Cottage Cheese and Brain Wrinkles.

29 01 2007

Most Mondays, I start off class by introducing new vocabulary words for the week. (As an educator, I am not thrilled to have a vocabulary book that’s not really tied to what it is my students are learning, but we make do. We have a fun time, and I try to make each word as meaningful and memorable as I can.) One of the words today was “quaint.”

To help them form a mental picture of the word, I used this example: “Picture walking through the woods, and you see a cute little cottage with a cute little fence, and two cute old people sitting on the porch, holding hands, and looking happy. That picture, the cuteness, the oldness, the cottage…is what you would call ‘quaint.'” And then I thought maybe the word “cottage” might not be familiar to my Brazilian students, so I asked if anyone knew what a “cottage” is.

One girl, who–on the first day of the school year this year coined the phrase “It’s hard being this fabulous!”–burst out in response: “It’s cheese!”

Cottage cheese.  

Later, during that same class, I passed the torch onto my students for interpreting Shakespeare. I felt I had given them a good foundation for discussion and interpretation so far, so I gave one student the position of “Teacher” and gave her the responsibility to lead the class, doing exactly the things I had done while we were reading Shakespeare before. We talked about the things she needed to do as a teacher to check for comprehension among her “students,” that she would need to assign parts for students to read, and that she would also help to interpret when her students were having difficulty.

We sat in a circle and I told them I wouldn’t say anything, that I was just there to observe and see how they handled the confusion on their own. I told them I’d been preparing them for this day and that I knew they could do it.

They read seventeen lines of “Romeo & Juliet” Act 3, Scene 3, wherein Romeo finds out he’s been “banishèd” from Verona and he has a hissy fit about it, while Friar Lawrence tries to calm him down. This is the passage where the kids got stuck:

Friar Lawrence:

!I’ll give thee armor to keep off that word, / Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy, / To comfort thee, though thou art banishèd.”

Just after the student reading for Friar Lawrence finished that passage, the “Teacher” stopped her to ask for an interpretation. What is Friar Lawrence saying? Well, the kids went beserk. The girl sitting next to me, with a deeply furrowed brow, turned to the group and said, “I understand what it’s trying to say, but what do milk and philosophy have to do with Romeo being banished?”

It’s interesting for me to see my kids transform their thinking, sometimes painfully, from literal to figurative. It’s as if their brains hadn’t grown in that direction before and they can feel the brain wrinkles (I know, such a technical term) forming and squishing and squeezing everytime they encounter poetry. You can almost sense the discomfort on their faces. But then, sometimes they all release this collective “Ah-ha!” and I can tell the brain wrinkle is there to stay. It’s pretty cool to see.


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