I'm currently doing a novel study with my ninth-grade class. As one of the assessments, I'm having them do "envelope books." Essentially, they are 4 business letter mail envelopes bound together, and inside each the girls are putting letters written from one of the characters of the book to another. This helps me assess the girls' understanding of voice, point-of-view, word choice, and various other benchmarks. I won't bore the non-teachers will all the geeky details.
Anyway, on Wednesday, we were putting together the envelope books themselves, a crafty, multi-step pursuit that required concentration and, as I came to find out the hard way, a working knowledge of envelopes. The latter of which my girls did not have.
The first major challenge was getting them to switch mentally from Arabic binding to English. Because you read Arabic from right to left, Arabic books open opposite of English books. The girls could make the switch easy enough when the books were already made for them, but it was so hard for them to visualize how they were going to arrange the "pages" of their envelope books so that the book would open English style.
The next big challenge was helping them understand why the front of the envelope was the flat, flap-less side.
"But you open the envelope this way," one of my girls said while demonstrating the range of motion of the business envelope flap.
"Right, but when you get the envelope, the first part you look at is the front. The side with the addresses," I said, while Vanna Whiting the front of the envelope. "That way you know who the letter is for."
The class's eyes kind of rolled to the ceiling as they were mentally envisioning what it looks like when one receives mail. Several of them came up blank.
"Really?" one of the girls asked.
"...Have ya'll never gotten mail before?!" I asked, perhaps a little too shrilly.
The resounding answer was, "No."
"Really?! No birthday cards? Post cards? Letters from family?"
"No, we just get emails. Our parents get mail."
At that moment, I felt about 1,000 years old. And I felt like a total dunce because this little project I had spent such a long time cooking up had disintegrated into meaninglessness in the span of about 2.5 seconds.
Teacher fail. Lesson learned.