(note: unedited first draft entry; photo from google)
I think it was a couple of years ago when I was first introduced to this novel by local author, Lin Acacio-Flores. It became part of our reading list for the 6th grade, and I remember thinking to myself, “How in the world was I going to make this relevant and interesting for the kids?”
You see, the novel was about a Filipino boy who is befriended by a Japanese captain during the Second World War in the Philippines, specifically in San Juan where the main character lived, and, coincidentally, where the school I used to work in is located. So aside from the spatial setting, the kids had no other connection to the text. True enough, it was difficult to rally the kids to finish the story. I don’t even remember now what strategies we used in discussing this novel, but if I could do it again, I’d probably use one or all of the activities listed at the end of this entry.
As for the novel itself, I liked it because it was well-written, and it showed a part of Philippine history commonly brushed aside in favor of the Spanish rule here. The Japanese invaded the Philippines and stayed here for four years, but aside from the notoriety of their cruelty to the locals and the “comfort women,” not much is known about the daily difficulties of the Filipinos during that time. This novel provided a very good idea, despite its fictional nature, of what life was like back then. More important was that the story was told from the point of view of a child, so readers (in this case our students) were able to sympathize with the protagonist’s frustration with his parents, friends, the restrictions imposed on him, and all other problems he had to face. The problem with this is that most of our students come from the upper societal bracket and therefore had little understanding of problems other than not being able to get the latest iPhone or such.
My fellow English teachers and I did our best, and in the end, we felt that we were able to discuss well and impart life lessons to the kids. My wish is that we could have done more.
If you’re wondering why we included this in the curriculum if, based on my account, it had been so difficult, it’s because we wanted to include a Philippine novel in English in our reading list. We had been making our students read American children’s books, but we had not been exposing them to our own literature. There are very few Philippine children’s novels, and this was the one that we felt would engage the students the best.
Here now are some of the activities I just came up with now.
- Letter exchange program (Writing). Context: We discussed the novel during the first quarter of the academic year, but towards the end of the school year, the International Programs Office approached me and another English teacher about collaborating with a teacher and his class from Japan on improving the students’ English communication skills. If I had known that this could have been done, I’d have made my students ask the Japanese students also about what they know of their country’s experiences during the Second World War. This would have allowed the students to deepen their understanding of the difficulties during that time while getting a glimpse of the other side’s perspective.
- Literature Circle (Verbal). Context: I don’t remember having the students do Lit Circles for this one since we had just taught them how it works. If we had, then I’m guessing the discussion wasn’t as rich as expected because students were still unsure of the roles they had to play. Each student in a group is assigned a role. S/He will tackle the story from the perspective of his/her role (worksheets and handouts given to help them with their roles). The roles we had then were:
- Discussion Director: comes up with discussion questions and facilitates group discussion
- Literary Luminary: looks for important lines/passages and facilitates group discussion of these
- Wacky Wordsmith: tackles difficult words/unknown phrases; helps group mates unlock vocabulary
- Adventurous Artist: selects one or more important scenes from the book and illustrates it (or finds an image that can represent said scene); facilitates group discussion of the artist’s interpretation of the scene
- Cool Connector: relates the novel (or parts of it) to other texts whether it be a song, poem, short story or other novel; relates the novel to personal life; facilitates discussion of group mates’ connections to the novel.
- News reporting (Writing/Verbal): Students have to write a news report about what the protagonist found (I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to read it, but let me just tell you, what he found was a BIG DEAL). They have to write from both the Filipino and Japanese perspectives. Done in pairs; one for each perspective, then students share with partner their work. Discuss with class their work.