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August 2021

Reading Cicada by Shaun Tan: A reflective experience after the Social Outbreak in Chile in October 2019

Reading Cicada by Shaun Tan: A reflective experience after the Social Outbreak in Chile in October 2019 1080 1066 Lavinia Hirsu

When the “Estallido” (social outbreak) occurred on October 18, 2019 in Chile, the school where I work, a public school and with a high number of vulnerable students, went on a reflective strike called by High School students. As a teacher of a 4th grade, with students between 9 and 12 years old, I used the opportunity to create a space for reflection.

Thus, we read the book Cicada by Shaun Tan, together. I selected this book because it addresses concepts such as inequality and also feeling “invisible” before a powerful other. Cicada works day and night, in very poor conditions, barely surviving, and with the knowledge that others are aware of its neglect but decide to ignore it. These are feelings that were flourishing in Chile and that were reflected in the Estallido. We are an unequal country in which, for too long, some have lived with wealth and privilege, while others, like my students and their families, are trapped in a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities, perpetuated due only to where they were born. For this reason, I believed that this book could provoke a reflection on what they were already living in their homes and that they were observing on the news and, thus, could lead to talking as a class about what they were feeling.

To create the environment for reading, I did what I usually do: I read the book aloud to them, and I walked around the room showing its pages. While I was reading, I changed the voices according to the character, I made pauses at moments that I thought required a little more time to analyze, both in the written and visual aspects, and I was also guiding them to look at elements that, perhaps, they did not see. Given that we had already read together several times before, there were times when the students themselves told me: “teacher, there you can see that the body of the Cicada is changing color”, for example, showing that they had also noticed the visual elements that the text offered. This experience was very powerful, because throughout the year I had already carried out activities of Reading Animation (Read Aloud) and they handled certain concepts such as “text”, “illustration” and “double coding”, but in an applied manner. They understood that the picture books that I read to them had to be decoded both in their written and visual code in order to understand them.

After reading the text, we made space for further reflection. One thing I repeat to my students is that we want to hear their opinion. All reflections are valid, as long as they are supported by what they read and / or their personal experiences. For that, I recommend the book “Disrupting Thinking: Why how we read matters” (Beers, K. & Probst, R., 2017), whose authors address the importance of relating what readers read to their lives and also reflect on a moment of the story that they liked or that attracted their attention and why. From the proposals of these authors, I created a worksheet that we completed with my students after reading, so that they could organize their ideas.

The reading produced many emotions in them. Some of the words they mentioned were “injustice” due to the situation to which the Cicada was exposed. They also said they had felt anger and grief as they read the book. One of them related it to the work experience of his father, who often spoke at home about how badly he was treated at work. Another student, related it to how his family lived, all 6 of them in one room, like the Cicada, who lived between the walls of the office.

When making the connection with what was currently happening in Chile, their response was varied. Some said that the Cicadas in Chile had also gotten tired. Others connected the end of the story, which is very hopeful, with the fact that in Chile, we could also have a calm ending of the Estallido.

When we finished reading, we did an activity in which they came to the front of the class to write down on a craft paper how they dreamed their country should be like; what they expected from Chile. You can see from the pictures that they have a lot to say and to contribute about their country and how to improve it.

Throughout my years of teaching, I have always sought to create these spaces for reflection based on diverse readings and I can confidently say that they are invaluable opportunities to appreciate books and, at the same time, delve into ourselves. Books are a portal to learn more about the world, but specially, about yourself.

I hope my mediation experience will be of use to more mediators in other parts of the world.

Trinidad Arellano Moya

Spanish Elementary School Teacher, Santiago, Chile @profetrini


Bibliographic reference:

Beers, K. & Probst, R. (2017). Disrupting Thinking: Why how we read matters. Scholastic.