Language teaching integrates a number of different facets - in fact, taught well, it leads to development of metacognition skills in students. Recognising this greater goal of language teaching, we teachers at Al Qamar Academy have been working with our Middle school students to develop their Visual Critical thinking skills by using resources from the New York Times Learning Network, specifically, the What’s Going On In This Picture.
This time, I selected a mesmerizing photograph which juxtaposes several contrasting elements. Before reading further, do view the photograph here.
I asked my 8th graders to carefully study the photo for a few minutes and jot down their observations and thoughts. What could be happening here? What could be the explanation?
Initially, several of the students thought the photo was a scene from a movie. Or photoshopped. The surreality of the picture lent itself well to this explanation. They observed the contrast of the background with the flippant activity (pun intended) of the man. Why would anyone be doing perfect flips in this completely bombed out locale. They noticed the fire still burning in one of the buildings and the rubble and concrete that littered the street. Two kids quickly identified that the man was doing parkour. The angle of his position was professional - he wasn’t just jumping around - he was good!
Somebody wondered if this was a military training camp. That kind of explained the casual nature of the two boys in the picture - the rubble and destruction seems normal. But then another student pointed out that children wouldn’t be allowed to wander around in a military training camp.
What about a construction site? Where the destruction of the buildings was a planned and normal event. Nothing horrific associated with that. But then other kids commented that a demolition in construction sites would be more planned. This area clearly looked as if it had been bombed.
The children were trying to reconcile the apparent and widespread destruction with the casualness of parkour. Nothing else seemed to fit.
Then a child commented “What if there was a bomb blast. And the boy was thrown by the impact. But again - that didn’t work. The flip was deliberate and professional. The feet were pointed at the correct angle. The other boy in the picture too seemed calm and collected. No fear or panic.
What if there was an earthquake? And the buildings had collapsed. But then other children pointed out that the buildings in the background were still standing. They would’ve also collapsed or been damaged in an earthquake.
“Maybe he’s doing the parkour to post on social media” guessed a student. Another student took up the thread “There must be something important enough happening if this photo was taken to be posted on social media.”
The children finally concluded that this was a picture from a war torn zone. The bombing had probably not been recent - the onlooker was not in a panic. Additionally, the photographer had the time to frame a high resolution picture of the scene. So s/he must have planned to take the picture. The children guessed that the location must have been somewhere in Afghanistan, Lebanon or Iraq.
Finally, one student guessed the correct place - “Palestine”. Another student explained the rationale behind the picture - “A picture of a bombed out neighbourhood wouldn’t catch attention. But this kid doing parkour here would!” I revealed the story behind the picture - where a group of young Palestinian boys do parkour and post pictures on social media to garner attention about the life under colonization. The final question posed by a student should give a lot of us adults food for thought “The Promised Land doesn’t deserve war. Religion doesn’t deserve war!”
The entire exercise took an hour. It was a testimony to the endurance of the children that they kept noticing further details and trying to reason out an explanation. I was impressed how the class was working together building on each other's observations. Even when the students contradicted each other, it was respectful. They offered evidence to back up their claims. It was a team effort here.
So what do students get out of such a class. Superficially, they enjoy the conversation and sense of solving a puzzle. But on a deeper level, this exercise hones their observation skills. They learn to articulate their point of view and justify their claims. Pictures from different parts of the world adds to their repertoire of learning about cultures, politics and social realities. And finally, its not boring!!
Note : Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below: