The Kite Runner and Identity


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We met with English teacher Angela Demaine, who was studying The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini with her 12th grade class. Ms Demaine was happy for us to design a 4-period Rich Task based around Identity and this novel. The students had not finished reading the book, but this was not a problem; Ms Demaine thought that a short period of reflection would actually work very well at this stage.Unfortunetly, we were only able to complete 2 of 4 lessons.


Identity
In The Kite Runner, Hosseini writes as Amir, a boy who grows up in 1970s Afghanistan before fleeing Soviet invasion and settling in America. Throughout his life, Amir struggles with his identity; he doesn’t feel he lives up to his father’s expectations and he knows little about his deceased mother. Although his best friend, Hassan, is a low-caste servant to his family, Amir is jealous of him, both for his natural courage and the affection his father shows to him. In his adult life Amir must also deal with the possibility of never being a father. After a life of regret, Amir finds he must return to Afghanistan as an adult, and try to show the bravery he has never felt in order to find redemption.


Interdisciplinary Links
Amir and Hassan were born in the 1960s and a large portion of the book focuses on their childhood in 1970s Afghanistan. For this reason, we decided to form an interdisciplinary link with the subjects English, History and Geography. We decided to focus on creativity, but not just through traditional creative writing: students were given the option of creating graphic novels and video diaries as well as written material.

Through the use of a timeline presentation of invasions, we told the class a bit more about the history of invasion in Afghanistan; we thought it was important the class understood the extent of conflict in this part of the world. We also drew their attention to some religious aspects and information on current situations, aid and charity work.


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Explaining relevance
In our first lesson we introduced ourselves and explained a little about Learning School and our research into the future of learning, teaching and schools. We went on to explain that Identity was one of our Rich Task topics, and that we were particularly focusing topic in SBHS. Identity is such a central theme in The Kite Runner that we were very keen to work with Ms Demaine – and we hope that the work we have done will help the students during their later assignments.

Variety in learning method
The class was asked to split themselves into groups of 5, where they could discuss and jot down as many different aspects that make up one’s Identity as they could think of. They were asked to pay particular attention to aspects relating to the novel: for example; parental influence. After 10 minutes each team gave some of their examples, which were written up on the board.


Opportunity for autonomy and creativity
At this stage we introduced the project work we wanted them to do: create a diary box (which could contain a variety of things such as pages from a diary or a completed diary, letters, clippings from papers, photographs, items, labels… Anything really!) video diary or graphic novel.

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To help the boys get started we gave them four scenarios that they could base their diary/graphic novel around:
  • War has just broken out in your Country…
  • You have been forced to flee your family home…
  • Your best friend has just betrayed you…
  • Your father has just informed you that you are to marry his co-workers daughter

Students did not have to focus on Afghanistan. For example, one boy decided to base his diary on a boy from Iraq. We did ask that the students included at least 3 clear elements from the Identity list. For example, this could mean having a look at things such as religion, ethnicity, parental influence, education, wealth, friendship, regret and bravery. We also highlighted the fact that initiative was desirable and that we wanted them to be as true to history and real life as possible, whilst being creative. Where requested, work in pairs was permitted.

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Resources
Students were then left to think and plan what they wanted to do and make a start on their project work. In some of our classes in Ridgewood, students suggested we give more examples – so we also provided diary extract examples. We also left some fact sheets and books at the front of the class, and were available for students to ask us questions.

For the second lesson we booked the library computer room. Students were invited to use the computers for research, writing and images. The class as a whole appeared fairly productive, although it could be said there was a ‘sliding-scale’ between distraction and engagement; both enthusiasm and uncertainty were seen.


Observations
Unfortunately, this project remains uncompleted, due to the Earthquake, 22nd February. Reflection on this Rich Task was due to take place in the fourth and final session, so we have little feedback, save our own observation.

From this observation, several points can be made.
  1. This type of project work seemed to evoke interest in some but confusion in others – some of the boys seemed a little lost having this level of autonomy over the project. Some asked a lot of questions about what they were supposed to do, not quite grasping the fact that they could decide themselves.
  2. They did not all choice the same task: all three options (video diary, graphic novel and box diary) were covered.
  3. With resources available and easily accessible, we saw a lot of self-motivated research. For example, one boy, who was initially unenthusiastic, was later seen researching the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I witnessed only one example of internet misuse (boy playing game).
  4. The class seemed comfortable, good relationship with teacher and willing to speak out.


Without completed work and evaluation from the students themselves, we can’t comment much on the potential success of this project. The main message to take away is that, while initial offers of autonomy over learning can lead to increased engagement, it can make some people uncomfortable. Perhaps this is something that is most relevant when autonomy over learning is not the norm?