Why this blog?

"... Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves ... Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. The point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." - Letters to a Young Artist, R. M. Rilke

Rooted in the promise and challenge of growth ...

these are letters from a young teacher.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wear your helmet!

Lesson learned:
My mother always told me to wear my helmet, and now I know why I do! Had a bit of a wipe out on my bike today with some gnarly scrapes and bruises to show for it. Without my helmet, though, I would certainly not be sitting here a few hours after the fact, writing about; rather, I'd most likely still be in the Emergency Room!

Yay for helmets!

Don't forget yours!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Public art !

As the summer approaches, I've been working with my kids at the Children's Center on preparations for participating in the Seattle Metro Bus Shelter Mural Program. For more info, check out http://transit.metrokc.gov/prog/sheltermural/shelter_mural.html
Briefly, we are compiling drawings to submit in an application to paint the panels of a local bus stop over the summer. The theme that emerged from initial drawings is "Washington Landscapes", including lighthouses, mountains, and everything between. Check 'em out!

From my official documentation:

I've informed them that we'll need to stick to our plan for the sake of time-sensitivity: it takes a month for our ideas to be approved by Seattle Metro, and then we have three months to complete our painting. So, here's what it will all entail:
1. May: Generate as many pictures as possible around a common theme to submit to Seattle Metro with our application. I hope to have the kids practice making a mural on a sheet of butcher paper to submit as well. There are a few bus stops local to Hilltop that I will take the kids interested to visit, so that we can decide which one we'd like to apply to decorate. We must include the name of the stop in our application.

2. June: Submit our application and wait for a response ... (can last up to one month)

3. July: By this point, we should have heard back from Seattle Metro and will be able to pick up our panels and paints (donated by Metro) so we can start painting! We will work on the panels in the studio at Hilltop - no painting directly at the bus stop.

4. July-August: Paint, paint, paint, so that we can return our panels and paints to Seattle Metro by the end of our summer program. It will take another month or so for Metro to apply a protective clear-coat and install our panels at our selected bus stop.

5. October: We'll take a field trip to check out our installed public art!

This could be us come the fall!

Stay tuned, more to come soon!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The power of storytelling with children

Telling stories with K-2 students at my children's center

Soon after I arrived back in Seattle, I began looking for jobs in education to supplement my studies, and conveniently fell right into a great children's center that functions as a full-day preschool and houses an after-school program from preschool "graduates" in Kindergarten through 4th grade. Little did I know how soon and how deeply I would become enveloped into this new community of practitioners of education, young and younger.

The most fascinating aspect of this learning community is that it practices the "emergent" curriculum. That is, whereas I built my Five Senses Unit during my student teaching based on the curriculum standards of the State of Vermont - quite a hefty volume, to say the least - here at the children's center, the year begins with empty binders. Children play first, and teachers observe consistently and intentionally, looking for the clues that children's play offers as avenues into their thinking and patterns of interests. Once something is found to be of particular interest to the children, the teacher creates and/or designs a "provocation" for children to engage with - anything from a new material to play with, like colored sand or sea shells, to a topical exercise, as one classroom addressed recent difficulties in sharing legos. Continuously, teachers are developing their observations into "documentations": narratives that recall and begin to interpret children's experiences in the classroom. As the year moves on, documentations fill the empty binders, so that come the end of the year, the "curriculum" is a story of each classroom.

It is an exciting practice to engage in, myself! My first was on the use of stories as provocations with the students. I noticed I had quickly earned a reputation with my kiddos as "the one who tells good stories", so that I best have a new story to tell them everyday, or they'll be disappointed! This was my first clue that stories might serve as powerful thematic provocations - vehicles into discussion on any number of topics. I wish I could attach my first documentation here as a pdf-file, but I don't have that capacity with this blog. So, here's a taste of it:

I can’t think of a better way to begin getting to know the Big Kids and establishing positive relationships with them. My favorite part about telling stories is to watch to see what conversation comes out of them afterwards. What the stories mean to the kids means more to me than what the stories mean to me. That’s how I found out that David thinks of pride as “being really happy about something” and that Elissa would rather be the mouse that goes second to pluck a whisker from Coyote’s face when he’s sleeping than be the first. “It’s not as scary, but you’re still being brave,” she said.

Subsequent documentations have come out of the more lengthy conversation I had with David about pride, for example, and I'm working on one now that recalls the logical problem solving entailed in the story of a peasant who had to divide one goose among six members of the royal family!

Another selection from my initial documentation:

Stories used in teaching and curriculum in other schools have sometimes come under fire because parents feel that teachers are trying to indoctrinate their children with a particular ideology. This is an understandable position – stories are used for a variety of purposes and have differed outcomes. If there ever is a story that feels too uncomfortable – for a parent and/or a child – it is very important to me to address this concern. My pursuit in telling stories and talking about them is not to arrive at a final “moral of the story” for everyone to take home like a party favor; rather stories are like mirrors that offer us a reflection of ourselves, and it is up to us to decide what we want to see in them.

We shall see how they progress. More documentations to come!
(If you'd like to see the full documentations, just send me an email, I'll be happy to send you some as attachments!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

What is pedagogy, anyway?

Thanks to recent approval from my adviser, my Master's project study is now in motion! Taking a hobby I picked up in Germany, that turned into a passion during my time at IslandWood, I'm now able to go one step further with the topic of storytelling. Specifically, I will be extending on my IW independent study on Storytelling as Pedagogy to study and write about Storytellers as Pedagogues.

Howard Terpning's "The Storyteller"

What is a pedagogue, you ask? This is, as it turns out, a very good question - one that I found myself discussing with my housemate, a fellow grad student in Education. We found that this very common term - indeed, pedagogy is the very field we are studying - evoked different ideas in each of our minds. She equated pedagogues with teachers, and pedagogy with a method of teaching instruction. I - and this may be due to the immense amount of philosophy I'm reading for one of my classes - feel pedagogy goes beyond curriculum and instruction to examine underlying philosophical questions and ideas of our educational model. In other words, teaching instruction implies educational practice while pedagogy embodies educational philosophy.

However, I may very well stand corrected! Consulting the dictionary, we found a definition that read: "1. The function or work of a teacher; 2. The art or science of teaching." Looking at the etymology of the word, the first paedagogio was a slave that served as supervisor of the education of his master's children (I'll avoid any connections teachers today might make to that historical example ...). And yet, when one thinks of historical pedagogues, a mixture of psychologists, philosophers, and teachers comes to mind: Benjamin Bloom, John Dewey, Paolo Freire, and Maria Montessori to mention just a few examples from the 20th century.

And so, perhaps we might better think of pedagogy as the link between educational philosophy and practice - that is, the sum of ideas about teaching and learning that inform how teachers and schools facilitate learning in their classrooms [or comparable learning environments]. However, I still can't, with confidence, equate pedagogues with teachers and educators, simply because of my initial philosophical slant.

Let's get back to my study on storytellers. The question of pedagogues originated from a question of framework: do I want to frame the study as an understanding of storytellers as practitioners of a pedagogy or as thinkers about a pedagogy? They are, undoubtedly, both, and I may, in the end, be making more work for myself than necessary. But, hey, what's wrong with a little mental exercise now and then? Please weigh in with your comments!