Praise them for finding a lump of coal today, tomorrow they will find themselves diamonds

Sometimes my students cannot but feeling bemused by my reactions to their contributions in lessons – no matter how insignificant or of little value in their opinions. 

Take last week for example. I was circulating the classroom to monitor my GCSE students’ progress and offer individual support in their prep for the forthcoming Controlled Assessment on Of Mice and Men. One boy (who used to called himself as my “nemesis” back in year 7. That’s another story about a French Trip.) stopped and asked me tentatively, “Sir, can you call Curley’s wife’s conversation with Lennie a soliloquy?” 

The question got me thinking. 

“That’s an interesting question,” I always make an effort to think very seriously and carefully about my students’ questions. He was waiting for me to continue, listening to my brain ticking. 

“I suppose, it is!” I exclaimed finally, sounding more excited than he was. I continued, “You could argue that since Lennie never listens, in a sense Curley’s wife is actually pouring her heart out (in)directly to her audience.” I was getting genuinely excited. I went on to explain, “And of course Steinbeck had intended the novella to be a play, Curley’s wife’s emotional outburst would definitely sound like a soliloquy.” 

My student looked very pleased with the result of his question. He had been scribbling as I rambled on. I slowly backed away from him to return to my desk. Before got back to my desk, I turned to him, “Do you mind if I shared our conversation with the class?” He mouthed that he didn’t mind. 

I announced, “I’d just like to share with everybody what we’ve just discussed. I had never thought of this before, and this just show that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve taught this text, I AWAYS LEARN SOMETHING NEW FROM YOU.” I went on to explain the soliloquy to the whole class, visibly pleased with today’s fresh revelation.

I then went on to tell them how last year another boy pointed out to me the significance of the “pigeons . . . flying round and round the windmill”. “They make their American Dream even more perfect,” this year 9 boy proclaimed, sagely. I burst out, “You are absolutely right!” 

I continued to talk to my bemused GCSE group, “Just like the perfect house that we all draw.” I was getting more animated, drawing on a large imaginary piece of paper in front of me as I sketched, “First, you draw the house with a door in the middle, then you add a window to each side of the door. After that, you put a chimney on top of the house!” 

They were listening, watching, maybe a bit bemused, too. Like I was announcing a major discovery, I raised my voice, “To complete, you’ve got to have smoke coming out of the chimney!” “Or even a couple of birds in the sky, too!”

Praise them for finding a lump of coal today, tomorrow they will bring you diamonds. 

About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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