Tuesday 30 July 2013

3: Naturography, Tennis, Monsoon & Workshop

Academic Year 2013-14:
Post 3: Florescence, Rain-tennis, Teaching & Workshop
Florescence: July 2013

The week (22-27 July 2013) was the week full of showers and drizzles. The Rain-God seems to be happy this year. The flora surrounding the Department of English has blossomed in this 'season of mist and mellow fruitfulness' (Keats' To Autumn). One can but not escape from the memory of Wordsworth's 'Daffodils' -  "Fluttering and dancing in the breeze . . . Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. . . the bliss of solitude . . . And then my heart with pleasure fills, . . . And dances with the daffodils."

Nature has curious ways to teach lesson to humans.

Wordsworth has truly said in 'Tabled Turned': "Let Nature be your teacher . . .spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, truth breathed by cheerfulness . . .It may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can . . . Come forth, and bring with you a hearth that watches and receives." How true! How come the vine of flower crept up to the CCTV camera to give us an oxymoron image? How paradoxical is this image - either you call it security or spy camera, it connotes fear & faithlessness - and the lavender flower among green leaves - stands for innocence, beauty & truth! So much of precautions, so much of fear, so much of doubt, so less of trust, so less of reliance! Lavender or green, rocky or leafy, fair or coarse; Nature do not differentiate! And we, the humans, live with walls made up of caste, creed, colour, religion, gender and nationalities; and do not even care to 'mend' the wall!
Well, the tiny little grass with six leaves has great message for those who find that their circumstances and situations are worst among all. Amidst rock solid stones, this soft and fine tissue - nature's beloved little child  - has defiantly sprung out. Perhaps, smilingly says: 'you still have better cards then mine.'

If the monsoon brings heaven on the earth with its beauteous splendour, it also brings in hurdles for out-door games. Many of the tennis-players of clay or grass courts will be having their monsoon vacation, we, the players of tar-cement court, do not take break from playing.
Sports is an addiction, though a healthy one. It is not only the physical fitness which tempts me to procrastinate all important work in the morning hours. Rather, it is psychological relief, a cathartic release from the repressed angst and anxiety. Had I not been playing Tennis, I would have been a spoilsport in relationships. Greeks were true lover of sports-culture. They mothered Olympics. I do not know why, but we do not have sports-culture. 
Thanks to NDTV and Ranbir Kapoor for the campaign - Marks for Sports. Yes, there should be equal marks for those who appear in term-end exams and those who disappear from the class to play games. If you agree, like this Facebook page.

Well, coming to the task of teaching, it was quite wonderful week. Semester 1 students keenly participated in the discussion on Plato's objection to poetry and Aristotle's answer to his Guru. Yes, the week began with Guru-Purnima (22 July). The example of Aristotle's disagreement with his Guru and his giving him fitful answers is one of the best things for students to imbibe. We, rather, believe in too much of obeyance, which does not allow us to disagree with our teachers (Guru). Yes, teachers (Guru) should be honoured and respected, if they deserve; but to obey them in all regards, is not digestible idea. Bowing down breeds slave-culture. Standing head and shoulder with Guru, looking straight into his eyes breeds the culture of leaders. Choice is ours; decent looking slave-culture or defiantly posing leaders. Now, wee cannot afford yet another slavedom.
The chief point of discussion was 'Plato's objection to poetry and Aristotle's defence'. It was observed that Plato confused the study of morals/ethics with that of aesthetics. Aristotle removed the confusion and established study of aesthetic on higher pedestal as compared to philosophy and history. The presentation can be viewed here:

The discussion on Plato's objection to poetry in particular and literature in general, was like dust raising wind. Several of students shared their personal experience on how books helped them fight their personal battles with circumstances. We viewed some thought provoking videos by Chinese Lisa Bu's TED talk on 'How Books can Open Mind' and Jessica Wise's animation on 'How Fiction can change Reality'. The videos are available on YouTube and are embedded here:

Most of the students did not agree with Plato's objection. We do not agree with an Utopian idea of state without poets! Plato confused the study of aesthetics with that of morals & ethics. Aristotle removed that confusion and established literature as the study of aesthetic with specific purpose to please / give aesthetic delight, and not to instruct. Instructions may be given as by product but the ruling principle should be pleasure/delight. Though Aristotle, in his characteristic golden mean approach, seem to give equal importance to delight and moral sense/ moral purpose (instruction). But the question remains to be self-examined: 'Isn't Plato still alive in us?' We love and revere those poets who speak honey to our heart and soothing songs to our souls. But, what if some comes with an axe to break the frozen ice or with hammer to reshape our culturally conditioned minds? Well, the Platonic objection raises like the phoenix from the ashes and cries for the banishment of the breeder of falsehood and the mother of all lies! The writers in exile was reality, is reality and will forever be so. Click these links if you doubt my words:

So, can we say: Plato's truth was truer than Aristotle's? Please post your views in the 'comments' below this post, if you have any say in this matter.

In Semester 3, we concluded discussion on T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. This class is 'clam and free'. Rarely have questions. When students do not question, it is a kind of uncanny feeling which confuses the teacher. The teacher cannot make out whether s/he is so lucid and clear that an obscure poem like 'The Waste Land' has been chewed and digested, almost effortlessly; or the students have understood nothing that that can raise doubt or question in their minds! And I fear the later. 

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot from Dilip Barad

I cannot end this post without the mention of the last day of the week - Saturyday 27th July. The C.O. Jani College of Computer Science invited us to organise workshop on language, soft skills, effective presentation skills and basics on CV, Resume & BioData. Nishant Pandya - fromer student and a faculty of Mahuva BBA/BCA College, dealt interestingly with 'English is not a Language but Languages….
The presentation deals with variants of English language. Language refashions her shape according to social and cultural requirements. Individuals differ in the manner in which they speak, although usually not markedly within a small area. The differences among groups of speakers in the same speech community can, however, be considerable. Heenaba Zala, visiting faculty, Dept. of English, MK Bhavnagar University, made beautiful presentation on 'Soft Skills'. Her presentation can be viewed here: 

The ACE of soft skills: Enhancing Employability from Heenaba Zala

Apart from these presentations, there was something to make us proud. Six of our students make wonderful presentations. Yashpalsinh Gohil, Pratipalsinh Chudasama, Devendra Joshi & Kaushal Desai prepared very engrossing presentation with appropriate images and videos on 'How to make effective PowerPoint Presentation?' Their presentation can be viewed here:

Pratiksha Solanki and Drashti Dave made presentation on 'The Definitions and Differences: Resume, C.V., Bio Data & ePortfolio'. Their presentation can be viewed here: 

Resume/ CV/ Bio-data Differences & e-Portfolio.. from solankipratiksha

Teachers & PG students interacting with UG students of Computer Science 

Sunday 21 July 2013

2: Meetings, Teaching and Presentations

Academic Year 2013-14:
Post 2: Blending Teaching Methods:

The week (15-20 July 2013) was the week full of meetings and most of the time was eaten away by monstrous Mr. Admin. If I have to rewrite Dryden's aphorism: 'The corruption of a Poet, is the Generation of Critick'; I would rather put it as - 'The corruption of a Teacher, is the work known as Meetings and Administration.' The body and mind (fortunately, not the soul), were so exhausted that it fell prey to fever, headache and diarrhoea. Amidst, the work which I do not love to do, if there is anything relieving, it is the time when I am either in the classroom or on the tennis court.

Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds 
innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage. (Richard Lovelace)
During let-down moments, the vine like this (see photograph) has some message for us. It makes, if not friendship, at least, adjustment with the iron-twines. It sustains and goes on growing, longer, climbing, twining against the odds - but do not think of ending a life. There are different kinds of suicidal tendencies. The worst of them is not self-slaughter; it is to return back from the path taken for a tough journey.

Well, the classroom interactions went on quite well. In semester 1, we continued out discussion of 'Literature, 'Criticism', 'role of a Critic' & 'difference between theory & criticism'. The class has a few quite impressive fast-learners. They can sense questions and hit answers right on the head of the nail. As most of their responses were on the slides, there was but little space to do board work. So, there are no green board images. Instead, have a look at the presentations discussed in the class. The following three presentations were discussed in the class with quite a lot of discussion.

The discussion ended with a conclusion that it is 'language' and the 'use of language' which makes for the literature. 

The confab on Criticism Vs Creativity was aimed at understanding role of a Critic. A few students came with interesting observations. Say for instance, one of them said: 'the relationship between critic and creative writer is analogous to the relationship between 'Bahu and Saas' (it is daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relation deeply rooted in Indian cultural context). Tom and Jerry can be yet another similar relation. The other student came with an observation that: 'critics are very important as they give new vision to the work of art'.
To a question: 'whether we need a critic when we consume literature outside academic periphery?', some students nodded to the voice that the movie reviews are read before deciding on watching a movie. This confab concluded in congruence: the role of critic is as important as that of creative writer, who is also a critic of life.
The week ended with final discussion on the difference between criticism and theory.
Difference between Literary Theory and Criticism from Dilip Barad
We ended with concluding remark that: 'Criticism is passing judgement on various aspects of literature; whereas, Theory is not judgement, but understanding of the frames of judgement.

 Semester 3: The Waste Land

The Waste Land: III. The Fire Sermon
The Waste Land: V. What the Thunder Said
The teaching of this poem was pedagogically based on I. A. Richards's 'The Practical Criticism;. Purely, New Critical approach. We listened audio of the poem downloaded form www.librivox.org and dissected it into bits and pieces. Yes, dissection is the most appropriate word. First of all, we torn the poem apart by separating scenes and images. The collage was operated & individual pictures were separated; and then had microscopic view of the scenes as an individual image before seeing it as a part of whole picture. At the end, we connected the seemingly incongruent images - and the beads got settled with the string to make a rosary! Yes, beads (rudraksha) and rosary (prayer mala) give spiritual connotation, and 'The Waste Land' also ends with very strong spiritual connotation: "Shantih, Shantih, Shantih." The peace that passeth understanding.


Next week, we will discuss some questions (handouts are already distributed) and probable answers - more of an exam oriented teaching - an unavoidable evil!  

Monday 15 July 2013

1: The Beginning of New Academic Year, Classroom Discussion & the Boardwork

Academic Year 2013-14:
Post 1: Blending Teaching Methods: 
From Sage on the Stage to Guide by the Side

What is Literature? (Classroom discussion chalked out on green board
It was fairly good beginning (11 July 2013). The new students are quite impressive. In just two days of interaction, I am impressed. They have 'hyper'-actively participated in the classroom discussion. In normal condition, in the first week, the questions bubbled in the classroom do not exist longer. They burst to die in their infancy. Instead, the questions were tenderly nestled and blown wider in size and higher in the air. See, the image of the board-work. The essence of discussion in chalked out on the green board. 

The Waste Land: An Introduction

 The classes for Semester 3 students commenced quite earlier (24 June 2013). We have a small group of students in this class. Not all are always keen to discuss but a few of them lead the discussion to its destination. We discussed historical, social and economical background of the Twentieth Century English Literature. It was rather an oral discussion with a rare use of board work, and I forgot to take photographs of those interactions. Here are a few images of the discussion on T.S. Eliot's poem 'The Waste Land'. 
The Waste Land: Part 2: A Game of Chess
The students were quite active in responding to the questions chalked on the board. Though, the poem is a puzzle which requires a bunch of keys to unlock it. No single master key can unlock the meaning of 'The Waste Land'. After listening the recitation of the poem, it seems that the students were more participative. The number of students's interaction increased on second day. Tomorrow, we are going to continue with Part III: The Fire Sermon and I expect passionate participation from the students.
The photographs are taken on mobile phone. The Interactive White Boards (IWB) can be better option for sharing teacher's board work with students. In absence of such hi-end technology, even a simple phone with camera features can help in capturing the images of board work.
Normally, I do not use board work a lot in the classroom. I would prefer to have blank PowerPoint screen and pen or simple Word Document to type students interaction. This year, I am planning to blend this (s)age old traditional chalk-and-talk method with blog etc web 2.0 tools. Let's see, how long I can sustain this . . .
(The Department of English, Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavnagar University - Gujarat, India)