Saturday, April 8, 2006

Judging the Kwentong Kalikasan 2006

When we met last, I told Ani Almario that very soon I'll write my thoughts as judge in this year's RCBC Kwentong Kalikasan Contest. Finally, I am fulfilling my promise.

What kept me from starting a draft were constraints attributed to too much work in school, grad school and on the side. I just didn't have the time. What made me begin, however, was a piece of paper that held my precious honorarium. Call me thick, but money does change everything.

Honestly, I was surprised. It was an unexpected delivery. Nevertheless, it was a wake up call to finish my judging duties. I realized that the organizers, the contestants and their moderators deserve feedback. It would be a disservice to them if I keep it all to myself. So here it goes - my feedback, observations and recommendations to teacher moderators of the students who joined and who, in the future, will join this contest.

First of all my general comments. The entries provided me a glimpse at how reading and writing is being taught in Philippine schools today. There are so many things I want to say about this, but perhaps, it would be better to save it for another post. The stories written were greatly influenced by broadcast media, television, MTV and Disney- proving once more that western influence is very strong. More stories were written in English, besides. Some entries were written in folk loric fashion and they always end up with a sermon or a disaster, likewise the use of dreams to change an attitude, a way of life, a perception or world view and in introducing a whole new culture. There is an appropriate use of dreams and it takes a certain sophistication for it to be effective. In most stories, the tendency to preach is inevitable. I find this debilitating rather than empowering.

It is important for moderators to teach their students the responsibility that writers carry on their shoulders and how it can give them great power. Written stories are meant to be read.

Consider with great care the possible and potential readers of the story. A reader thinks. A reader feels. A reader acts on these thoughts and feelings. Reading is an interactive process. The reader reacts and responds to a written text. A reader brings forth a wealth of experiences that are activated when reading a story, a narrative, a non-fiction material, anything under the sun. This is true to all people, children included.

Speaking of reading, it appears that the books and materials that teacher-moderators are exposed to are very limited. There are so many wonderful environment stories out there and it seems that these are not yet discovered by them. I have included titles of good books that tackle environment issues and concepts at the end of this article as recommended reads. May the list help.

Now off to the nitty-gritty and the nit-picking!

1. Know thy objectives. Are you joining to win the lucrative prize? Are you joining for fame, popularity or promotion? Are you moderating your students because you believe that the contest is a good training ground to develop their writing potentials? Or you're joining because you believe in the power of story to move people into action, thereby, affecting change? Tough questions? It does not require a correct or wrong answer, really. My point is, you have to know what you are doing and the reasons or intentions you have with in yourself otherwise, you can not plan or prepare well enough. If your objectives are unclear, sit down and develop them. Envision ways to reach them. And always, always, put top priority on the children that you are moderating. They will learn your ways and model your writing habits.

2. Submit a decent manuscript. Two adjectives that matter; CLEAN and COMPLETE. Follow the guidelines. If it does not call for illustrations, forego the drawings.

3. Stick to the theme, but think "out of the box". Animals, tress, mountains have been animated in many a story by very good writers. Model their examples, but challenge yourself and your students to cook up something new, fresh or unconventional. A formula may work, but even Disney has given up on these formulas so stop finding Nemo. Focus on little things and magnify their importance. A simple walk on the beach can elicit so many insights. A small empty shell can be everything to a hermit crab. A pearl begins life in a clam. A starfish may hold a secret that is only known to the wind and the waves. Every mountain, hill and rock has a story as ancient as the seas. Imagine what these are and explore them.

4. Think of text structures to help you establish a good plot. These are, cause and effect; problem-solution, chronological order, part-whole relationships, etc.

5. Write regularly. And I mean you! Yes, the moderator. Follow the process involved in writing. It requires DISCIPLINE and HARD WORK.

Lastly, endings do not have to be good or happy all the time. You'll see what I mean until next post. I will share with you some good books to study, to analyze, to model and, of course, to READ.

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