Sunday, 11 June 2017

I digress. A lesson on digression.


Phew! I am glad that election is over. The endless talks from politicians highlighted how very few of them get to the point. Many of them spend their whole time deflecting the question. How many ‘more important questions’ have been raised in response to an interviewer’s question? No wonder Paxman can’t stop bullying people to answer the question, when a person tries to actually answer the question.  

This is a lesson I did with a bright group of students on developing anecdotes. They told me some pretty woeful anecdotes. So, I thought hard about what they needed to do to improve. The problem for them wasn’t the story. The story was fine, but like all comedians tell you, the story is only part of the act. The problem wasn’t the delivery too. Actually, it was the sense of drama. They jumped to the narrative too quickly. There was no build up. There was no digression.  

To get the idea across, I used the idea of metaphor. Well, two actually.

1: Somebody pushing the camera away when something bad is unfolding whilst you, the reader, try to push the camera back to see what is happening.

2: A person walks before a TV screen as you watch it.



I then explained the following to students:

Digression – moving away from the main story

  1. Introduce an unrelated topic
  2. Describe something unnecessary in great detail
  3. Introduce another story
  4. Introduce something the reader might know

Together, we explored the purpose of digression and the benefits of using it.  

·         To create a sense of tension

·         To build us suspense

·         To make the story for interesting

·         To convey a sense of atmosphere

·         To add humour to a humourless situation

Then, I provided students with a dull, collective story. Every class has that story they can share with the teacher. The time Sophie spewed her lunch over the desk. The time Tom farted when laughing. The time the teacher actually said a word that added the letter ‘h’ when asking a student to sit down. Ours just happened to involve me trying to give an Ofsted inspector a set of books. You had to be there at the time – the students thought it was hilarious. On paper, it is pretty dull.


Version 1:

The day Ofsted visited.
The class were studying Macbeth and we had started the lesson by focusing on an aspect of a key scene.
I was keen to impress the inspector, so I offered him a set of assessment books.
He ignored my offer.
I then repeated the offer.
He refused.
I then tried again.
Then, he refused, again.
Finally, a look of panic appeared on his face: he was in the wrong room; he wasn’t supposed to be observing me.
He made his apologies and left.
I still had the books in my hands. 

I instructed students to add some digression on the page. Now, I laid it out with one sentence on each line so that students could see the different opportunities, places and chances for digression.  

One version.

The day Ofsted visited. The dreaded moment every teacher waits. In fact, I think I’d rather have to teach a whole class of Alans than have one simple inspector observe me.  

The class were studying Macbeth and we had started the lesson by focusing on an aspect of a key scene. We had just Jenny’s Oscar winning performance of Lady Macbeth shouting at her husband. Well, Oscar winning performance is probably an exaggeration. An exaggeration in the same way that a candle is a bright as the sun. In fact, acting probably, at that one moment, decided to pack its bag and spend a long vacation in a different country.    

I was keen to impress the inspector, so I offered him a set of assessment books. They were lovingly presented. Only a doily could have improved on the presentation.

He ignored my offer. Having regularly taught teenagers, I am used to being brushed off or ignored.

I then repeated the offer.

He refused. I then started to worry. This was my one way I thought I could prove

I then tried again.

Then, he refused, again.  Had he spotted Alan dozing asleep? Alan seemed able to sleep through wars. Surely, Alan could last a twenty minute visit from an inspector.

Finally, a look of panic appeared on his face: he was in the wrong room; he wasn’t supposed to be observing me. He hadn’t spotted Alan.

He made his apologies and left.

I still had the books in my hands. 

Because this was a collective anecdote, students were able to put little in-jokes and comical asides, which will be lost on you dear reader. But, the results of this generated some really interesting digression. One student went around the bushes and hills and mountains at one point explaining a point. One student gave us another anecdote within the main one that over shadowed it. Another student decided to digress by exploring the inner workings of my brain.

Finally, I got students to revise their own anecdotes.  All too often student think that writing more is the secret to making better stories. Yes, you could make the writing more interesting by adding figurative language. But, interestingly, a story can be made better with a healthy bit of digression.

Sorry, I digress: so the election. What an interesting result, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading,
Xris

1 comment:

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