The lesson I observed today was both shocking and surprisingly effective. Upon entering the school, I was informed that the students would be reading a piece of work by Mills and Boon and then creating their own piece in this same style. At first, this seemed like a standard lesson plan; that was, of course, until I found out that Mills and Boon literature is of the romantic fiction, i.e. 50 Shades of Grey type. I read the excerpt myself before class and could not see how a class of 17 year olds would be able to handle this assignment. By the end of the day, I was thoroughly impressed with their maturity and ability to complete the difficult task.
The beginning of the lesson started off with a bang as the teacher dramatically read the excerpt to the class. In sum, the piece started with a couple meeting for the first time after chatting online. There is a lengthy description of the woman’s beauty ending in a passionate kiss – something one would never find in an American classroom. After the reading, the students were clearly confused and a little uncomfortable. The teacher then wrote on the board some of the conventions and literary structures that they have been discussing for days such as lexical set, pragmatics, syntax, discourse, grammar etc. It was here that the lesson began to take shape. In the romantic fiction genre, these conventions are clearly employed. There is an obvious “tone” to romantic fiction novels and so it was easy for the students to read this excerpt to find the structures that they had previously been combing James Joyce novels to understand. Although they were shocked, they understood the assignment.
As the students began annotating their papers, the teacher came over to me to explain that this assignment was preparation for their “course work” which would be a large component of their GCSE exams. For the real course work, students would be expected to annotate an excerpt from a “professional writer” and then write their own piece in that writer’s style. With this lesson, the students were able to practice in a lighthearted, humorous, albeit unconventional, way and feel no pressure about “getting it right.” The teacher informed me that next week, their assignment would be the same using work from three classic writers, which would feel more like the course work they would be expected to hand in.
Once the papers were marked up, the students then had to create their own piece of romantic fiction. At this point, I thought the lesson would fall apart. This is a sixth form class, which means it includes both boys and girls. I could not see a 17-year-old boy writing a unique piece of romantic fiction to share with the girl sitting next to him. To my surprise, that’s exactly what some of them did. To account for inevitable shyness, the teacher allowed students to work in pairs or groups for the writing if they did not want to do it alone. Many students chose this option, which I believe led to even greater pieces. When the teacher asked for volunteers, I was amazed at how many students genuinely wanted to share their work. I heard about seven different stories and can honestly say that most of them were pretty good! The students really nailed the conventions of romantic fiction and by the end of the day it was clear that the objectives were met.
This was a great lesson to observe. I could not believe how successful it was despite being so controversial. The students, for the most part, were engaged and excited to try their hand at writing something so foreign to the academic realm. Even for those students who were too shy to share their work, they were still able to receive the content by finding the conventions and structures and incorporating them into their own writing. Overall, I believe the teacher took a risk in doing this lesson, but it paid off tenfold. The students definitely learned something and undoubtedly had fun while doing it.