In the Mission of Grooming Young Creative Minds
*Jeevan Karki, www.merocreation.com
am (I’m) missing u a lot especially when the english periods go no quite monotonous. anwy (anyway) am f9 (fine) n doing gud. hope u r also f9 n u know wt(what) sir i started writing poem frm grade 10 n till date i hav completed 50 poems. shocking na!!!! n sir i would really lik to thank u as u inspired me to write the poems. eventhough that time we didn’t use to write bt (but) with the passage of tim i also got the knowledge abt why u were so eager regarding student’s creativity. all the credit goes to u. thank u so much sir!
really missing u sir!
I received this mail on July 20, 2012. The sender by now is obvious. She is one of the students I taught in grade eight, two years before the date mentioned above. I used to teach her both English language and literature. In the parents-teachers meeting, the parents often used to complain (and still do) about their children not being creative and just cramming overnight for exams. Most of the time, we teachers keep the issue of creativity aside by telling them it is the matter of innate quality, hard work of students and support of guardians. Blah, blah, blah. However, the kind of activities we do in the classroom and the sort of home assignment we assign also have something to do with students’ creativity. Soon after the parents-teachers meeting, a three-week winter vacation was going to kick off. As a vacation work, this time I thought of assigning a bit different work rather than telling them ‘do exercises from page number this to that’. I gave them some reading work and creative writing. As for the second one, they were supposed to come up with some kind of free writing such as poems, stories, songs, travelogues, essays, diary writing (memorable days), etc. First, they looked puzzled, for they were not used to this kind of assignment. So I gave them guidelines to write and also declared that best writings would be sent for newspapers in order to encourage them. The vacation was over. However, I was not very hopeful that everybody would bring their assignment. To my surprise, everybody brought some writing. Some even brought two writings. I went through them in my free time and found most of them original and creative. Now I was in trouble. As I promised, the writings had to be sent to the newspapers but there were too many. Then I decided to publish a class magazine and shared the idea. Then, I divided the responsibility, making sure that everybody is involved. They worked with their group members in their free time in school and at home without disturbing their regular studies. After a month, each class had their own mesmerizing wall magazine. The parents were pleased to see the outcome in the final parents- teachers meeting and the school administration also took the effort positively and published that news in the school news bulletin too. It could also be one of the reasons that I got a promotion the next session. However, I did not wish to continue working there because I got a better opportunity in another institution.
In the next institution too, I pondered some better ideas of developing creativity of these young minds through free writing. In place of a wall magazine I was thinking of other reliable and long- lasting alternative, which could also include young students from other schools. However, the session was towards the edge without materializing any concrete idea. There was one creative colleague, who belonged to computer faculty, Mr. Krishna Subedi. He is also a web designer and developer. I talked to him and finally we decided to do something on the Web. Then we launched a website or webzine on May 2012. We named it merocreation.com.
We started this small venture for giving young creative minds an open creative platform with the motto “encouraging and energizing the young creative”. Initially, only two of us used to work. Mr Subedi looked after technical aspects while I devoted myself to the content area. We started with the creative writings of the students of our schools. Later, the visitors multiplied and we started receiving the writing from other institutions too. We kept modifying and beautifying the site but because of the overflow of the visitors only we two could not handle it. So we developed a team of thirteen members, including an advisor. It was after two months of the inception of the webzine, I received the above mail from Sakshi.
The mission of creative writing has kept me in touch with so many old students, including Sakshi. There is a boy named Samyam Shrestha, who published few stories in the webzine (he had published not a single story anywhere). His stories are mostly read and liked by the visitors. He mailed me around six months back and said that he wanted to publish a story collection. He is an eleventh grader now. There is another girl named Reeti KC from the same level. She is very good in poetry and has published many poems in the webzine and also in the national newspapers. She mailed me recently stating she has made up her mind for publishing a poem collection and asked me to edit it. It shows that something is going on. Something is happening. The webzine has been grooming these young minds and providing them with an interactive platform. This is also a part of language teaching; language teaching through creative writing.
How to accommodate creative writing in the language class?
It is a frequently asked question by language teachers. They say that they have to complete the syllabus, focus on exams and all students expect good grades. Therefore, there is no time for creative writing. Please do accept that I also have the same problem like yours. We are the birds of the same feathers. Despite all these things, it is possible to accommodate creative writing in the language class.
The first and basic thing is to be self-conscious about our students’ creative writing. When we assign them any writing, we have to make sure there is an adequate space for creativity. Whatever students do and write, we can give it a creative flavor. I call this process an inductive approach to creative writing. Here the teacher gives students the usual class assignment or home assignment, but it is given consciously having space for imagination, logic and noble ideas. Then when students submit the assignment, the teacher has to check the writing through the lenses of creativity. As per the feedback, the teacher can point out the area where the juice of creativity and elements of imagination, logic and noble ideas can be incorporated. Also, they should be asked to re-write so that their writing is publishable somewhere. Let’s take an example, how we can change letter writing into a creative activity.
Suppose, I am teaching students of the lower secondary level to write a letter to their brother or sister who is addicted to social networking sites. The letter can include some constructive suggestions to minimize the habit of always hanging on the sites and also the ideas of using social networking sites for educational purposes. If the letter includes these things, it will be an informative article for many people and hence it is publishable as a creative writing. However, the ideas need to be practical and the language needs refining. Here comes the role of a teacher. There should be discussion and brainstorming before assigning such an activity. After they write, the teacher can ask students to read each other’s writings and offer feedback. Similarly, he or she can also form a group of more-able students as the editors of the class. In the first phase, they can help the teacher to sort out the writing then the teacher can go through them. This will develop a habit of learning in collaboration, a sense of responsibility and togetherness in the language class, which after all will minimize the teacher’s burden.
Similarly, if I am teaching letter writing to students of secondary level, it is not necessary I always teach them to write letter to their fathers for asking pocket money and so on. I can also teach them writing letter to Prime Minister regarding how to stop corruption in the country. It will be a highly creative writing and publishable in the newspapers, webzines and other magazines. The same technique can be applied to other types of writing like paragraph writing, essay writing and so on. To the same token, in a bit long break, we can give students the writing tasks which are creative by nature like poems, stories, essays, travelogues, songs, book/film reviews and so on. In my case, in the vacation like term break, Dashain-Tihar vacation, winter vacation, I assign them to read novels or story books and write their own reviews (applicable especially for the secondary level). In this way our students do creative writing without being much conscious that they are doing it. That is why I call it the inductive approach to creative writing. Without telling anything like, “Okay class, today we are going to do CREATIVE WRITING…!” we can engage our students in creative writing activities. However, the continuity of this process depends on teachers’ readiness and reward. As per the first one, as you are reading this article, it is sufficient that you are ready for students’ creative writing and now it is the second one to think of. It is very important that students be rewarded for their creative work, and the most valuable reward for them is publishing their work in magazines or webzines.
I said that the publication of students’ creative writing is the best award and it is true. There is a girl in my class, who is very good in her study. Seeing her friend publishing articles in the newspapers and magazines, she also sent some but they never got published. She got frustrated and never tried again. Then she stopped writing completely. I came to learn about that and asked her to show her writings. I checked them, gave some feedback and asked her to rewrite. She did and it was published in the webzine. The publication of her article sparked a wave of euphoria in her and she resumed her writing. Now she often writes and publishes. There might be many hidden potential young minds not getting a suitable platform. Of course, there are newspapers and children magazines, which publish the creative writings of students but they are few and have to look all over the nation and hence cannot give space to all children. So we need to look for an alternative. In order to promote language and creative writing, we can publish school magazines giving space for all the students in school. Similarly, we can also publish the class wall magazine, which can give space to more students of a class. I tried these and found them only being confined to school and failing to be long lasting. Then I started this webzine, which has multiple advantages. Students can get their writings published instantly. It has global access and the writing can be viewed anytime from anywhere. Students can also share it with their relatives who are in another corner of the world. Similarly, another important thing is it is highly interactive. They can get instant feedback from their readers. In this forum, they can find so many like-minded young people writing, publishing, reading and commenting each others’ work. This will give students a creative and productive environment. All these things will encourage them to keep writing. However, they do not find all these facilities in the print media. In the same way, students (especially from the town area) today spend their time surfing the Internet rather than going through the printed materials. So this is also an attempt of developing a culture of doing academic activities in the World Wide Web. It is undoubtedly a great platform for developing language and creative writing among young learners.
However, it does not imply that all English language teachers need to have their own webzine. If you can have, that’s superb. If it is not possible, you can try the alternatives discussed above. In the same way, you can consider this webzine as your own and send the writings of your students to publish there or encourage them to send themselves. As being one of the content editors of the webzine, I suggest teachers that they read the writing of their students and give feedback before sending for publication. Spending some time in this webzine will help students develop their language and creativity. Besides creative writing, they also can find some useful academic and non-academic resources in this webzine. This is purely an academic and creative mission; a mission to develop language through creative writing. We are trying to teach language to our students but now let’s also try to teach the creative use of language. Let’s teach them to play with words and learn art of words. Children have a lot of energy and ‘crazy ideas’. They are highly imaginative. Let’s provide them with some scaffolding. Let’s convert their energy and ideas into creativity. Merocreation.com can be a forum to groom young and creative minds to be a creative citizen of the globe. So let’s join our hand together in this mission.
Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mr. Subedi, Kigan Khadka, a web designer and developer, and all team members: Akrin Adhikari, Jeevanpanee, KP Ghimire, Kumar Narayan Shrestha, Megh Raj Shrestha, Ranjana Khaniya, Richa Bhattarai, Sanjaya Karki and Upendra Subedi for their support and inspiration.
* Jeevan Karki teaches at Graded Medium English School (GEMS), Lalitpur. His areas of interest include creative writing, translation and documentary making.