I knew it was fraught with danger but it had to be done. Yes, I went ahead and did it, and gave scissors to everyone of my Year 9 (14-year-old) pupils yesterday!
We are studying Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and the idea was that the pupils cut out key quotes from the novel (we’d worked out what they were the lesson before and I’d typed up their ideas) and then chose what would be the best quotes for their essay, which is about the ways in which Steinbeck presents women in the novel. The idea behind them cutting them out was that they could move the quotes around and put them in “rank order” with the most important first, and also match them with key points.
Yes, I know, you’re saying: what a complete waste of time! Why can’t they just write on the quotation sheet, annotating the quotes, labelling the ones that are the most important? I would have probably said this a year, but I went a very inspiring lecture given by a neuroscientist which really showed that when children work with their hands (including teenagers) they learn more because this is the way we evolved as a species. It appears that language and tool-making actually evolved together; in other words, our intelligence evolved exponentially when we started doing stuff with our hands.
Hence, the scissors! The cutting out of the quotes caused a great deal of mess in my classroom, which some nice pupils — after being instructed quite forcefully by yours truly — cleared up, but the class enjoyed the session and did seem to have learned quite a bit about Steinbeck’s chronically sexist attitudes. (Classic quotes from the book: “I never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her.” “Well I think Curley’s married…a tart” and “Jesus, what a tramp.”)
And no one stabbed anyone else. Success!