Bok Center

When: December 9-11, 2014
Where: Cambridge, MA, USA
Institution: The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University
Facilitator: Doris Sommer
Text: excerpt from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude


With the support of the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning,Professor Doris Sommer facilitated a Pre-Texts workshop on December 9-11, 2014. There were twenty-six participants, including Harvard Teaching Fellows, students from the Harvard School of Education, Professor Vialla Hartfield-Méndez of Emory University, and educators from Puerto Rico and Colombia. Through art-making activities, participants interpreted an excerpt from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.


The Bok Center workshop followed the Pre-Texts structure: all participants read the same text and used it as a starting point and created art based on their interpretation of a selection from One Hundred Years of Solitude. The participants produced plays and created music, posters, games and fashion shows. They composed texts such as poetry and stories that were edited, revised, and published on the clothesline.


The participants noted that Pre-Texts allowed them to learn from the text, individually and with one another. In a classroom where the teacher is often perceived as the authority, participation may be inhibited and creativity repressed. Because Pre-Texts entails collaborative work and the participation of all members, the group develops solidarity and creativity is heightened. Further, the question “What did we do?” encourages further reflection on each activity and its results.


Harvard Graduate School of Education Field Experience Intern, Wanwan Weng’s reflections:


This workshop challenged my own educational experiences in China, where the teacher is always the authority. Students seldom have a chance to stand in front of the class and express their own thoughts. Although the current methods in China may be effective for test-oriented teaching, they do not foster civic education, which I think is needed in China. Pre-Texts opens up possibilities, and I can’t wait to try it in the future!


As a former ESL teacher, I was inspired by this workshop in terms of language and literacy instruction. Every facilitator in the workshop adopted different art forms to study the same text, finding excuses for students to read and reread. The activities were fun and effective. More importantly, I found that all the activities using the Pre-Texts concept could involve high cultural responsiveness, which is crucial in a classroom full of culture and linguistic diversity.