Friday, December 04, 2015


Animals and education: a discovery


We have to start with the positive sides first, and there are many.

Each animal is presented with a text first and illustrations second. The text is informative and the illustrations are visually accurate. The children then can enter that first layer of the book easily and safely. The information is most of the time accurate, at least for urban users. It’s quite obvious the author has never worked on a farm. Cows may look placid, but they may be very dangerous. A 15 year old teenager was killed recently in a village next to mine by a cow who kicked him with both its hind legs against a wall. He did what I was told never to do when I was his age and worked on farms: he managed to get himself trapped between a cow’s rump and a wall and the cow reacted as if she were menaced (the best defense is to attack). I was told that when dealing with cows we had to have a stick about four or five feet long, not to beat the cows but to keep a safe distance between them and me: the safe distance that a back kick could not bridge, and of course I was told to never get myself trapped between the rump of a cow and a wall. Peaceful? Indeed, and you should see a stampeding herd of even only ten or twelve cows to know they are not that peaceful, and you better not find yourself on their way.

But for urban users this book is fine. The list of animals concerned is varied and the descriptions are rather clear. For children that are about ten years old, I think though the author could have used the concept of mammal which is not used and then whales and dolphins are mammals. The fact is explained differently; like the necessity to breathe air (what about turtles?) or the necessity for the mother to feed her cubs with her milk, but the concept itself, the word, is quite clear and could have been useful.

As a jumping or diving board for class work this book is good. It will open a few doors and then with the Internet in the class on tablets or computers the children could find a lot more, like the fact that African elephants are diurnal whereas Asian elephants are nocturnal.

The second layer of the book is also interesting. It sets up dialogues between two people, either two young pupils discussing, and mostly repeating, what has been said in the presentations, or one pupil and his or her mother or father. Why only two? Because these dialogues go beyond the simple information about animals and try to build some social education like the relations between brother and sister, the authority of parents, the advisory power and role of the parents, etc. Personally I think these dialogues should have concentrated more on the data about animals and widened the information. But this second layer should be the model of an activity in class. Pairs or triplets of students should be assigned the mission to get more information about one animal and to present a live dialogue or scene discussing the information and data they would have found with open questions leading to various points of view assumed and presented by the pupils. It is by being active that the students will really integrate the information:
1-       active in looking for more data;
2-       active in building a dialogue or scene debating some questions;
3-       active in presenting these dialogues and scenes live.

The third layer of each presentation opens up on a set of (mostly seven) questions, but most of the time it is only checking if some data has been assimilated. Rare are the questions – but there are a few – that actually ask the pupils to explain what they think and how they feel about an issue. It is these questions that should be the very core of the dialogues and scenes the students should be asked to build. For example why we should not kill wild animals, elephants, tigers, whales, etc.

As a springboard or a trampoline  this book is interesting but then the parents (???) and teachers should use it for the students to amplify the data and to make the students become active, productive and not only receptive. There then should be somewhere, and not in the book, a teacher’s guide or adult user’s methodological booklet explaining all you can do with the book when associated with the internet. The book should not be a book but a Kindle ebook with next to it the Internet access window and several sites with information on the various animals for the children to check and enrich their knowledge. The children could even be suggested to produce their own chapter with the information they could find and with illustrations downloaded from the Internet. Some may even think of ironical, satirical or humoristic presentations.

The few grammatical or syntactic remarks at the end are not always accurate. The note on “Gerunds” gives examples of no gerund at all. A gerund needs an “agent” in the possessive case and a direct object like in: “I love my mother’s cooking brownies.”  If there is no agent at all or an “agent” in the object case it is a present participle (with of course all complements built verbally since the present participle is a full verbal though non-finite form. If there is no agent, or an “agent” in the possessive case and what could have been a direct object but is a  nominal complement introduced by the preposition “of” we have a real and full noun that could be an –ing verbal form but could also be any other noun derived from a verb like in “I watched the departure of the train” which is similar to “I watched the hunting of the rat” or “ I watched the rat hunt” on the model of “a witch hunt” and we could even have “the ratshunt” on the model of “a manshunt”

This is a lot more important than it may look. If we have a present participle or a gerund we can have an adverb though in different positions. Otherwise we use an adjective:
1-       Present participle: “Yesterday night I liked Paul dramatically reading Hamlet in the street” (Action);
2-       “Yesterday night I liked Paul’s reading Hamlet in the street dramatically” (Action);
3-       “Yesterday night I liked Paul’s dramatic reading of Hamlet in the street, which amplified the dramatic reading of Hamlet he presented in his afternoon lecture in class.” (Interpretation, two meanings).

But once again this book may, can and should be a very good launching pad for an interesting set of activities a teacher could build in his class with his pupils. Up to 10 years of age or so. Beyond would require a lot more biology.


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