The Sea Company

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Navratil Brothers

The children have been eager to find out more about the story of the Navratil brothers, age 2 and 3 who survived the sinking of the Titanic after being kidnapped by their father, boarding the ship with the false name of Hoffman, Their father passed them into the last lifeboat and died in the sinking. I decided to spend two weeks exploring the whole story through drama conventions, with each child making their own ongoing information book about the story of the boys.

Here is the teaching sequence :

1. Mother and Father in France. Choose 3 children to be the mother and the children as they say goodbye to the father. Decide together how the group will look as they leave (frozen image). Father is looking out of a window, watching his children leaving. Rest of class position themselves as father (collective role). Thought track what the father is thinking. The three people leaving are activated to call back a parting message to father (rest can help by going to one of the trio and whispering what to say.)

2. The kidnap. Look at a poster advertising the Titanic’s voyage to a America – remind children that hundreds of people saw this as a start to a new life in a new country. Children in role as father come and stand looking at the poster, saying what they are thinking.

This worked particularly well. Some of the children are now beginning to use ambiguous language as if they are aware of the power of suggestion and uncertainty in the drama e.g. one boy looked at the poster thoughtfully, turned round to the rest of the class and said'It's time .....'

3. How is Michel going to explain to the boys what is going to happen?
Teacher in role as dad – class in role as boys – as Dad tries to explain that he is
going to take them away, the boys ask him questions.

4. Father tells the boys they need to pack just one suitcase, taking only the things they
need. Children go to draw what they pack in their suitcase (in special books). Also
stick in passenger information about the boys and father. (My class to design cover
for book in ICT.)

5. On board the Titanic. Shared drawing of 2nd class cabin (me drawing big picture as the class tell me all the details to include.) Children to draw their own cabins in their books.

I love this convention - it always works really well, with a huge outpouring of ideas - amazing detail.

6. In role as the children (work in threes). Decide together one of the things you were doing on board. Make into photograph with a caption – two as children, one as caption reader. Draw the photograph and add the caption in your book.

7. The sinking : create frame distance by observations concerning the boys and their father coming from different characters on board the ship:

The passenger who helped to dress and carry the boys on deck.
Captain Smith
Molly Brown
Margaret Hays
One of the children on board.

All these people saw something relating to the boys in the confusion. Sit in 5 groups - one for each role. Take it in turns to call out one thing you saw.

This was an exhausting session, but worth it as the children were very engaged and there was a charged atmosphere because we were dealing with the 'big' moment'. I didn't want the action to get panicky or silly, hence the frame distance by them observing what was happening to the boys rather than being the boys. This seemed to work well.I was given a 'gift' when one child said he had climbed up inot the crows nest and was looking down ontoi the deck, so we all took on that role and said what we could see.

8. Group of children to form the circle of crew around Collapsible Lifeboat D. Child in role as Margaret Hays in lifeboat. Teacher in role as 2nd officer Charles Lightoller (also controlling / slowing down action.) Father and friend with children approach the lifeboat, step by step – CL will keep calling stop to check the rules are being kept ‘women and children only!’ etc. + asking questions to the two men. Children are handed through to Margaret Hays.

The role of Margaret Hays was taken on by a bright girl who has found it quite hard to engage in the drama and is generally reluctant to speak in a whole class context, though has been happy doing all the other tasks so far. It has taken her this long, but today she was there, speaking her thoughts and totally engaged in this role. The crew, with arms linked created a real tension and, again, the 2nd officer 'controlling' the speed of the action semed to stop it descending into something more chaotic or superficial. Someone suggested at this point that we read out the actual words that the father said to his eldest son as he passed him into the lifeboat, so I found the quote and asked one of the children to read it - it was a hushed and poignant moment.

In the lifeboat, looking at the Titanic sinking. Thought tracking.

10. Back in France. The mother reads the newspaper with the report about 'The orphans of the Titanic. Create a mock up of the newspaper with some headlines, a brief report and a photo of the children. Children to take turns to sit in the chair and read out the headlines and report out loud. Then continue to come to chair, look at the paper and say one thought out loud.

This was very efective. The children said afterwards that they really enjoyed this becasue they wanted to see what was inside the newspaper, especially the photograph. As in the episode of the Dad looking at the poster, their words were carefully chosen and suggestive rather than obvious.

12. The family re-united. 3 children in role (or teacher + 2 children) as mother and sons, posing for photograph for the newspapers. Rest of class in role as journalists asking them questions.

13. Look at the list and pictures of Michel Navratil’s effects, found with his body when it was pulled out of the sea (reveal these one by one). Put each piece into context e.g. coat – bought by his wife for his birthday.

Last of all, reveal the revolver (a loaded revolver was found in his pocket.)

Draw some of the items and write down beside each one the context that you have decided.

This session was incredible! They were fascinated by the very ordinary things that were found on his body - a pocket book, a pipe in a case, a bill for the hotel where he had stayed with his sons in London etc. When the gun was revealed there was a collective gasp! It was interesting that many of the children suddenly decided he was an evil man, even though they had been pretty forgiving about the kidnapping. We got into three groups at this point: those who thought he was bad; those who thought he was good and those who thought he was a mixture of bad and good. Each group took it in turns to present one reason for their case - people were allowed to change groups at any point their mind was changed. This was a huge debate that went on for nearly 20 minutes - why did he have a gun? In what circumstances would he use it? Where did he get it? Who might he fire it at?

At the end of this session several people had changed their minds more than once, but still wanted to know more. One child suggested that we should hot seat Michel and ask him some questions - others wnated to hot seat other people. Great - the children are suggesting their own drama conventions nbow to fit the situation!! We did just that and hot seated Mochel, the passenger who had helped him save the boys and his wife. Powerful stuff - the questions were so focussed beacause they really wanted to find out the truth! What was the truth? Well, even after all their questions there were still many doubts and ambiguities .....

Titanic Reunion. Show photograph of the 85 year old Michel Jr at a Titanic Reunion. In role as survivors from the Titanic, move round the reunion room introducing yourself and asking questions to others.

We actually built on this with a quick technique I thought up to focus the questioning more: the survivors got into groups of three to form a 'question circle' in which a) asks b) a question, b ) answers a) and then asks c) a question and so on in a loop. This worked so well - the groups carried it on for quite a time and the questions were realy focussed and supported - they said afterwards that if anyone got stuck then the other two helped them think of a new question. There wasn't one person in the class who couldn't manage to interact in this way. Some of the 3's said they thought they could have gone on for hours!!

The books they have made are great - they have been using ICT time to create documents such as the hotel bill and the menus on the boat the boys might have eaten. They have found photos from books and the internet which they have stuck in and captioned and have written newspaper headlines and reports. They also all wrote a dramatic account of the sinking from the point of view of one of the people in the story - some engaging and dramatic writing arose, I believe, from the fact they had 'been there' in the drama and explored different perspectives and viewpoints over time.


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