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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Music Explore

Most of my students know me as a storyteller, a passion I’ve made no secret of. But this passion came about partially because the children kept asking for them. Stories are so innate to human communication, I wonder how I could be a teacher without recognizing myself as a storyteller?! Another fundamental genre, you might call it, of human expression, culture, and creativity, is music.

My mother says I was singing before I learned to talk. Throughout my school years, I studied four instruments, and that doesn't include the instruments I played for fun and experimentation, or the creative endeavors I've taken on as an adult. An entire corner of my small studio apartment is devoted to displaying and storing a variety of instruments, and believe me, they do not get dusty.

So why have I not brought this passion into the classroom? When this question struck me, my gut reaction was: It never seemed to fit. Whether in a curriculum-based classroom or not, there was rarely an overt opportunity for it. When I thought about this question further, within the context of emergent curriculum, where I'm beginning to make my pedagogical home, I realized that I'm focused on the passions, interests, and curiosities children bring with them into the community. So focused, in fact, that I forget what passions I, as the teacher, bring to the community. Children bring so much joy and excitement about what they experience outside the classroom, and we wish to honor that experience as part of their learning - why not honor our experience outside the classroom as part of our teaching?

So, in came the instruments last week: guitar, banjo, tamborine, bodhran, and washboard.

At first, everyone was hands on. Ulee and Bilal couldn’t seem to keep their hands on an instrument for a few seconds before being taken with another instrument next to it. Ulee started by strumming the banjo, still in the case, Bilal played the bodhran (pronounced “BOH-run”, a kind of Irish drum), Kerrick and Tessa examined the guitar, and each instrument was passed around for everyone to explore.

There were also plenty of observations and wonderings to be made by the children. The banjo held the greatest intrigue. Charlie said, “It looks like they started out wanting to make a drum, but then they changed their minds and wanted to make a guitar instead.” Others wondered what the material was on the banjo that looked like the head of a drum.

Ulee: It looks like hard plastic.
Bilal: Or maybe really thick paper.
Manuel: I think it’s cow bones that were made hollow. Or just hollow-sounding plastic.
Kelsey: It looks like a drum I have at home. It’s made out of animal skin.

Eventually, I picked up my guitar and started playing and singing a song, inviting everyone to play with me on another instrument. Kelsey played her flute: “I was playing all sorts of notes on my flute, but then I stuck to two notes, because I knew they sounded good with what you were playing.” Manuel tried different strokes on the head and the rim of the bodhran. Charlie tried playing the bodhran and the tamborine at the same time.

Everyone got a chance to play all the instruments they wanted. The guitar and banjo were certainly the most popular, and elicited the most observations and reflections.

Kerrick: We don’t usually interact with instruments.
Isaac: Can I strum the guitar with a block? What does that sound like?
Charlie: Look, you can play a guitar and a drum on the banjo at the same time! (strum - hit - strum - hit)
Manuel: I love how you can change the song [chords], ‘cause I really love this one (strums). I’m so excited, because I love music. It feels like I’m in a real band, like The Beatles. I’m pretty much a Beatle, you know, because my mom says I look like them.
Tessa: I’ve never really played a guitar or a banjo. I wish I had one of my own.

Kerrick expressed curiosity about the pins at the end of the neck of the guitar. He turned them and found that it changed the notes of the strings, making them higher or lower.’’

And so has the curiosity, wonder, and experimentation continued several days now. Being so close to my last day at this school, a more in-depth investigation is - unfortunately - not possible. However, it was entirely worth it to me to begin thinking about how a teacher’s interest can be provocation enough to invite children’s curiosities and wonderings. It reminded me to consider my own everyday experiences outside the classroom as equally as valuable to the classroom environment as those of the children. Just as I am teacher everywhere - in and outside the classroom - so am I the entire individual I am, everywhere, in the world, and in the classroom

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is a story? Part 2

Remember the story about Anansi, and about Nyame, the Sky God who gave him all the stories of the world? I wrote last November about some students ideas of what, exactly, Nyame gave to Anansi when he passed on all those stories. There was talk of bubbles full of pictures, shelves of books, and white stuff like from the brain of Professor Slughorn (from Harry Potter), just to name a few.

Today I was at a local elementary school telling stories, and of course, couldn't resist asking the question again. What do you think Nyame actually gave Anansi? Here are a few ideas from today:

He told him all the stories, because he couldn't give them to him.


You can't do imagination - it's nothing, so I think he gave him books.

He told him t he stories and Anansi brought them down in his mind to his friends.

Nyame gave Anansi books from his house. I don't know what kind of house ... oh, I know! The library!

It's always fascinating to me, when I ask this question, to see who leans more toward the idea of books versus the idea of telling the stories or transferring knowledge of them from one mind to the next. It makes me wonder where these connections - this schema for stories - comes from. From print-centered literacy curriculum? From our print-based culture of communication? From different learning styles (aural, visual, etc)?

I think about what stories are all the time - I'm a storyteller, after all - but I'm still stuck with this challenge of offering such a concrete definition or picture of it. It's like asking me what air looks like. I breathe it everyday, it is so crucial to my very existence, and downright miraculous ... and yet, so elusive in the concreteness of our perception of the world.