3.1 Teachers demonstrate commitment
2.1 Teachers plan for effective learning
The students had been involved in a wide-ranging study comparing and contrasting the natural and made environment and the benefits, if any, gained from human intervention. We had looked at government and democratic processes and how these affect environment, as well as other social issues.
They had also been heavily involved in being responsible for the atmosphere in the classroom. There had been lots of discussion about equity, respect and 'positive tracking'. We were also preparing for our sessions on the human body and puberty.
At this point we were six weeks into term two and two-thirds through the 180 page class novel. We knew it was a rich text with many possibilities for exploration and could easily be incorporated into other areas of study: government, democracy, environment, puberty, and values.
The Giver was a choice that we hoped would lay or strengthen foundations on which to build a love of literature. These students were, with the odd exception, not natural readers. They did not have a joy of reading and they did not see reading for pleasure as a pleasurable activity. Their free time was taken up with much of the electronic entertainment available in their homes. Novels were definitely not novel or engaging.
What we had not anticipated was the tremendous response from all the students. The first two chapters set up the background of the story on which the students needed to base their understanding and suppositions. The early chapters provide snippets of 'fact' about the location of the plot, a community living somewhere. The students came out with an avalanche of questions aimed at resolving the unknown elements of the location. They wanted to know how this community operated. They were curious about the value system which underpinned it. They commented on the hierarchy that governed the community and compared it to systems they had already looked into.
We broke into small groups to explore what the text had already given them, what they did not know and what they would like to know to make sense of the society. There was discussion as to whether this text could have any basis in fact, or if it was completely fictitious.
One of the excellent developments was the manner with which the students conducted themselves in general discussion. There was a politeness, which allowed everyone to speak and be heard. Students were moderating their natural impetuosity and waiting patiently to respond to focus questions or to respond to statements and ideas offered by other class members. This was good. It reminded us of our good old college days when we'd get into a Literature "tute" and energetically rip into a novel.
In these discussions we sometimes act as moderators, releasing questions so that students could reflect on themselves and on their reading, pulling in facts from their own life experiences and from the text. We could read no more than a couple of paragraphs on most occasions before someone would make some relevant comment on plot development, or connect with information already known. And we were regularly amazed at the detail given by the contributors. The students did not have their own copy of the novel. We were the reader and all of the oral work was based on the students listening and retention skills! Maybe this was one reason why the students were so supportive of one another in discussions, often providing extra details to the person speaking so that the response was enhanced by such contributions.
The shy, quiet students were also engaged. The group work had placed sufficient demand on these students to make them find their voice and because the themes in this novel had so many similarities with other work in progress, there was a comforting familiarity with content.
The book does not have a straightforward ending. It is not conclusive and this was another development that the students had to come to terms with. There was no neat resolution and left the reader with a variety of outcomes and explanations as to "what the end meant". There was disappointment amongst the students when the book was finished and the brilliant discussions we'd had were also over.
The great thing was that these students had all been affected by the journey through the text and they had been responsible, as a group, for the quality of the experience we had all enjoyed. Many of them now had the confidence to make statements and to endorse, expand or rebut statements made by other students in the class. We felt that there was now a foundation for collaborative learning and that the choice of novel had been extremely important in making this achievement possible