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PUPPET FAMILIES
 
Jessica Wright from Wesley College in Victoria recently wrote this article for the VILTA newsletter about her experience using our hand-puppets. She came up with some terrific ideas to inspire and motivate her Year 9 class.

Ayo bermain wayang – Puppeteering in the middle years!

A story and review of Indo Ink hand puppets by Jessica Wright

It was with more than a little trepidation that I announced to my year 9 Indonesian class that we would be using hand puppets as part of our upcoming oral assessment tasks. I was confident that my year 7’s would get into it and I was pretty sure that, with a little encouragement, my year 8’s would too. I just wasn’t sure whether 15 year olds with raging hormones would get into puppeteering! With this in mind, I prepared for the worst, steeling myself for comments along the lines of ‘that’s babyish’ or ‘we’re too old for that’.

So, imagine my surprise when the students responded enthusiastically to the task. They were excited to meet the new ‘members of our class’ and enthusiastically responded to their task of naming each of the puppets. Serious discussion ensued, with students pondering matters such as why ‘Wayan’ might not be a suitable name for a Javanese male and whether any Indonesian names could be unisex. Religion was also considered, with 90% of the population being Muslim, chances were slim that the family members would have names like ‘Vinsentius’ or ‘Maria’. After heated discussion, our puppets were named and the students were ready for their next challenge.

Students set to work writing their scripts. Other than setting the basic topic (in this case, discussion of Indonesian handicrafts as a prelude to buying a gift), students were free to experiment. It was great hearing them discuss cultural aspects of their script such as the wording of the bargaining – the students adopted their new identities and could see the importance of constructing their scripts in a culturally appropriate manner. Humour was also an important element of the scripts – the students obviously wanted to ‘entertain’ as well as fulfil the criteria.

Once the script writing, reviewing and editing process was complete, the students were nearly ready to perform. The final step in preparing for the performances was a discussion about what makes a good puppet performance. Students came up with simple but relevant suggestions such as the need to speak especially clearly because the audience can’t see the speaker’s lips moving, making sure the puppets are facing towards the audience, using movement of the puppet’s hands and head to bring it to life and using props to make the performance more realistic. The need to practise beforehand to aid fluency, pronunciation and intonation was also discussed.

Finally we were ready. The video camera was cued, the stage set (literally) and off we went. The difference between students doing a role-play (standing with hands in pockets trying to remember the lines) and performing their puppet plays was amazing. Students whose role-play performances usually lacked energy were animated and excited. They felt confident to be more flamboyant and outgoing. Students whose pronunciation usually had an ‘ocker twang’ tried especially hard to sound ‘Indonesian’ and succeeded. Students who usually spoke to the floor ‘looked’ their audience in the eye and the audience looked back, glued to each performance. It was as if they were drawn by an invisible force – clearly the students found the puppets infinitely more engaging, believable and entertaining to watch compared with the usual role-plays.

Once the performances were finished, the students were keen to view them again. Watching the video gave the students a chance to view their own performances and make use of peer and self-assessment. Students came up with a variety of positive comments for each other, as well as some constructive criticism. Clearly they intend to do an even better job next time!

I have since used the hand puppets in my year 7 and 8 classes, both of which were equally as successful. Students were extremely motivated, and all enjoyed both performing their own plays and viewing their classmate’s performances. Some even wanted to do a repeat performance of their plays to improve their marks! While reflecting on the experience, students made the following comments:

- “they’re really fun to use”

- “using puppets is not as scary as acting”

- “you don’t get as nervous”

- “they’re much more animated to watch”

- “you can use humour really well”

There are two puppet families – Javanese and Muslim. Each family comes in a set of six containing kakek, nenek, ayah, ibu, anak laki-laki and anak perempuan. The male characters of the Javanese family come complete with blangkon (traditional batik headdress), the females with sanggul (traditional hair style). The Muslim family are also suitably attired – the males wear peci (Islamic hat) and the women wear jilbab (Islamic veil). They are all bright, light and easy to use, although some of my older students found the finger hole in the head of the puppets a tight squeeze. You may need to watch the stitching - with heavy use it is inevitable that repairs will have to be made to keep them looking good. The puppets cost $110 for one family or $200 for both families ($20 discount). It may be useful to purchase both families because, more often than not, students will choose to use the children characters - if you have both families there will be four children’s characters to choose from.

So, if you’re after something new and exciting for your classroom, this may well be it. This experience has proved to me that students are never too old for some good old-fashioned puppeteering fun and, after all, how many other classes out there can boast happy and laughter-filled oral assessment tasks?

Click here to see more about our puppets.

 

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