Thursday 28 November 2019

Bookworms Inc. Book blog for kids by kids

Al Qamar Academy kids are confirmed book addicts. With reading being the only assigned homework, events like DEAR Time and Read-a-thons, in class libraries and frequent book discussions, what else would they be?

Very happy to share Bookworms Inc. - our students' book blog - featuring book recommendations by Al Qamar Academy students. Book recommendations for kids by kids..

Do subscribe for regular updates - the kids will keep recommending books as they read.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop #9

Points of View was the topic of the #Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop today.

"You can write your novel from any point of view." I said. "Protagonist, Antagonist, Supporting Character, 3rd person Narrator or a mix. And can choose to have these peole talk in 1st or 3rd person".

We came up with examples of each. 3rd person narrator is the most commonly used perspective. The kids' favorites fall into this category  - the Enid Blyton books.  We discussed how this POV gives the author distance from her characters.

"Name a book in which the supporting character acts as the narrator?" I queried. Pat came the response "Sherlock Holmes!"  We discussed how Watson is really the reader in the story - by asking questions and begging for explanations.

Geronimo, a hot favourite,  is written from the 1st person point of view of the protagonist. "An author can carry that off if the main character is really strong", I explained.

The kids were most curious about the 1st person narrative by a villain, and pestered me to tell them the name of books where this happens. I bluntly refused. "I'd be ruining the story for you if I told you.  One day when you read such a story, remember your Aneesa Aunty.!"

We then settled down to a read aloud - I selected "Lamb for the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl.

*Spoiler Alert* Do not read further, if you haven't read that short story.

The children were engrossed in the tale as it slowly unfolded, the murder happened and the alibi created.  The end had them gasping " That was a story from the villian's point of view!"

We had a lively debate about who was the villian.  And which character garnered the childrens' sympathy. Interestingly, most of the girls and the 6th grade boys sided with Patrick.

The dissenting opinion came from some of the 7th grade boys. " He had such a lovely wife! How could he plan to leave her?" "She was pregnant. His action cannot be condoned". "What about the unborn child? He'd never know his father who left him"

The kids cajoled me into reading one more story. We picked "Charles" by Shirley Jackson. The giggled at all the exploits of Charles in his classroom, in  obvious admiration for his derring do.

However they surprised me during the discussion which followed. "Who do you sympathise with in the story?" I asked . "The teacher" was the unanimous answer from the children, in sharp contrast to my colleagues and my sympathy for the child Charles himself!

#Nanowrimo- you rock! You've opened doors to absolutely fascinating English classes.

Friday 22 November 2019

Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop #8

This #Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop was on creating settings. We discussed the use of descriptive language which paints a picture in the mind of a reader.

We discussed what settings mean - both location and time. Children often confuse setting with specifics - morning, evening or home, school. We talked about how an author can use a general or broader location and time and vary the specifics within the novel.

The importance of research was emphasised. Children brainstormed all the different variables they'd have to research to build authenticity - from the language, social mores, government types, physiques, history to food, religion, dress. An imaginary setting allows the author to create all these.

The importance of localisation came up.  Most Indian children of this background read American or British authors. They are heavily influenced by these books. Which means their own writing is usually set in the US, with White American characters, with names like Jack, Tom or Jill in a setting which is completely alien to these kids. Not only does the writing sound false, a greater problem is the lack of representation of kids like themselves. "How many times have you encountered kids like yourselves in books- with names like yours?" I asked. "You have a wonderful opportunity to create a narrative which hardly exists - with kids eating sambhar or biryani, playing on a beach with salt spray stinging their faces, watching the coconut palms swaying gently in the breeze" Hopefully the message will sink in.

We went on to discussing how settings can create moods or reveal facets about their characters.  Kids got to speedwrite descriptions of various settings and read them aloud. They went onto writing out settings from the different parts of their own novels.

Sunday 17 November 2019

Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop #7

We went over the plot structure and discussed  "Cool" by Michael Morpurgo. It's  a brilliant book about Robbie, a small boy, in coma. Most of the children have read the book, so we  were able to have a constructive discussion.

We identified the set up and saw how Morpurgo introduced the main character, the dog and setting. The children caught on that the parents' separation was a key problem being highlighted.

They identified the inciting incident and the different rising action points. The children saw how each incident built on the last and increased the tension in the plot.

They could identify the sub plot theme - the story of Tracy and how it contributed to making the plot more interesting and multidimensional.

The climax and the falling action points were discussed. The most interesting conversation  was on how Robbie changed in the end. I told them how they had to use inference to understand the undercurrents. They talked about how Robbie would have become more cautious but also more patient. "He probably has new fears now" was an insightful comment -  one I hadn't even thought of. 

Another wonderful #nanowrimo class.

Rain Centre - learning about Rainwater Harvesting

Raising and educating children to be sensitive, compassionate and environmentally conscious is a tremendously important task.  As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." And when people like Mr Sekar Raghavan give their time to educate children, it really casts a huge influence on a child's mind. 

Grade 4 students from Al Qamar Academy  visited the Rain Centre - Akash Ganga Trust today and learned about rainwater harvesting from Mr. Sekar Raghavan himself.

MashaAllah it was a wonderful opportunity to interact with a person of his calibre - who has contributed so much to the awareness about water conservation in Chennai. And is a very humble man himself.

Hopefully after today's visit to the Rain Centre - Akash Ganga Trust, and meeting Sir,  they will internalise the importance of water conservation and harvesting.

#realeducation #rainwaterharvesting #conservation #ecology #environment #education #chennai

Saturday 16 November 2019

Talk on Artificial Intelligence

"What is intelligence?" asked Sajjad Malang, during his talk on Artificial Intelligence for students of Grades 5-7.

Br Sajjad, a parent at Al Qamar, is an IT professional working in the area of AI.  He spoke about the ubiquity of AI. Kids were fascinated to learn that the Customer Service chat at Amazon is AI in the background. He explained how  AI is being used to predict forest fires, disease outbreak, to create driverless cars and is aiding in medical diagnosis. He explained how humongous amounts of data are rapidly analysed to make predictions and decisions.

The children were quick to cotton onto the myriad issues of privacy invasion. They expressed discomfort with the idea of a machine delivering medical care.  They could relate to how AI is able to analyze relationships between variables in data - their Spark classes came useful here.

As usual many many questions and comments kept the talk lively and the audience engaged.

JazakAllah Khair Brother for taking the time to come give this talk.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop #6

Today's class was all about learning how to write the plot of the novel.  we went through the six elements of plot development that resembles a roller coaster.

1. The set-up which gives us the daily routine of the character or protagonist and an insight into the characters' likes and dislikes, the conflict - external and internal. we could say that this is the intro before the story moves on.

2. The inciting incident which sets the story forward to a point from where there is no turning back and sets the action - the "from where everything started to change" moment.

3. The rising action - where the character makes a choice and which takes them to the next level and then they need to again make a choice or take a decision and move on.

4. The climax - the nail biting event/incident where we really want to know "will my protagonist get what they want or not?. What will happen next?

5. The falling action - where the events now start happening like tumbling down a roller coaster and basically the last part of the excitement that was built up previously.

6. The resolution shows how the conflict resolved and how the character changes after the incident that just happened.
We discussed the books, Emil and the Detectives, Danny the Champion of the World, Wolves of Willoughby Chase etc., to understand all the elements of the plot and then the children had to write down quickly a short story implementing the learning of today's class.

Mushin wrote a short story about gorillas being attakced by poachers, while Khadija penned a personal narrative.

- Naqeeb Sultana

Nanowrimo Writer's Workshop #5

We learned the importance of conflict in a novel. "Conflict makes the main character grow." We spoke about the two kind of conflicts faced by characters - internal and external.

"So, you want a tuna sandwich. But to get one, you need to walk over to Five Star and buy a can of tuna. However, Mr Evil, whose main goal in life is to stop you from getting a tuna, is waiting to ambush you, right at the corner. You don't know that, but you fear he's going to try something like that." Kids giggled and worked out the  different kinds of conflict on that scenario.

We went onto to discussing how they have to create characters who have dreams, doubts, ambition and fears. And how the intersection of these emotions between the protagonist and antagonist creates tension. And the creation of challenges pulls the novel along.

The real fun in the classes is when we dissect the novels we've read, to identify elements. We shared how Daddy Long Legs is written in a 2nd person perspective (a rare beast), how multiple voices are present in Hardy Boys. How Dr. Seuss' books are carried by their crazy rhyming scheme and fantastic illustrations. How the Treasure Seekers makes you wonder who really is the narrator. From discussing Dorothy's  goal and challenges in theWizard of Oz, to figuring out the difficulties faced by Jo and her sisters in Little Women, these conversations are a wonderful insight into how very much these kids are reading.

Another win for  Al Qamar's pedagogy.

Friday 1 November 2019

Nanowrimo Writers' Workshop #4

So, today we fleshed out our characters. The most important people for our novels.

We discussed how, essentially, there are three kinds of characters in a book - the main character or protagonist; the supporting characters and finally the villain  or antagonist. 

An enjoyable discussion ensued on the various characters we have encountered in books - Geronimo is a great favourite. "What makes you like Geronimo?" I asked. "He thinks like me", "He feels fear", "He has fun" were the responses. We listed a bunch of features that make a character memorable. Some felt wildly improbable characters were great while others loved characters with flaws.

I listed out different characters and discussed what kind of character each one was. It was hard identifying the antagonist in some novels - "Cool", "The Secret Garden". The kids realised that sometimes nature or circumstances can be the antagonist.

Then the kids got to work - to brainstorm details about their main character - her height, appearance, likes and dislikes. Some children sketched out their main character. Suddenly, the characters felt more real.

Some kids wrestled with describing their character- it didn't fit the norm. A bacteria is one child's protagonist while another has a girl who discovers she's an alien adopted by earthlings.

Kids came forward and shared their character portraits. Since "Dont YUCK my YUM" is the motto, kids were respectful and supportive of each other's efforts.

Another group caughtup on their novel discussions with each other.

So it all starts today. I'm sure it will be a busy weekend ahead with kids scrambling to start up their "Nano-novels".

Au Revoir

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