Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Discussion Forums Change Our Classrooms

On May 6 I had the opportunity to attend Capital Day at the PA state Capitol Building in Harrisburg. Students and teachers from around the state came to show off the kinds of projects that they've been doing in class. I LOVE these days. I LOVE to stop by to ask a student to tell me about his/her project and to hear the excitement and enthusiasm in their voices when they show off what they've done.

This year was no exception, as I went from station to station hearing these kids talk with that pride and confidence. I would ask a question about their topic to see if I could throw them off, but I never did. One project was all about landfills, and I asked a number of questions about how they keep them from polluting the ground water, and how they tap off the methane, and what they do with it, and what the outlook was for the future if the current trends continue. They knew the answers to every one of the questions and it was clear that the young man who was talking to me was enjoying the fact that he was so well informed. I loved it!

And then I stopped by to talk with some students from Radnor High School who were showing their ning site that they use in their Social Studies/English class. First of all, I thought the combination of the two classes was interesting, and the kids seemed to really take to it. In this assignment, they identified key ideas and themes for each chapter of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Minstry, and, with their blogging buddies, had conversations about the content of the posts. Yes, they could have done this by having a conversation in class, but we all know that that approach doesn't get all the students involved. Nor does it often give a student enough time to complete a thought without an interuption. Nor do the students often comment about a statement directly, as they will often simply follow up one statement with another which has its own point but which doesnt show a reflection on the first.

But, take a look at this conversation that was taken from their discussions. Ask your self if your students get a chance to talk like this in class. Finally, ask someone how you, too, can get your students into something like this. And, if nings are blocked in your school, send them this post so that they can see why you're after this kind of tool for your students.

Congratulations to their teacher, Abby Daniels, and their CFF coach, Andrea Frezel, for their work to get this set up for their students.
Posted by David: Chapter 13 of A Fine Balance is concerned with serious themes of disappearance and avoidance. While man has certain duties in life, sometimes it is easier to run away from those responsibilities than it is to confront them. Dina tells both Maneck and Om early on in the chapter that: "Ingratitude is not uncommon in the world. One day, you too will forget me -- all of you. When you go your own way and settle down, you will not know me....In two months you'll sit for your final exam, pack your things, then disappear" (455). That's exactly what Om wants to do when the subject of marriage comes up. He wants to run away. Increasingly, Om becomes emboldened when his Uncle Ishvar talks about his obligation to arrange Om's wedding. He realizes, however, that the topic will not go away. Om is devastated to think he'll have to marry soon. He wants nothing more than to disappear.

This theme continues when Dina makes the worms in Om's stomach disappear. Om's body is cleansed not just physically, but spiritually. He is maturing into an adult. He is looking more and more like Maneck, and if anything is disappearing, it's Om's connection to the untouchable world of his deceased parents. As for Rajaram, he also wants to disappear, as he is on the run after murdering Beggarmaster's husband-and-wife team. Literally, Rajaram's mind has disappeared as well. He is so obsessed with hair collection that he literally clips the plaits off of living beings. Perhaps this is what happens as well to the untouchables in this time of the Emergency. Their possessions were stripped bare, and their huts and shacks were knocked down. Everything they owned disappeared, much like the hair of Rajaram's victims. He says, "I want to reject the material world, become a sanyasi, spend my life meditating in a cave" (468). Yes, Rajaram wants to disappear into the Himalaya mountains, but his escape is motivated not by a Hindu spiritalism as much as it is to run from the authorities, who would execute him on the spot for his terrible crimes. Om is beginning to face the reality of his social and cultural demands, while Rajaram is supposedly running away to become an ascetic in the "hope of redeeming" himself (475). The tailors know better. They realize that Rajaram will be back some day, with more tales and adventures. He's disappearing for the time being, and the reader doesn't believe for an instant that his life of "abnegation" will last long (475). That, too, will disappear, when the time comes.


Comment by Andrew on March 27, 2009 at 10:32am
I very much disagree with your statement that Om wants to disappear. On the contrary, with the relationship between Dina, Om, and Ishvar becoming less business-like and more family-like, it would be harder than ever for Om to have to leave his life with Dina behind. Om and Ishvar are no longer just tailors to Dina, they are family. They eat dinner together, they live together, and they talk like a family would, joking together, laughing together, worrying together, and crying together. I believe the true turning point of the relationship of Dina and Om, a point that occurred before this chapter, was when Dina offered Om a red-rosed cup, instead of his usual pink-rosed cup that she segregated from the rest, which expressed the fact that she no longer saw him as just her worker, as just a tailor that she needed to make a living, but as a true part of her family, a friend. Though it may have been true that Om wanted to return to his village in earlier chapters, that he wanted to leave the horrible city as soon as he could, such is no longer the case. Dina, Om, Ishvar, and Maneck are now a family, and leaving Dina’s house, which is now their home, would be just as difficult as it was to leave their village. This can be seen in the difficulty that Om and Ishvar experienced in leaving Dina’s house to return to their village to get Om married. This would truly be a happy ending in a world where a Hindu woman like Dina would more than likely never cease to treat Om and Ishvar with condescendence. In the world, caste is a huge part of the Hindu religion, an aspect of the religion very much engraved in Hinduism, and a Hindu woman learning about her workers’ pasts (which is what turned around Dina’s attitude toward Om and Ishvar) would most likely only increase her haughtiness over the “low-castes”. Though such a situation would be unlikely, I believe that it is possible, and that this story describes how such a happening would play out as well.
Comment by David on March 31, 2009 at 5:17pm
My blog comment on the word disappear reflects Om's reaction to marriage. This topic is brought up time and again in A Fine Balance, and each time his response is the same. Om says that he's not ready, or he tries to avoid the subject. Wishing that the topic of marriage would disappear is different than saying Om wants to leave the comfort and security of living with Uncle Ishvar on the verandah's of Dina's flat.
Comment by Troy on April 1, 2009 at 10:19am
I agree with the blog because it shows how there is a lot of disappearance. This is also seen in how the tensions of the household are disappearing more, as seen in Dina calling Ishvar "Ishvarbai." This blog post connects to the way that Om and Ishvavr disappear from their village early in the book. This shows how Om and Ishvar are making their life better again as they were before by disappearing. This time Om's poor habits are disappearing with his sickness disapearing.This connects to the real world because it shows the way that the third world nations have parasites and worms but the people their don't worry or immediately get rid of them.

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