Workshop on Writing Skills for teachers by Dr. Brian Mendonca
Bhavan's School, Zuarinagar, Goa, 22 June 2016
The brief was simple. Get the teachers to tune in to the finer aspects of report writing. Last year on the same day, I had done a workshop at Bhavan's on teaching poetry to children. This was all due to the dynamism of the Principal of Bhavan's Ms.Elizabeth Valsan.
This year I warmed up to the task of teaching writing. I planned for a 2-hour presentation divided into 3 sections:
I. ACADEMIC WRITING
II. CREATIVE WRITING
III. BLOG WRITING
What happened in class was slightly different.
As a warm-up exercise I asked the teachers to read any news item from the newspapers I distributed. After this was done I asked each teacher to paraphrase what s/he read. I used the oral paraphrase done by teachers to spot errors of grammar, sentence construction, tone, and cohesion. One participant used 'actually' too often and unnecessarily; another ended his sentence with a rising tone, leaving the listener waiting for more; another used far too long sentences and got mixed up with the ideas. I asked the teachers to use simple sentences,speak clearly and end confidently.
Since the newspapers were still in front of them, I asked the teachers how many of them read an English newspaper every day. The response was feeble. I urged them to read many newspapers. Over the weekend I asked them to pick up the Weekender and read it through the week. Pulling out a copy of the latest issue I went over its pages introducing them to its features and articles. 'The more you read, the better you will write,' I suggested. I shared with the group that I read papers in different languages for different perspectives. Hindi, Marathi, Konkani and English are a staple fare. On the internet, so helpfully provided by the school, I showed the e-editions of the Hindustan Times and The Hindu newspapers. Ramdas, one of the students, like the idea saying it would 'save paper.'
The next activity was doing a report on the workshop done the previous day on the theme 'Life is a Song' by Cyril Fernandes. I differentiated between a report and an essay where the former was a factual account of the way things went and the latter was an assessment of the event with one's own point of view. I was floored when one participant offered an essay in shudh (if Sanskritized) Hindi.
I felt it was too premature to do creative writing with the group. I opted for creative non-fiction instead. CNF is the in-thing nowadays and I sallied forth sharing with the group my weekly writings for Gomantak Times Weekender. I had remembered to bring a folder of all my articles over the past 3 years. I had arranged the articles week-wise over the months of the years. As I took them through some of the articles I found an echo in their eyes. We spoke about subjects to write about, and what inspired the articles.'Travelling in a Mumbai local train' was much appreciated. The group was pensive when I discussed 'Caitan-ya' about the murder of a US youth in Pernem, Goa on suspicion of theft.
From here the transition to blog writing was smooth - simply because all my Weekender articles are uploaded on my blog. I dwelt on the reach of the internet and the shelf-life of an article on the blog. We looked at the merits of print media for a local populace and digital media for a global audience. For me the blog served as an excellent way to archive all my writing. One also gets paid for writing for the media and it could be examined as a source of income.
Finding interest ebbing as we reached 1 p.m. we looked at my blog (this one) on the internet. I showed the group my blog site, the labels on the right and how to post comments. We then meandered to my blogpost of 2008 when I read some of my title poem from my first book of poems Last Bus to Vasco: Poems in Goa (2006) on AIR Delhi. We all said an ode to Vasco for providing the poet so much inspiration so as to name a book of poems after it.
Writing can help you in your loneliness. 'Last bus to Vasco' was written when I was alone travelling from Panjim to Vasco in 1997. That was before the bypass at Agacaim and before the point to point buses came. So in a sense the poem is a documentation of Goa's past. At Weekender too my byline is 'a chronicler of our times.' We looked at the difference between 'chronic' and 'chronicler.' Nida Fazli's shayri met with applause from the group:
Apne gam leke, kahee our na jaya karo
Ghar ke bikhre hue cheezein ko sajaya karo.
Reminiscing in the Principal's room after the workshop I thought how we had transited from the often mundane report writing to the Elysian heights of poetry writing and appreciation. I left them with a few tips on writing, viz. Find a writing partner with whom you can share your work; write something daily; perfect the basics of grammar; if you find an article you like, analyse what made it a good article. Finally if you are searching for topics to write about, make your life interesting - meet unconventional people; do interesting things; think out of the box.