet,’ she smiled, speaking Italian. Of course, the hotel-keeper had sent her.
With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their
window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly
disappointed. The maid looked up at her.
‘Ha perduto qualque cosa, Signora?’3
‘There was a cat,’ said the American girl.
‘Si, il gatto.’
‘A cat?’ the maid laughed. ‘A cat in the rain?’
‘Yes, –’ she said, ‘under the table.’ Then, ‘Oh, I wanted it so much. I wanted a kitty.’
When she talked English the maid’s face tightened.
‘Come, Signora,’ she said. ‘We must get back inside. You will be wet.’
‘I suppose so,’ said the American girl.
‘Yes, yes Madam. Awful weather.’
‘Have you lost something, Madam?’
They went back along the gravel path and passed in the door. The maid stayed outside to close the umbrella.
As the American girl passed the office, the padrone bowed from his desk. Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important. She had a momentary feeling of being of supreme importance. She went on up the stairs. She opened the door of the room.
George was on the bed, reading.
‘Did you get the cat?’ he asked, putting the book down.
‘It was gone.’
‘Wonder where it went to,’ he said, resting his eyes from reading.
She sat down on the bed.
‘I wanted it so much,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any
fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.’
George was reading again.
She went over and sat in front of the mirror of the dressing table looking at herself with the hand glass. She studied her profile, first one side and then the other. Then she studied the back of her head and her neck.
‘Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?’ she asked, looking at her profile again.
George looked up and saw the back of her neck, clipped close like a boy’s.
‘I like it the way it is.’
‘I get so tired of it,’ she said. ‘I get so tired of looking like a boy.’
George shifted his position in the bed. He hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak.
‘You look pretty darn nice,’ he said.
She laid the mirror down on the dresser and went over to the window and looked out. It was getting dark.
‘I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,’ she said. ‘I
want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.’
‘Yeah?’ George said from the bed.
‘And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.’
‘Oh, shut up and get something to read,’ George said. He was reading again.
His wife was looking out of the window. It was quite dark now and still raining in the palm trees.
‘Anyway, I want a cat,’ she said, ‘I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can
have a cat.’
George was not listening. He was reading his book. His wife looked out of the window where the light had
come on in the square.
Someone knocked at the door.
‘Avanti,’ George said. He looked up from his book.
In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoiseshell cat pressed tight against her and swung down
against her body.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora.’
The Tents of the Arabs, a play by Lord Dunsany
Downloaded from (http://www.readbookonline.net/read/37048/73941/)
By evening we shall be in the desert again.
Then no more city for us for many weeks.
We shall see the lights come out, looking back from the camel-track; that is the last we shall see of it.
We shall be in the desert then.
The old angry desert.
How cunningly the Desert hides his wells. You would say he had an enmity with man. He does not welcome you as the cities do.
He _has_ an enmity. I hate the desert.
I think there is nothing in the world so beautiful as cities.
Cities are beautiful things.
I think they are loveliest a little after dawn when night falls off from the houses. They draw it away from them slowly and let it fall like a cloak and stand quite naked in their beauty to shine in some broad river; and the light comes up and kisses them on the forehead. I think they are loveliest then. The voices of men and women begin to arise in the streets, scarce audible, one by one, till a slow loud murmur arises and all the voices are one. I often think the city speaks to me then: she says in that voice of hers, “Aoob, Aoob, who one of these days shall die, I am not earthly, I have been always, I shall not die.”
I do not think that cities are loveliest at dawn. We can see dawn in the desert any day. I think they are loveliest just when the sun is set and a dusk steals along the narrower streets, a kind of mystery in which we can see cloaked figures and yet not quite discern whose figures they be. And just when it would be dark, and out in the desert there would be nothing to see but a black horizon and a black sky on top of it, just then the swinging lanterns are lighted up and lights come out in windows one by one and all the colours of the raiments change. Then a woman perhaps will slip from a little door and go away up the street into the night, and a man perhaps will steal by with a dagger for some old quarrel’s sake, and Skarmi will light up his house to sell brandy all night long, and men will sit on benches outside his door playing skabash by the glare of a small green lantern, while they light great bubbling pipes and smoke nargroob. O, it is all very good to watch. And I like to think as I smoke and see these things that somewhere, far away, the desert has put up a huge red cloud like a wing so that all the Arabs know that next day the Siroc will blow, the accursed breath of Eblis the father of Satan.
Yes, it is pleasant to think of the Siroc when one is safe in a city, but I do not like to think about it now, for before the day is out we will be taking pilgrims to Mecca, and who ever prophesied or knew by wit what the desert had in store? Going into the desert is like throwing bone after bone to a dog, some he will catch and some of them he will drop. He may catch our bones, or we may go by and come to gleaming Mecca. O-ho, I would I were a merchant with a little booth in a frequented street to sit all day and barter.
Aye, it is easier to cheat some lord coming to buy silk and ornaments in a city than to cheat death in the desert. Oh, the desert, the desert, I love the beautiful cities and I hate the desert.
[pointing off L]
Who is that?
What? There by the desert’s edge where the camels are?
Yes, who is it?