Casi Dylan, TRO Training Manager, is currently out in Aarhus, Denmark, overseeing the development of a new training course which ran over the weekend with TRO’s official Danish partners, Laeseforeningen (‘The Reading Society’). Here are a few excerpts from her Denmark Diary:
27th October 2010
Things Taking Shape
It’s 6pm, twilight, the reading group is about to begin. Twelve of us are sat around the table in a community centre at the heart of the city. We’re going to read Emma by Jane Austen. All very familiar territory for shared reading, you might say. Only that this group is at the heart of Aarhus in Denmark, and the twelve gathered around the table are taking part not only in a shared reading group, but a research study in which the benefits of this experience will be measured against numerous physiological and neurological outcomes. Brains have been scanned, blood samples taken. They’re not sure what to expect, and neither am I. The reading, after all, will be in Danish. It begins:
Emma Woodhouse var smuk, velbegavet og rig; hun ver lys af sin dog boede i et hjem, hvor der var godt at vaere; saaledes kunne det se ud til, at noget af det bedste, til vaerelsen kan byde, var faldet i nendes lod.
It’s a fascinating position to be in, so familiar with the shared reading model at work but so distanced from what is being read and said. I hear names repeated time and again, jumping out to me from an unintelligible background: Miss Woodhouse, Mr Knightley, Miss Smith. Mette, the group facilitator, who only an hour or so ago introduced me to Aarhus, is introducing the group to Highbury and its inhabitants; I understand her expressive eyes, if not her words, and I read her gestures. What is that she draws with her finger on the table? A shape? A triangle. Ah yes, I see – Miss Woodhouse, Mr Knightley, Miss Smith. I continue to observe the group, and I begin to see how somehow this triangle drawn on the table resonates and expands itself into the group’s own gestures. For the first hour or so the readers were inhibited, their gestures, if any, directed in straight lines towards Mette. Back and forth, no more. As the reading goes on, however, they relax, move more, pick up on each other’s comments, point to the book in Mette’s hands and to each other as they speak. Relationships are taking shape, modelled by the book, made real by Mette’s hand. It is as though they are weaving something that binds them and the book together, and although I don’t understand what is being said, I know that I’ve seen this happen before.
These are only the first few hours of my visit to Aarhus to work with Mette on the development of Laeseforeningen and already I can tell that it’s going to be a busy time. This research project is only one of many activities in which she is involved; our main piece of work this weekend will be to run a training course for 16 volunteers who will run shared reading groups under the auspices of her new Danish ‘Reading Society’. I’m no longer surprised at how adaptable the trailblazing work of Get Into Reading is to new settings, cultures, languages – we’ve seen it work so many times before – but it is always a thrill to see new projects take shape in front of your eyes.
28th October 2010
Busy Busy Busy
Not much time to write today – certainly no time to sightsee! A busy day planning the training course at Mette’s office at the university, and then moving swiftly on to the community centre for the second reading group for the research study. It was a fantastic group – everyone engaged with the book and relaxed into it straight away, much more quickly than last night’s group. I wonder what contributed to this different response? Combination of personalities? Mette and I having relaxed into the setting ourselves? Better biscuits?
During the break one group member came up to me to say how inspiring it was to hear of the work that TRO does in the UK, and how excited she was to be a revolutionary herself. She spoke not in the language of someone taking part in a research study, but of someone who was high on the thrill of a new experience. Another group member, in keeping with the Danish reputation for frankness, told me that: ‘It is already not as boring as I thought it was going to be.’ High praise indeed!
Had a beer in Aarhus’ Latin Quarter to celebrate before heading back to the university guesthouse’s very comfortable bed. Ideal for weary travellers!