Feb 28


cowan-t James Cowan, 2008

In the evening before each class, I write out my final lesson plan, the list of teaching points and excercises I want to cover the next day. But as I settle into life as a university lecturer, I’m learning classrooms are great places for improv.

Take today’s class, which focused on techniques for interviewing eyewitnesses. In the lesson plan, I plotted out a relatively simple activity to introduce the topic. I divided the class in two, keeping half of the students in the room and sending the others outside to relax for a couple of minutes in the bright morning sun. I then put on a little show for the students still in the room: sitting down and standing up repeatedly, balancing on one leg, moving furniture and dropping my notebook to the ground. When I finished, I called the other students back inside and told them to interview their compatriots about what just happened. The idea was to illustrate the unreliability of eyewitnesses and open a discussion about interviewing techniques.

All went according to plan, until I asked the reporters to share what they had learned.

“Share or show?” asked one of the students.

Share, I clarified, before realizing that showing might make more sense — and be funnier as well. And so, three of the reporters took a turn at the front of the class, doing their best to recreate my variety act. Even one of the eyewitnesses took the stage, but none of them came close to correctly portraying the sequence of events. Even the small variations were instructive. Some gently placed my notebook on the floor while others slammed it down with a vicious “thump.” Some sat down for just a second while others lingered for close to a minute. When the performaces were finished, we had an energetic discussion about the limitations of eyewitness accounts and how to overcome them, followed by a quick review of basic interviewing skills.

The lesson proved instructive for both my students and myself. The slight change in my plan meant even the students who struggle with English could glean something from the class, thanks to the performances of their classmates.

Writing teachers often instruct their students to “show, don’t tell.” More and more, I’m learning it is advice for teachers to heed as well.

Feb 27


zandbergen-t Rebecca Zandbergen, 2008

I’ve taken the bus between Butare and Kigali a few times now. It’s a pleasant two hour ride along a curvy road. Aside from the occasional whimper from an impossibly well-behaved baby, it’s usually a quiet ride: passengers lean their heads on the seats next to theirs and sleep, they read day old newspapers or listen to talk radio played by the driver at a reasonable volume.

I spend a lot of time looking out the window: at the mud brick homes with terracotta roofs and wooden doors, all blending so easily into the hillside that they look like nature somehow built the homes itself; at the people walking purposefully along the sides of the road, many with whom I’m able to exchange a fleeting glance as we pass by; at the fields, the crops and the women who bend over at stab at the clumps of earth with their hoes. There’s a lot to look at. Unlike home, every stretch of this road is plodded by women wrapped in bright, colourful fabrics, by children with yellow plastic containers balanced on their heads and by men pushing bicycles loaded with stuffed burlap sacks. And unlike home, nearly every stitch of land along the way is cultivated.

I like the ride.

The other day I took a different bus, a big 70-seater, blue and white bus with the words the National University of Rwanda painted on the side. I rode the bus to and from Kigali with about 40 journalism students and a handful of lecturers. In this bus, the aisle becomes a spontaneous dance floor for the male students whose voices grow hoarse belting out well-known songs in Kinyarwanda, and whose hands must sting from clapping them together so hard to the beat in unison.

The born-again Christian girls sit in the seats and sing gospel songs in sweet voices. A male student joins the choir, perched on an armrest of a nearby seat and adds a rough harmony. Sometimes the bus suddenly veers off onto the side of the road to appease a student who has a hankering for a snack: cobs of corn roasted over a road-side charcoal grill.

The ride took a bit longer than usual, my ears were ringing and I had to pick the kernels of corn out of my teeth, but as always, the bus ride between Kigali and Butare was a pleasant one.

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