One of the stories the kids had to study was Catherine Lim’s “Lottery”. Ah Boh, the main protagonist in the short story, is heavily addicted to gambling in all forms. The story ends on a dark twisted note when her elderly mother gets run over in a tragic road accident and Ah Boh is still oblivious to the severity of the situation, claiming that she would spend the lottery winnings on the most expensive coffin, as if it mattered. We know there is no more time to make amends for Ah Boh, but she still continues to live in her fantasy.
Since Literature is not simply about reading stories, but understanding the human condition and life lessons through the stories we read about, I had the kids write reflections as a round-up to the lesson. The result was much more optimistic than I expected, so I wanted to preserve it in words as an encouragement of sorts.
We brainstormed the different kinds of addictions on the white board, and then I had the kids write reflections in response to these questions: What are you addicted to? (Or for those kids who think they had none, I asked them What is the one thing you struggle most with and want to overcome?), How are you addicted to it?, and What can you do about this addiction? After that, I broke the class into groups of four to five students, according to their temperament, their degree of familiarity and their attitude towards work.
I told the kids to take turns and share what they had written on the paper. Because the students were relatively comfortable with each other, they had a comfortable and pretty easy time telling each other what their greatest struggles were, and how they intended to overcome or manage it, especially with the examinations round the corner. I had hoped it would encourage them to hear their classmates resolve to overcome their “addictions”.
Although they did need some kind of probing as I walked around, the kids were very honest with their sharing. I then went around assigning – completely at random – slips of paper with a classmate’s name on it. This was the classmate they had to write an encouraging memo to at the end of the activity.
I then went on to write all thirty-seven of their names on the white board. This caught their attention. Then we went around the class to share what their addiction was. “Computer games”, “PSP”, “PS2”, “Sleeping”, “Video games”, “Facebook”, “Twitter”… there were plenty of repeated and interesting responses. Initially, writing their names and addictions on the board was purely out of practical reasons. I wanted them to address the addiction/problem in their encouragement memos, and the board is the biggest plane which could house all that information. Later on, I thought writing their names and addictions on the whiteboard achieved a very comforting effect. The students realized that they were not trying to deal with their “addiction” alone, and everyone else had some kind of habit they wanted to manage. There was a sense of comfort and consolation in that. Even the quieter students managed to share their struggles, because everyone else did. More importantly, no one was in a position to judge, because we all had our struggles to deal with. That visual, was simply powerful.
With some pretty floral cards I distributed, the kids wrote short encouragement memos to their peers. I wanted to assign names at random because I wanted the class to practice writing positive messages to each other, and wanted them to be honest with one another. I hope they appreciated the lesson and learned something more than the text from the lesson.