The classroom is bustling with movement and chatter. Nathan has dropped and is picking up his pencil sharpener for the umpteenth time in the last five minutes; Paula wants to know whether today’s story needs to be written in paragraphs; and Michael is thinking deeply about his to-scale model of St Paul’s Cathedral in some corner of Minecraft about which none of us know anything (and he will keep it that way). Shaun has got to the point in his story where (as a matter of routine) all the characters die in an inexplicable and sudden explosion.
‘Can I use speech marks in this story?’ asks Paula.
‘Oh no, you must never use speech marks in a story!’ say I, sonorously and not unlike Brian Blessed (an impression lost on Paula, and indeed everyone else in the classroom, even the TA, who thinks I’m an idiot).
‘But that story you showed us yesterday had speech marks in it,’ she replies, looking off into the part of her brain where she can see the story that I showed them yesterday on the interactive whiteboard.
‘Ah, was that Mr Whatonomy showed you that?’ I say.
‘What do you mean? You are Mr Whatonomy,’ she says, looking me up and down to make quite sure.
‘What colour socks am I wearing?’ I ask, showing her my orange and blue Penguin socks.
‘Blue and orange,’ she replies.
‘No, they are orange and blue,’ I say. She fixes me with a withering look.
‘That’s the same!’
‘And what colour were Mr Whatonomy’s socks yesterday?’ I ask.
‘I can’t remember that!’ she says.
‘They was kind of marley pink,’ pipes up Nathan from the next table. ‘I remember because I looked up as you was walking past when I picked up me pencil sharpener yesterday.’
‘Pink socks?!’ say I. ‘I would never wear pink socks. Only Mr Whatonomy would wear pink socks.’
‘Then who are you?’ asks Paula.
‘I am…’ [slight pause] ‘… Mr Howonomy.’
‘That’s the same!’ says Paula. ‘You’ve just changed What to How!’
‘Hmm… who will ever know the truth?’ I say. ‘So, do you think you need those dastardly speech marks in your story?’ My brow arcs like Count Olaf in ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’.
Paula eyes me with extreme suspicion, but not a little hint of a smirk. ‘I reckon, yes. Mr WHATonomy!’
I thoroughly enjoy lying to my students. Although the above snippet may seem like a colossal waste of time, I think that lies go a long way to make learning memorable. I may even go as far to suggest that they promote criticality, but I won’t. I shall just leave ‘criticality’ hanging there like a ripe, juicy apple.
There’s definitely a balance to be struck when lying to your students. I would not proclaim that ‘Hitler was great!’ to a group of children (or adults for that matter). Nor would I tell them that their work was amazing when it wasn’t. But I would tickle them with small, near-the-knuckle half-truths and guffaw-inducing whoppers.
Here are some of my favourites:
- When reading a story that is projected on the whiteboard, I will read aloud that a key character ‘has pumped’. Observant students will loudly exclaim that ‘it doesn’t say that’ and others will protest that I am ‘ruining the story’. And, as a bonus, my TA will give me the ‘skunk-eye’.
- When modelling good writing, I like to present my own examples as ‘state-of-the-art’ when they are patently ridiculously bad: missing punctuation, totally lacking in description, and riddled with spelling mistakes. Oh, and if it’s a story, everyone dies suddenly and inexplicably at the end. As I present this to the students, I beam at them in anticipation of their complete approval. I like to leave a pregnant pause and allow them to enjoy watching my face fall.
- When setting out my expectations for a task, I like (once in a while) for one of them to be completely unreasonable, if not impossible:
‘How many sides, sir?’
‘Do I need to copy the question, too?’
‘No, you need to make up your own question.’
‘Are we using our diaries or the copybooks, sir?’
‘We’re writing on our spider’s webs today.’
‘Does the question mark go inside the speech mark or outside?’
‘I’m the caretaker.’
Of course, all this lying is quite draining for all concerned and soon takes its toll. But, whilst I have the energy and the children enjoy it, I find it a pleasant enough way to tickle the truth out of various learning opportunities. At least I hope that’s why I do it.
And then there was a massive explosion and everybody died.