Today was another instalment of the multi-part trial I like to call the Boredom Test. This test consists of the following: I decide on a particular activity or reading that the class may or may not find boring. (Okay, let’s be honest: When I choose a Boredom Test activity, I can pretty much guarantee that over 75% of the class, if encountered by this activity and/or reading in their normal life, would immediately be struck with a narcolepsy-like petit-mal seizure, instantly rolling their eyes back in their heads, crumpling like rag dolls to the floor, and contentedly snoring for an hour or so.
These Boredom Tests make certain demands on teacher and student alike:
- The teacher has to construct an environment redolent with possibility; as students walk in the door, they need to be expecting NOT to be bored. Now, this can be dangerous, of course, and care must be taken not to create an expectation of any specific level or type of interest that will be involved, for once the student understands that there is a Boredom Test in store, and not a visit to Charles E. Cheese’s pizza emporium, or a rocket ship ride to Uranus, or a packet of Smarties and half a can of Mr. Pibb…what? Wait. Oh yeah. Once they realize that this is freakin’ English class and not exactly as fun as even a scant barrel of monkeys, they will immediately FAIL the Boredom Test (by becoming bored) before it even (technically) starts. So, teachers, beware!
- The student has a parallel responsibility. The hapful youth must strive to not be either a big huge jerk, or just a regular jerk. Big huge jerks are people who think everything is stupid before they even try it. Regular jerks are people who try things a little bit, and then say they’re stupid even if a smart person they respect (like a teacher) tells them repeatedly, and in various ways, from a multitude of angles and perspectives, that the thing might actually be good. So, students must under no conditions assume the attitude that the thing being presented might not be good. It is their solemn duty.
Now that the roles are clear, I will explain the nature of today’s Boredom Test:
I chose a story by the great 19th century writer Sarah Orne Jewett, “The White Heron.” This is a delightful (seriously, I’m serious here) tale about 10-year-old Sylvia, who has recently moved from an industrial town to live in the Maine woods with her grandmother.
This story, like all of Jewett’s tales, is chock full of beautiful details about the natural world, and also possesses a genial tone which gives one the sense that, although there is sadness in Jewett’s world, nothing truly upsetting or perverse could ever happen. I love how Jewett writes, and so, after assuring the class several times, from several different angles, that this story is GOOD, I proceeded to read it to them.
(And I must note that the class was delighted to find that there was even a picture in the middle of the story! A definite crutch–a helping-hand in the midst of a Boredom Test mire.)
Anyway, we read and enjoyed the story. Come get a copy from me if you weren’t here.
After that, we continued our quest for story ideas. First, we continued browsing through popular media stuff to gather little “story nuggets.” See yesterday’s post for a description of a “story nugget.”
After that, students selected one of their nuggets and used the attached worksheet to expand it into a slightly fuller idea. Today, students on their own filled out the left-hand column. Tomorrow, we’ll work with other students to fill in the right-hand side. If you missed today, first watch TV, read a fashion magazine, or listen to the radio for an hour and while you’re doing that come up with a list of 5 or 6 basic ideas for a story–just little ideas, a sentence or two. Then download the attached worksheet and fill in the left-hand column.
That is all. Congratulations to all those who passed today’s Boredom Test. There will be gold-plated award statuettes with your names custom-engraved on the base for you tomorrow. I join with the academy in saluting you and all you do.
Downloads: Story development and feedback worksheet