In a previous post I mentioned (and got absolutely no reaction, by the way) that I’m trained in puppetry and also make my own puppets. I don’t get a lot of opportunity to practise these skills, though. When I was still working as a youth pastor I did puppetry quite often and also trained kids in doing puppetry, but no more. We also went through a phase where we got several orders for puppets, but those have dried up (probably due to the fact that we don’t really advertise).
Until this week. A student who was doing her practical at the wife’s school needed a puppet for a class requirement. They have to make it themselves. For marks. And not just any old puppet. It must be a human mouth puppet, you know, like Elmo.
This shows once again just how little some university lecturers actually know of the real world. See, these puppets can be tricky to make, the materials are expensive (the foam used for the insides cannot be bought in single-puppet quantities), and good patterns are not freely available – you have to buy them. But they have to be hand-made because that’s cheaper than buying them (then have them make glove puppets, for crying out loud!)
As one would expect, most students cheat. They pay someone who has the patterns, materials and expertise to make the puppets for them. I don’t really have qualms about helping them in their cheating – I enjoy making puppets and it’s good money. I’m much more concerned that these students will enter the teaching profession with a puppet but without any training in puppetry and without any appreciation for the puppet they purchased, cause every time I sell a puppet it’s like putting a child up for adoption. That’s how I feel about them.
Maybe you’ll understand a bit better once you’ve seen a bit of what goes into making a puppet.
Advisory Warning: At this point I have to warn you that the rest of this post will contain graphic images of naked, skinless and skinned puppets. Sensitive readers might do well to go look at these funny pictures of crying babies.
My wife is a remedial teacher at a primary school situated in a coloured township. (See bottom of post for a short explanation of the terms ‘coloured’ and ‘township’ as they are used in South Africa.) Her school has a large proportion of children experiencing barriers to learning (the new, politically correct term for ‘learning disability’), and her job is to help them catch up in those areas of the work (generally Math and language skills) where they are struggling. Some days she comes home dejected, convinced that she’s not making any progress, the next she’s so excited about a kid that had a breakthrough she can’t stop chattering about it.
Yesterday, though, she regaled me with a story of something that happened in her colleague’s second-grade class that made me think about the role that contextual analysis play in tasks such as teaching. Her colleague was trying to teach the children about subtracting. She used the terms ‘take away’ and ‘make less’ to explain the concept, but to no avail. The children simply could not get it. Continue reading “On the importance of context”→