“Read English Actively for Language and Life Skills” is an innovative way to celebrate novels, stories, poems, and lyrics via drama and the arts.
REALL is all about inclusion, diversity, and equal opportunity.
Students enhance all 4 language skills (Reading – Writing – Listening – Speaking) while practicing 21st century life skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and confidence.
Alison Larkin Koushki is chair of REALL Special Interest Group, established in 2017. Originally from Boston, Alison has taught in American University of Kuwait’s Intensive English Program for 7 years. She has found a key to engaging students in English: living the language on stage — and how much fun this can be! Have you ever heard of these famous novels: Psycho? The Godfather? Frankenstein? Pride and Prejudice? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
At AUK, Alison’s students have learned how to “Bring Reading to Life.” In her technique, students use the arts — drawing, painting, music, drama, and choreography — to celebrate language. At the same time, they practice both language and life skills. Alison is taking REALL “on the road” to schools and universities throughout Kuwait and beyond, and she wants YOU!
The Secret Behind the REALL Logo: TWO BIRDS
There was a half-cocked rooster living close to campus. Crowing is done in the morning, but this rooster didn’t know that. Arriving on campus or departing, there it was: the mad rooster’s non-stop crow. This bird had something to quack about ready or not. It had my attention because I did too. I never laid eyes on this rooster, but imagined it as a chanticleer, all manner of orange and azure, prancing about announcing things. I had birds on the brain.
Mr. Fadhel was a resourceful librarian with a talented healthy dish creationist after hours. The library was well within earshot of the racket. He lost it laughing when I stated my interest in a rooster logo. “You have something in common with that crackpot?” Indeed, I did.
Summer 2016, back in Boston: By this time, “Bring Reading to Life” was climbing the walls, reaching like ravenous ivy. Logo ideas visited my subconscious; birds were in my belfry. Through reading, we fly free, whole worlds pop up from mere words. Two birds perched on my shoulder when I closed my eyes, fluttering for the love of it, splitting the morning light. Pages rustled and cool colors rose, tangerine and turquoise, as the birds flew out of the open book in my mind’s eye. Feathers scattered and danced.
Never good at drawing, suddenly I was. I still have that yellow lined sticky note somewhere. Way after midnight in an upstairs bedroom I pencil-caught the 3 of them before they flew away: bird, bird, and book. One was fully out and soaring, the other emerging, back arched, toes curled for takeoff.
The acronym beneath it was BRTL at first: “Bring Reading to Life,” the course I was teaching. This would later change to REALL: Read English Actively for Language and Life.
So, who were these two birds? Feathers soft and silky as I held them in my hands, their little hearts a boombox and eyes that knew it all, darting with curiosity, this way and that.
Sarah and Fatemah! In that spring 2013 English reading-writing class, we all 3 met, and Bam! We had already taken on the world, as we knew it. Cheerful morning light blessed the hours with that class, English 031, Section 01; we all reveled in it. Winter was still with us at first. White caps shivered over the sapphire and teal sea. Catching my third eye from our wall of windows, there I was on the Atlantic shores of my childhood, 3 generations down from the Irish who had braved the voyage. You could feel the sunny cold. We had a whole wall of windows. Already in love with this class and eager to share what was precious to me, I wrote “white caps” on the board, which led to baseball caps, capital letters, and “caput” from my 4 years of Latin in high school. Maryam’s mother was an Arabic teacher, and she was the first to tell me “sea butter,” churned from the waves. Ah, the fresh look at reality learning a language brings!
I had always been a dutiful educator, leaving no page unturned, but now something else was stirring in me. Risky artistic ideas were fired me up despite myself, so I asked them. Do we dare put ourselves out there and act our novel Psycho? Do we dare put ourselves out there and compete in the nationwide English skills “University Challenge”? Naturally, students would say no. Who would want to take on lots of work and risk? My class of 19 18 year-olds would set me straight, re-orient me to reality, and save me from myself, right? A body at rest tends to remain at rest, right?
Wrong! Flirting with fate coquettishly, I dangled those 2 possibilities, sure the class would shut me down. Distracting myself waiting for their reaction with a glance across the room to the window across the sand to the turquoise on teal, I felt no resistance rising. Why? That was alarming. I believe I asked them to vote yea or nay, and they did. Yea!? 2 students were particularly thrilled, radiating sunbeams from their seats. “We’ll be REAL university students!” Sarah said from her perch in the back row, window side. Fatemah looked over at Sarah from the second row, wall side, barely able to stay seated, grinning non-stop. Me? I stood gobsmacked.
No turning back; the whole class was on board. We watched the 1960 movie Psycho in class after reading the novel. Frightened from the driven malevolent music, Jumana H. made a move to leave, but sat back down. I related the story of my parents dressing nicely and “going to the movies” that summer. They returned to our beach cottage transformed, unable to speak, flatlined. Such was the effect of the first on screen murder, or suggestion thereof. When they did speak it was, “No, you are not allowed to see it.”
When Maryam and Jumana M., our set designers, sheepishly asked to start Saturday rehearsal early, I knew this was REALL. I had seen many an apathetic student, but this was zeal! The main challenge setting up the mini Bates Motel Lobby and Room 1 was the shower. Mariam and Jumana had a shower head and strips of tile for the walls ready to go, but the shower curtain was crucial and the rod had to be curved. Ours was straight. Mohamed W. in Campus Services taught us the most genius trick to bend it – fill it with sand. We drove all over town searching a suit to fit Ahmed, our Hitchcock, calling the shots to the others who would take direction silently. Sarah commanded IT in the speaker set up, telling them what to do in no uncertain terms. Mohamed held the clapboard. “Psycho, scene 1. Action!” The techies had the music ready to go at exactly that moment. Jumana brought sweets for the audience but forgot to serve them in the flurry that followed. Dozens gathered around to see Anthony trap Marion and find out what lurked behind the shower curtain.
We competed against 4 other universities and won the University Challenge, the trophy on display to this day.
But I digress. Fall 2016 I stuck the yellow sticky note to my passport and flew back. Preetham, my graphic designer, digitized the design, pulling in the colors of a tropical parrot – banana, cherry, kiwi, tangerine — floating a few feathers in the air.
“2 birds?” Preetham asked. “A logo must be simple. You can only have one bird.”
I had never been good at challenging an expert, but suddenly I was. “No. It has to be 2.”
I felt strongly about it because I knew by instinct that the students who brought reading to life with me would flock for the foreseeable, serving as support for each other. Birds are known for loyalty, and I saw that among the classmates. One bird alone was lonely. There had to be 2. Preetham shrugged his shoulders with a disapproving snort.
Years later now, the twosome still rings right. In June 2019, I was driving to the gym. My mobile rang, Sarah, and Fatemah was with her. They had by this point both graduated, Sarah an accounting major and Fatemah a computer engineer, and become SO articulate and skilled. They had never left my side since Psycho. In May they had sat me down and said, “Big Al. You need a website and we know you don’t know how to do it, so we are going to do it for you.” I saw those same sunbeams and felt the same creativity stirring. They were so right, and I was elated, thinking this would roll out somewhere in time, and not realizing what it would really entail.
Back to that call. To my surprise they had reviewed all websites types on offer, chosen, gone ahead and paid for it themselves, and now needed a website name for REALL, pronto. “Umm Reading? Umm Language? Umm Platform? Ohhhh, stage!” REALLstage.com rang the bell, and we were off!
If I paid website developers for the hours Fatemah and Sarah have devoted in this summer 2019 season, I would be bankrupt. They’ve endured trial by fire and ice, meeting in 140 Fahrenheit degree heat in coffee shops with AC that freezes you solid. They are doing all this for free, for fun, and for love.
Seeing the work involved, days upon hours, I could never have attempted it alone. What I love is their excitement over sharing what we’ve shared with the world, their astounding patience and determination, their drive to sear through snags, and the joy they derive in designing all just so. They’re so funny too. When working, they shout out “May Day, May Day,” from time to time, but always figure it out, to the tune of merry laughter.
Me? Beyond humbled, way past blessed.
So, who are the 2 birds in the REALL logo, not to be separated? Sarah and Fatemah, of course.