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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Folklife Festival Storytelling

Come one, come all, and gather yourself around this fire
For I have some tales to spin
To frighten, to comfort, to excite, and to inspire...

Four solid days of Folklife ... wow, that's a lot of activity. The Folklife Festival is a Memorial Day Weekend tradition in Seattle, and each year, it seems to get better. This was where I first came across the Seattle Storytellers Guild: at the Monday story swap, I believe it was. Who would have thought that two years later, I'd be featured in the Saturday night Ghost Stories Showcase ... their most attended event!

The two stories I prepared actually were not about ghosts, per se, so I started off with the classic tune of "Ghost Riders in the Sky", which everyone sang along with...

An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw Yippee-yi-yay! Yippee-yi-yo! Ghost riders in the sky!

Then I transitioned into "The one you don't see coming", a tale from West Africa that I learned from the very first storyteller I ever met, a guy named Ralph...

There is a village deep in the jungles of West Africa
where the old warriors gather at night around the campfire
and tell stories about The One You Don't See Coming.
A fickle and cunning prey it is,
for not only can you not see it coming,
you cannot smell it
you cannot hear it!
Indeed, you cannot catch The One You Don't See Coming,
because it always catches you first!

Finally, I closed it out with "The Uwabami", a Japanese story from Cathy Spagnoli's collection of Asian Trickster Tales. The uwabami is an evil trickster python that gets tricked, himself, by a small schoolboy on his way home to nurse his mother back to health ...

Kusaku had to think quickly.
"How do you know I am a human? I could be like you
- a trickster -
in human form.
Indeed, I am the great trickster Fox!"

It was a fabulous evening, and I enjoyed hearing the other tellers of the showcase: the Baltuck-Garrard Family Tellers, Anne Rutherford, and Robert Rubinstein. No wonder folks keep coming back to this event.

Thanks to Christen for the photos!
(I always forget to ask someone to take some)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Crayons make crayons

While going through my collection of craft ideas, I came across the idea of melting used crayons down in a muffin tin and then letting them harden into new crayons. I thought: What a great way to use what we already have in the classroom and jazz it up into something "new". (I'm all about how minimalist true joy can be ...)

So, here's what it looked like:

Sorting out paperless crayons into color groups
(Don't worry, I have more plans for those crayon wrappers...)

Hammering down each set of crayons into little pieces

Combining crayon bits in different color combinations

Warming the crayons to melting point in our toaster oven ... pretty gooey!
As I held each child to see the process, I asked them what they saw happening. "It's melting!" they said. "Melting? What's that?!" I asked. They have, as yet, been hard pressed to explain what melting means, except for one, who said, "It's like the crayons start to flow over each other."

Once cooled, unwrapping our new crayons

And ... COLOR!!

This activity has been a huge hit, though I've noticed you need to do it with just four or five kids at a time. Otherwise, everyone is waiting a looooong time for their turn to hammer and pick out their crayon colors. Plus, with some potential hazards (hammer and toaster oven), too many kids means too many opportunities to be distracted, and that is never a risk I'm willing to take. Four kids worked really well, and now, every day, a new set of preschoolers make something new out of something old and get all excited all over again ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Transportation week

Sometimes I get worried that, no matter how hard I try, I'm never giving my students enough of a chance to be as creative as they most possibly can. ... Until I watch them work, of course, and I realize that "creative" is their default setting. Even when given a pattern to build a picture from, the ideas that go into their personal creations take them their own way.

David: I made my bus pink and orange. It's going into town. [Starts walking around the classroom, pretending his bus is driving.] Uh oh! Now he's getting a ticket!

Kevin: Look, it's going uphill. It's a roto-tiller that cuts grass.

Tully finished her bus and immediately folded it into a paper airplane.

I left school after this activity and thought again about my increasing interest in emergent curriculum. It seems that, even when presented with what could be seen as a prescribed craft, children infuse their work with their own background knowledge and creativity. That is so re-assuring. And, it makes me wonder if it's a lesson for all of us in the diversity of learning experiences that are inherent in each "lesson" we try to teach, each "activity" we facilitate.

Of course, we can create and facilitate activities for kids with an objective in mind, e.g. they're supposed to make a bus out of construction paper pieces. For three-year-olds, it's a worthy task, especially when we've been reading books about buses and talking about transportation all this week. It's good for us teachers to know they've made the transfer of knowledge and can create the image of a bus on their own.

At the same time, though, when we hold too closely to our objectives, what do we - the teachers - learn from the children, other than that they can create a bus or not? I introduced the activity by showing an example of a bus I had made, so we could talk about the parts of a bus. But then, when the kids went to work, I stepped back and observed more than I spoke, to see where they went with their idea of what a bus is.

As the examples above show, each child both approached and left the activity having made different meanings of it, and having scaffolded their image of a bus into a different set of prior knowledge, experiences and interests. David changed the color of his bus from yellow to pink and orange, and gave it motion by walking around the room with it in his hands. Then, he made a story out of it by pretending it was going to get a ticket. Roughly speaking, I could see that he was applying his prior knowledge of the fact that if vehicles like buses drive too fast, they get a ticket. I can't tell whether he's experienced that first-hand, or if he's observed it while driving with his parents, but I can tell he's had some experience with that concept.

Kevin, I know, is really into plants and gardens and the tools that go with it. I'm not at all surprised that he imagines his bus like a rototiller, let alone that he even knows what a rototiller is. He was trying to fit the idea of a bus into his general interest in gardening, and the closest thing that a bus resembles within the context of garden is, of course, a rototiller. What intrigued me more, though, was the fact that he turned it on its side, and tried to put the second wheel on the opposite side of the first wheel, rather than next to it, as if he was trying to make it three-dimensional. THAT was fascinating.

Finally, Tully, if you haven't guessed already, has been sucked into the paper airplane craze that started our transportation unit. Anything she makes with paper, she eventually starts to fold into a paper airplane, no matter what it is, or is supposed to be. I'm not worried. By the time next Monday comes around, the craze will be past. For now, I'm celebrating with her.