As a way to discuss our way through All Quiet on the Western Front, I have assigned different groups of students to prepare vocabulary, factual questions for a quiz (which each group will grade), and interpretive questions to discuss for each reading assignment. The students usually give the quizes orally and are often yelled at by the rest of the students if they haven’t yet completed their answers before the next question is asked. A couple reading assignments ago, one group came up with the idea that when students were finished answering the question, they should put their pencils down, and the assigned group would then know when to ask the next question.
Today this idea took on a whole new choreography. I think it started when FH told everyone to put down their pencils “loudly” when they finished each quiz question. After answering the first question and after their pencils were put down “loudly,” a creative, imaginative, and silent hand choreography emerged, arms swaying and swooping in ever-growing energetic, kinesthetic movements. The next question was asked and as each student finished his/her answer, they “loudly” put down their writing instruments and their arms began even more exaggerated but silent hand and arm gestures. It was clear each student was working to amplify and overplay, to compete with each other to create the most original and expressive arm dancing in the room. At one point the room looked like a vast bed of undulating sea anemones. With each question we seemed to be building to a frenzied crescendo.
But just as it had become more and more grandiose and high-spirited, it started to wear itself out. By the time the tenth quiz question was asked, there were a few vestigial arm movements, but the energy had mostly dissipated and the quiz landed as if the choreography of arms were only a vague dream. Then we all sat in a circle for a discussion of chapters 8 and 9 of All Quiet on the Western Front.
The quirky and innocent playfulness of middle schoolers, even 8th graders, as they navigate that space between child and adult, is a wonder to behold.