A SAHETI mini-odyssey

| December 3, 2018 | 0 Comments


The view from my classroom, overlooking the chapel, the N3 highway and the slope of Linksfield Road may not resemble the idyllic seas around Odysseus’s Ithaca.

But within inside the classroom walls, enthusiastic young South Africans (representing some 30 different nationalities) also grapple with epic ideas and innovative learning experiences. A love affair with ancient Greek mythology – its dynamic characters, power struggles and inescapable, universal human truths – drives me as an English teacher at SAHETI High School in Senderwood, Johannesburg, particularly now during the fourth industrial revolution,1 where these issues have been flung into sharp relief. The nine muses2 who stimulate creativity have a meaningful space in my classroom. Their inspiration is in line with my belief in a liberal arts education for all – key in promoting the diversity and inclusion needed in South African society. Whilst the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) subjects dominate much public discourse in education, the importance of the arts is being recognised,3 and the language classroom is the ideal space to explore what the arts have to offer.

Learning is not a spectator sport

Even though the ancient Greeks are commonly believed to have invented Western theatre, learning is not a spectator sport. In my classroom, students are encouraged to talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate their learning to their experiences, apply it in their daily lives and make what they learn part of themselves. In 2018, the potential for even greater action is possible with the advantages presented by technology. Discussions on learning take place beyond the classroom walls on online platforms and among diverse and authentic audiences. No subject is off-limits. It must be critically interrogated – in much the same way as the ancient Greeks tried to make sense of Zeus’s decision-making.4Writing about learning may take the form of presentations, digital stories and poems. Our writing practices are linked with the solid fundamentals of conventional composition processes. The new cannot exist without the old. Relating learning to diverse and challenging experiences happens through a variety of global teaching texts. Deeper understanding and empathy are developed through creating our own social awareness campaigns. It is blissful to work in the SAHETI environment, which promotes this kind of teaching and learning.

“How a 16-year-old boy would go about marketing glow-inthe- dark garden ornaments proved refreshing”.

Probing the world of advertising

As an English department, we wanted to unlock and develop some of the 21st century skills in our students through projectbased learning. We chose the world of advertising for its ubiquity and the persuasive techniques at play in the variety of texts used in a campaign: print, web, radio and video. We wanted to build research skills, collaboration and creativity, as well as a little chaos, into our three-week project. Students individually researched leading local and global brand campaigns, identifying the values the brands espoused and the techniques used to attract a target audience. Students then shared that knowledge in groups. Next, groups were encouraged to indulge in ‘blue-sky thinking’5 and created four campaigns of their own, for products as diverse as pillows, sneakers and cellphone covers, and social awareness issues such as overfishing and teenage steroid use. They also had to select the medium that could best help them advertise their products and then create those advertisements, writing scripts, producing social media feeds and remixing images to create arresting visuals.

Reflection, collaboration and a little chaos

Groups reflected on their progress and their learning at the end of each session, assisted by a checklist, and gave each other feedback as they presented each of their campaigns – a process that was staggered over the three-week period. Collaboration and creativity were evident in the ways each group operated to achieve the task, through division of labour and incorporating diverse ideas and opinions. One group never seemed to speak to each other, which frightened my colleagues and me! However, they appeared to have a vibrant chat group online and were always up to date with their tasks. Creative ways of presenting their ideas were evident in the online tools students found – for example, storyboarding and recording instruments – to finalise their advertisements. Finally, after the group presentations, we sowed a little chaos by assigning each individual an unusual product and having them describe the strategy they would use to market that product. Instructions were sent online, and the fully-fledged pitch had to be presented within 14 hours. This final presentation proved an excellent way to assess the students’ understanding and growth through the process: how a 16-yearold boy would go about marketing glow-in-the-dark garden ornaments proved refreshing.

Online notebooks crucial tools

One of the greatest strengths of the project was the visual diary students had to keep throughout the process. Students posted entries in their online notebooks, which were essentially open responses to any visuals they encountered, whether online or in their physical surroundings. The visual diaries were equally revered and reviled by the participants. Many students found the tight deadlines challenging, but others found freedom in the discipline. The visual diaries provided a channel to reflect on the world and students’ own learning experiences. We were able to give instant feedback after each post, which students found very satisfying, and it helped with their reflection on their own understanding. It is a truth universally acknowledged that young people in many parts of the world are highly skilled in their use of technology, yet they need to be guided in developing these skills responsibly and ethically. For teachers, many of us can attest to how technology can seem monstrous, like the many-headed hydra. Once you chop off the connectivity problem head, another issue grows in its place, like access or poor training for users. But technology helps my students create and collaborate on producing sophisticated projects and gives them greater accountability for their engagement. Navigating the complexities of the past, the present, the future, as well as the online world is exciting but certainly chaotic. But out of chaos, Mount Olympus rose.

Jennifer Aldridge won the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) faculty prize for best Master of Education student in 2017, and has worked as an English teacher at SAHETI High School for the past six years.

1. See: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrialrevolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/
2. See: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Muses-Nine-Goddesses-of-Greek-Mythology
3. See: http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-importance-of-artin-child-development/
4. See: http://www.moyak.com/papers/hesiod-theogony.html
5. See: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/blue-sky_thinking


Category: Summer 2018

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