Tuesday 5 April 2011

An Odd Experience with a Jar of Macaroni

You need to be careful when making school visits that the teacher who has invited you does not have a really peculiar agenda.
When my novel for 9-11s, The Lombardy Grotto, came out, I went on a school tour. I offered a free visit, though asked for travel expenses to be paid and to be allowed to sell copies of my book. In most cases this was fine. I read a little from the book, asked the students questions and allowed them to ask me questions, then sold and signed a few copies.
But then there was the school with the macaroni jar.
I guess I should have been suspicious when the class teacher informed me the Literacy Coordinator was going to be present “So there shouldn’t be any problems.”
The children sat quietly and attentively on the mat. I introduced myself and my book. I was slightly distracted as the classroom teacher was holding a huge empty jar and a packet of macaroni twists.
“That was really good, children,” said the classroom teacher. “You listened really well.” A few pieces of macaroni clattered into the jar.
I asked a few questions. “What do you think has happened to Michael?”
“He’s been gobbled up by monsters,” shouted out a small boy with curly blond hair.
“Don’t shout out, Joe,” said the teacher, “or I’ll have to take some of the macaroni out of the jar.”
Several children had their hands up. I tried to be democratic as I picked who should answer.
“That’s it,” mumbled the teacher. “Hands up and wait to be asked.” Plink, plink, plink as more macaroni fell into the jar.
I moved on to the next passage I was going to read.
She sat there nodding to herself and plinking macaroni into the jar.
There was the odd fidget and the odd attempt at what those in the trade call low level disruption. Well, they’d been sitting still on the floor for quite a while. It’s only to be expected.
Low level disruption is best ignored and if one disrupter is persistent, it’s best to give them the distraction they crave but turn it round and focus on their potential good behaviour rather than on the disruption.
But did the macaroni plinker know this? Oh no!
“Joe, careful, or I’ll be taking some of this macaroni out,” she said, as I caught Joe’s eye and had begun to pretend that I was talking just to him.
Most of the disruption was the sound of macaroni hitting glass.
“Well, that was good, wasn’t it?” said Macaroni Plinker. “You listened really well and look,” – she paused to hold the macaroni jar up high – “the jar’s almost full today.”
“I think we should thank Gill for her visit,” said Literacy Coordinator.”
“Whooh ooh!” shouted Joe.
The class teacher’s had strayed towards the jar. Literacy Coordinator frowned slightly and shook her head.
The other children clapped.
I guess, then, the visit had been successful even if the classroom teacher had thought it was more to do with good behaviour pasta than having a real live author in the room.

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