Earlier this year, my teen students were reading Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Some of them had embraced the rhythm of the epic poem, and were quite enjoying it. Others were stymied by the flow and vocabulary, and were not enjoying it at all.
To guide our in-class discussion, we use a Literature Circle protocol. Students are assigned a role (which changes each week), conduct their investigations outside of class, and bring their findings to discuss with their classmates. The students lead; I only jump in when I feel a point needs further analysis or elaboration.
On this particular day, in the middle of our discussion, the group headed off on a wild tangent. One of the students suggested writing another Beowulf story, with some twists to the characterization. From there, others joined in, and the intensity continued to rise. Ideas ran amok and included everything from Beowulf being gay and marrying King Hrothgar to Grendel’s mother killing Beowulf, and a whole lot of other derivations.
This discussion went on for some time, and included a lot of laughter and off-the-wall thinking. At one point, I was telling myself, “You need to get control back.” Fortunately, my wiser self stepped in and said, “Are you crazy? This is the best thinking they have done all year!”
I was reminded how important it is to be flexible, to savor those times when students are totally engaged in a process, and just let go! Deeper learning is the result.