Friday, November 22, 2013

Lessons






For a long time I had a project in my Intermediate Composition class in which my students built kites.  After they built them in groups, they wrote essays telling someone how to make the same kite. 

It was a project to help them understand how to write the process essay.  My goal was to reinforce the necessity of having good organization, and specific, concrete details.  Well, that was script I had ready just in case any administrator asked why I had my whole class running across the quad with kites.  (After all, we had to make sure they worked.)

Mostly, though, it was just a fun project that I could do mid-year when confidence and motivation were flagging.  I have a wide variety of students and this gave them a chance to work together, to create something, and for some world-weary students to experience some fun for a day.

I divided the students into groups, and they planned what materials to bring to the next class sessions.  I gave general instructions, urging them to bring balsa wood for the cross sticks, suggesting materials they could bring in to make their kites successful.  

After a few semesters, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about kite construction and not afraid to spout off about it.  I readily told students what would work and what would not.

One semester, I had a student from Argentina named Luis who was in charge of bringing the materials for his group.  He did not speak very much English and apparently had not really understood what he was supposed to bring.  All he had was some string, a crumpled plastic bag from the grocery store, and some sad twigs he had picked up from under the tree.  

His group was distraught and came to me for help.  They were sure he had forgotten the assignment and had just thrown these things together.   I went to talk to Luis and he just nodded and smiled at me. 

His group was not happy and was getting a little stressed out.  I gave the group permission to borrow from other people in the class to make their own kite.  I talked to Luis and explained to him all the reasons why these materials would not work but he just went to a corner of the classroom and started his own project.

I felt a little bad, watching him cobble together his crippled little kite, but time was passing by quickly.  

Soon the groups had finished their kites.  There were some beautiful creations, decorated with bright colors, festooned with tissue paper and shiny streamers.  

I saw the students look at the kite Luis held. Some of them smirked a little.  I knew the kite wouldn’t fly but what could I do?

It was a gorgeous day, but there was not too much wind.  We tried flying the kites anyway.  I always love to see my students get excited about such simple things.  I have a very clear memory of one of my more gangster-type of students, arms full of tattoos,  holding up a kite in one hand, and his jeans with the other, a cigarette (unlit) in his mouth, as he ran in his giant black shoes, laughing all the way across the grass. 

The students released the kites, and ran with them, but none of them flew.  We decided the wind was probably not strong enough. Then, as you may have guessed, we all turned to see one kite high in the blue sky.  It was a kite made out of twigs and a crumpled grocery bag, and there at the end of the string was Luis, smiling.

The other students were amazed at how high the kite went, the way it hovered in the sky.  They asked him about it and he told them he had learned to make this type of kite as a child in Argentina.  They looked at him and then up at the kite with complete awe.


I think about Luis and the kite a lot.  This experience really changed my life.  I realized how rigid I was in my thinking, how smug I was about what I thought I knew, and how wrong I had been.

Now, when one of my students, friends, or my kids has an idea, I don’t discount it.  Instead I say, “Let’s try it!” 

What’s the worst thing that can happen? 

The world’s a big place.  

The sky is wide above us.

Even the most unlikely kites need a chance to fly.


20 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

He taught you a wonderful lesson, one we all need to remember. For most things, there is no one correct way to do it.

Daisy said...

What a wonderful post! I have a teacher friend who says she almost always learns as much as, if not more than, her students from their class time together. :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bossy Betty .. what a brilliant post .. I need to read The Kite Runner ..

Must dash something's going on - cheers for now - Hilary

Cranberry Morning said...

Wow, this is an awesome post! A good lesson for us all.

It was also a lesson to hang in there, even when others around you are ridiculing you. I recently watched a documentary about Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and others. Where would we be today if they'd given up, couldn't think outside the box, or had quit because of ridicule.

Hilary said...

This is why I know you are the kind of teacher who has a huge impact on her kids. The kind of teacher kids never forget.

You know there is much knowledge to gain from your students. You learn right alongside them and that's a valuable life skill for all.

Thanks for being that kind of teacher. Every child should have a a Mrs. Bossy Betty.

Brian said...

You just never know where the next lesson will come from so we must be willing to look for it.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

That sort of brought a tear to my eye. And it's a great lesson to remember too!

Shelly said...

I love the direction your writing is taking, my friend~

Madi and Mom said...

Oh BB what a great success story.
During my working life was surrounded students from all over the World. I too learned something from a grad student from Argentina.
All about the drink Mate. It wasn't my favorite drink. That young man glowed when I was adventurous enough to try it.
Wonder what Luis is doing now?
Hugs Cecilia

jenny_o said...

I LOVE this, Betty! And wasn't that young man nice and polite about the whole thing :)

ellen abbott said...

I love this story. Besides just being a great story in and of itself, it also points out how dependent Americans are on manufactured goods. We have no idea how to make what we need or want from the materials at hand.

Ms. A said...

Excellent story, learning experience and great example that something doesn't have to look perfect, or be complex, to work well!

Gigi said...

I absolutely LOVED this story! And yes, I wonder where he is now.

Ann said...

what a great story, Luis sounds like my kind of guy :)

Miriam in KS said...

I love this story! We make grocery bag kites at preschool. We tie the two handles together with string after we have decorated them with sharpies, stickers and added crepe paper tails. We can fly them by just running on the playground.

I like the sound of the sticks he added. I am curious as to how he made his kite.

Baby Sister said...

Love, love, love this story. Such a great lesson and reminder.

Anvilcloud said...

Life is for learning -- for teachers too.

christopher said...

Excellent reminder about openness.

And to my astonishment, about 6 years ago, I drove up to pick up my son at preschool in time to see that one of his teachers had all the kids flying bag kites.

TexWisGirl said...

really beautiful, betty. thank you for sharing the experience. and congrats on your POTW!

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

I love when the world opens up that extra inch regardless of how humbling it can be. I'm happy for Luis. He had a moment there.