Guessing the Central Idea Pt. 2

Last year I tried this once.

My reasons were just pure curiosity. Just to see how the kids would react, and how they would engage with creating their own central ideas. I was not at an official PYP school, so there was no exhibition. This year however, there is an exhibition, and its coming up fast. My reasons for hiding the central idea and having kids create their own is more pragmatic. It is scaffolding and preparation for when they have to do it themselves.

This year though, I am not framing it as a guessing game. Last year they were trying to figure our what it said under the paper. My hope was that they would compare their CI to the one the curriculum provided and find the pros and cons. They did that, but I was uncomfortable with the idea of them trying to guess. This year, we will be making our own CI and debating the differences with our classmates. I can't say where it will go, but my hope is that some shared language emerges from these debates, and the students begin to influence one another (and that they see how they are being influenced by others).

A few of my colleagues were at a workshop a couple of weekends ago with Lynn Erickson, and one of the more interesting ideas that emerged was that of leaving the Central Idea on the planner and not sharing it with the students (I love how even though I wasn't there, I can still join in the discourse).

This just makes sense. If we all view the world differently, and we all have our own interpretations, and those interpretations are valid; then why do we have one CENTRAL IDEA? That seems to be a bit too top down for me. I believe the real learning comes from the bottom up, and is emergent, and impossible to predict ahead of time.

There is a great discussion on PYPthreads if you would like to read more. I will quote the beginning, which was started by @FrostChrissy, to get you curious to read more and join the discussion:

This subject has been niggling at me for quite some time. I think it's fair to say that there is an assumption in most PYP schools that we should have the central idea on display in our classrooms. I for one have poked my nose into classrooms to police their presence in the past. I thought I was doing the dutiful PYP Coordinator thing. But isn't this counter-inquiry practice?! By displaying central ideas, aren't we telling the students the 'answer? Surely this is in opposition to constructivist/inquiry learning?!


The Fractal Nature of Inquiry

I had a deadline looming. A term paper that needed to be done by the following Sunday evening. One week away, and of course, I hadn't started yet.

A friend had given me a book about a terrible couple of days on Mount Everest. People trying to beat nature and defy her highest peak. They failed. Many died. The story is sad, touching, and impossible to put down (even if it is not that well written and the author takes many dramatic liberties with the tale).

It got me wondering about the mountain itself. Not just that mountain, though it does get an unbalanced amount of attention being the largest, but mountains in general. As a lover of mountains, someone who feels at home in the thin, fresh air, I wondered why? Why do we attempt to defy these places? Why do we feel the pull to explore? Why do these monolithic slabs of rock formed by slamming tectonic plates draw us into their snow, and clouds, and peaks?

I moved onto a documentary about the first person to attempt to climb Everest. The story is shrouded in mystery. Did he make it to the top? There is some evidence that said he did. Other evidence that said he didn't. Nobody knows, because he never made it down. Isn't part of climbing a mountain coming down? How do you define the first to the top?

This made me wonder again, what about the people that live there? That make it their home? That look to these peaks not as obstacles to overcome, but as spiritual beings? How do they feel about this pull? I read about the life of the Sherpa. Their world-view, their sense of spirituality in a world of thin air. Their culture is rich and old and long, and is linked to Buddhism, environmentalism, and a sense of wonder in the unknown.

From here I was inspired to review the tenets of Buddhism. The creation stories behind it. The difference in practice and philosophy, from China to Japan to Thailand to the Sherpa to Western ideals of Zen, to many other places. How does this world-view change over time? How does it adapt to new surroundings? It is fascinating to notice the differences, and how flexible it is as a belief system. Do other religions (though I struggle to define Buddhism as a religion) adapt as well as this one? Do they change from place to place with such ease?

This led me into the waters of the monotheistic religions, and their spread around the world. The difference between Islam in the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia. The variety of practices in Christianity from North America to Europe to Korea. How is this different from the various Buddhism practices around the world? What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Eventually, I wrote my term paper.

I forget what it was about (I am reminded only by remembering that my Mount Everest inquiry was in winter in Japan, which means it must have been the end of winter term, which means it must been that course of curriculum design, which means it must have been the paper about new models for curriculum...)

I have no idea what score I got.

I remember Mount Everest and the inquiry it sparked.

The Fractal Nature of Inquiry

Recalling this week of reading and wondering (it was over a year ago now), I am struck with some thoughts about inquiry and wondering.

  • My inquiry was unbridled and without purpose
  • It was driven my curiosity and my desire to know
  • I initiated it, and I chose the direction. 
  • It started with a provocation from a book that touched something inside me (you can say my heart or my brain if you wish, but I won't go there).
  • I remember it, a year later.

We, as educators, often like to put a structure on things. Bells and schedules and models. Units with standards and benchmarks, set lines of inquiry, key concepts decided by the teacher (or the institution).

But, how often do we let our children just wonder. How often do we let them get lost and explore? I am all for structured inquiry. It is necessary for learning about learning. And, I am all for purpose, or intentionality. Being focused on what we are learning helps us to see how we are learning.

There are many ideas like genius hour, me-time, and independent inquiries, that let kids explore topics that are relevant to them, and that they are passionate about. They are great ideas. But, how much of it is structured inquiry with a different name? I don't know. I do know that when I have done it, it has been structured. Should I try to make it more free flowing?

Another thought I am struck with is the shape of my inquiry. It started with a seed, a basic question about something that I was curious about. It flowed into something completely different. It was not linear, and it was not spiral. The emerging concepts did not build on the previous ones. It emerged as an organic entity. But it was structured, and it was organized.

If I were to place a structure on it, the spiral model would fail. It was more fractal than anything else.

I travelled along a route set by an initial question. It brought me to new places. I doubled back and travelled along different routes. I ended up not at the end, but rather just where I happened to be. And then it was over. The meaning I made and the content I learned where determined not by the structure, but by my own wondering.

Curriculum can be a guide, but so can curiosity, time, and space to explore.


An idea: Should I do my own Exhibition

Modelling is one of the most powerful acts of teaching (that, and drawing attention to).

I have been thinking about how to support my students through the Exhibition. One of the ideas I have come up with is to do my own Exhibition to model the process. It would have to be something that I love, and be related to our central idea.

Tentatively, I have come up with the idea of inquiring into Stories, and how they can be used to learn. It is something I love and something that I am passionately curious about. I would love to dig deeper. I would love to structure my ideas into more concrete representations.

Still, I am flip-flopping on the whole idea. I see pros and cons for doing something like this.


  • I would be able to use my own writing as a provocation for improving theirs
  • I could model research, and how to cite others work
  • I could use this broad topic to generate my own lines of inquiry that are focused (since I am all over the place with this idea)
  • I could use the theme to create a presentation that plays to its strengths
  • I would be able to share my learning with them, allowing them a chance to see how they can share their own
  • I could demonstrate what it means to be an inquirer
  • My own struggles and difficulties would be put on display, and they could empathize with me
  • I could keep a reflective diary of the process, encouraging them to reflect on aspects of the process that are important for their own development
  • I might be giving too much away, giving them to clear a structure to follow
  • They might copy my process and not think of how theirs could (or should) differ
  • I might not have the time with all the other Exhibition details to do it properly 
  • It might take my focus away from the people who need it most
  • Should they, as the culmination of their PYP experience, be doing this by themselves?
  • Is modelling in this case doing too much, or should I let them get lost in the mud?
I still don't know. 

What do you think?

Book Review: Finding your Element

At the beginning of the school year, during our 'Back to School Night', I floated the idea of doing a book club with the parents of my class. A couple of parents took the idea and decided to organize those willing. After getting a small group together, about 4-6, I sent out a list of books. The group voted and decided that this book would be our first inquiry.

It's about the kids

From the beginning we decided that we would be reading the book with the intention of helping them to find their Element. As adults who are reasonably comfortable with our place in life, we felt that the message would not apply to us. That being said, for several members of the group, it did reaffirm the choices we have made in our lives, and that, possibly yes, we are living our Element.

So, how to help our kids get to their Element? Robinson goes into great detail about all the factors involved in finding your Element and doing what you love, and poses them as simple to ask, but difficult to answer questions, such as "What do you love?". We found his research to be quite interesting. It was nothing new, but it was an interesting way to pull together all these different parts.

The most interesting part of the book were the stories of real people living real lives. It gave us a sense of time and directionality that is quite different from the expected routes are lives are supposed to take. We reflected on schools as institutions, and how they often try and shepard kids along a certain path. Perhaps it is better to let them get lost and to find themselves?

At the end, there was no clear consensus about how to find your Element, which is the way it should be. It is a life-long journey. And it changes. The biggest take away for us, as parents and teachers, was an openness of being with our kids. Focus more on the person and help them to know themselves. Self reflection was a big point that we repeated over and over again. One way of being self-reflective is to do some of the activities in the book. Some of us thought that was not necessary, as we achieved the same results with just constant conservation and strong relationships.

Another big take away for us was to allow our kids to explore, and open up a world of possibilities for them. Let them try as many new things as possible, and encourage them to reflect on what they loved, hated, or didn't like about it. Some kids find it when they are young, others not until they are later, and still others never do.

Maybe the journey is the important part.

(next up, we are going to read The Giver)


Book Review: Teaching Unmasked

This blog started as a final project for my B.Ed. We were supposed to make a portfolio of all the highs and lows of our year, and then present it in a conference with our supervisors. I looked around at classmates and saw sketches, beautiful handwriting, painting, graphic novels, ornately bound books with leather covers and silk strings for bookmarks, and a host of other creative ideas. As someone who doesn't have very good fine motor skills, I decided I would make a website (funnily, even though this was 2010, I was the only one to use tech in my portfolio, out of close to 70 students in the cohort).

The year had been a challenging year, flipping between diapers and a baby learning to walk and talk, to teaching practicums, lesson plans, essays, and articles. When we were given the task of the portfolio, many students groaned as this seemed like more "work" on top of what we were already doing. Many of them were sick of reflecting (in fairness to them, our instructors did use the work "resonate" a lot), and just wanted to get on with their jobs. I would later learn that this is not a phenomenon that is only in teachers college, and it pretty a standard operating procedure for most teachers in schools as well.

Personally, I loved to reflect. Since I don't write well, and I didn't have a laptop, I used to do it by staring into space and just thinking. Then, I would get home and bombard my wife with ideas, and we would talk long into the night about teaching and learning (later on as I matured as a teacher, we would dissect the idea of knowing as well). It was an intellectually stimulating year, and we both got a degree in education, but unfortunately only I got a piece of paper. Through our reflections, I was able to push myself into entirely new directions.

The portfolio project introduced me to the world of blogging as a teacher. John Spencer's blog was on of the first that I started reading. It allowed me to have an outlet for my reflections, and it allowed me to peer deeper down the hole of me. I become even more reflective.

This is what I love so much about this book. Not that it is providing new ideas for you to use in your classmates (though it does), or it has a philosophical view of schools (though it can at times), or that it is a defense of learning rather than teaching (though it is). I love this book because it is reflective. It is raw reflection, put on display. John Spencer puts himself out there, his ideas, his fears, his mind, everything.

I openly admitted to myself while reading, I can't do this. I could never write like this, with this level of candor and openness, with this level of introspection. My personal life stays as my personal life, and I try not to let it come into this blog. Yes, I am fully aware that who I am in life affects who I am as a teacher. Yet, that part stays off the internet.

That being said, I am glad people like Spencer are out there doing something like this. It challenges me to be more open with my students, to be more human, and to let them know of my faults and flaws.

I'm just not going to blog about it.

It is a personal story, and I would like to keep it that way.


The Beginnings of an Inquiry into 'Story'

At the beginning of the year (way back in August), I introduced the concept of a 50 word story to help engage my students with writing. They love to tell stories, but often they got bogged down in too many ideas and they spiral out of control, losing all sense of cohesiveness. This is a normal upper elementary phenomenon. Even really strong writers succumb to this. To keep them focused on the story, and how to make it more interesting, I introduced a 50 word story.

This is an Enabling Constraint. It limits what you can do, and the scope in which you do it, but it opens a space for a completely new way of thinking and being. That is what I was after, a re-conception of what stories are, and a fresh way to look at them.

This was before I had read Kendall Haven's Story-Proof. Now, I am feeling as if we should re-examine our previous stories and start to make some definitive choices about what a story is. I have a feeling we are all defining this term differently, which is of course, inevitable. However, we are after elements of a GREAT story, and trying to use storytelling to inform our thinking.

The time seems ripe for an inquiry into story itself.

The Beginnings of an Inquiry into 'Story'

First, we made a huge list (as a group on the whiteboard) of all the elements we believed that went into a GREAT story. Of course, we all had different ideas and beliefs, and we all had different tastes. This depends on the person. The word GREAT is subjective, so we need to approach it with a subjective eye and an open mind. In order to narrow down the list, we personally made Top 5 lists, and then conducted a class poll to choose which were the five most important elements among the collective.

Surprisingly, our list was strikingly similar to Haven's list in Story Proof. Actually, it was almost identical if you reword a couple of the choices.

We decided to use this as a guide to re-read our old 50 word stories. As we did this, we wrote notes in the margins to reflect on how well we used these elements (if the school had any kind of tech infrastructure I would have had each child with a blog or a googlesite and then we could have done this in comments, but we are pretty analogue).

They decided they were ready to try again with a new story, seeing if they could improve on their previous efforts....


Some of the students were concerned that these 5 elements were too much for a 50 word story. They crunched some numbers and decided that it was only 10 words words per element. Too difficult, they protested. I disagreed, and said that if they are careful with their words and focus, they could do it. This did not fly, and we had to change the 50 word story to a 100 story (ah, the wonders of a democratic classroom, I just could not deny such overwhelming support for one position without having it seem tyrannical, but more than that, they packed up their position and provided good rational that I could still disagree with, but I couldn't deny how thoughtful and logical it was).

There were a piles of books on my desk and I looked at the spines of all them and quickly blurted out the first sentence that came to my mind:

"A Wizard found a Mouse in his shoe"

Off they went, finding a spot to sit and a group of like minded individuals to confer with.

I find what happens during the actual writing phrase to be among the most interesting in all my kid watching experiences. There were times in the past where I would be the police officer (I lovingly call that old me the Corporeal of Quiet), hushing everyone up and getting them settled to write. You need quiet to write, right? Isn't that what popular culture tells about the life of writer? They are solitary animals, living in a cabin in the words, alone in their heads, eating food out of tins, drinking brownish coloured liquid, until finally the story is done and they arise from their self-induced prison and enter the human world again, only to retreat back to their writing hideaway to tell the next tale.

Not exactly. Writing is a highly social activity. I remember reading on Brain Pickings (by far the best website on the internet if you love books, art and anything related to humans as thinking creatures) about how Ernest Hemingway spent about 80% of his writing time helping other writers, responding to letters, and having conversations about writing. Chuck Palahnuik used to go to Emergency Rooms to watch what real emotion looks like. There is an entire book dedicated to the daily routines of famous authors. Reading through them it is amazing how many authors alternate between solitary writing conditions and social engagements.

However, as the authors in that post almost unanimously agree on, writing is also a solitary act. You and the story. The author works out the mechanics themselves. Of course, during the process they come up for air, meet with others, collaborate, discuss, argue, debate, and then off they go back down the rabbit hole and into their own world of story and characters.

Once I let go of being the Corporeal of Quiet, I noticed that is exactly what kids were doing. They would chat, they would get animated, they would laugh, and then, they would be quiet, self absorbed in their own work, until they were pulled back up by others or came up themselves for a breath of air. It is not quiet and orderly any more (though every once in a while, all the planets line up into a row and the class goes eerily silent and a chill runs up my spine until it is broken by a voice and the chatter returns), but it more resembles how real writers work (and more importantly, I have seen the quality of written work improve). The ideas they share with others allow them to create more of their own ideas. Saying it out loud gives it new life.

Come to think of it, now I am thinking out loud here, I wonder if I should share this idea with my kids, because I don't know if they are explicitly aware of this or not. Of course, if I make them aware, and I give the thing a name, will it result in a change of attitude? Not sure what to do, need to think about it.... to be aware of the thing, or to let the thing just be?

Anyway, where were we? Yes, so we wrote our 100 word story (by the way, these side topic thinking rants are by far my favourite thing about blogging, I learn so much about myself) and then re-evaluated them using our 5 elements of story criteria. I found this was a difficult task for the kids. They were able to spot the elements in the story and name them, but they had no tool in which analyse the quality. They could recognize that they included Intent (or they didn't, which was more likely the case) but they didn't know if they did it well. Finding it is only half the work, we need to be able to assess ourselves in the process.

As much as I hated to admit it to myself, they needed a rubric.

I'm not sure I am in love with this, but at least it is a place to start. I don't like how the first column in each section is phrased in a negative, but I just couldn't think of a way to say "I didn't do the thing that I was trying to do" in a positive way.

Next week, we will create a new story and use this rubric to talk about how GREAT our stories are.

Finally, before I end my ramblings and get back to my book, one of the easiest and most powerful entry points I have found to editing and opening discussion of our writing, is to present the writing to the class. It is always optional, and every student has the write to pass (though most are eager). I have bad memories of being forced to share writing I wasn't proud of. Me, standing in front of the entire class, with a piece of paper full of handwriting I couldn't read (I have dysgraphia, which wasn't spotted until much later in life), and a story that I knew was bad. Horror.

We have been doing this in three ways:
  • Read it aloud to the class
  • Teacher or a friend reads it out loud for you
  • Record yourself reading and listen to the audio
By far the most popular choice is reading it out loud yourself, with a few choosing me or a friend to read it. This reminds me of a pod-cast I listened to with David Sedaris, where he talks about how he edits his own work by reading it out to large audiences, and marking down how they react to certain parts. If he was expecting a laugh, and it doesn't come, he needs to re-work it. The words he uses and the way he structures the story evoke reactions in the audience, and he is explicitly trying to achieve a specific reaction. His audience is always in mind when he writes. This is something that young writers struggle with, reacting to how the audience will react. 

I just decided, that will have to make its way into our discussion sooner or later.

When the time is ripe.


Readjusting for Inquiry

I think the words matter. A lot of teachers hate having those conversations where we endlessly bicker about the wording of Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry. I understand why, however, I think that it is important to set up the boundaries for an inquiry, and I think we do that through words. New insights arise, new ideas bubble to the top, new ideas collide with other new ideas and create more new ideas.

If you are listening. If you could care less, because you already know how the whole unit is going to unfold and you have every activity pre-planned, well...

That is not inquiry.

Inquiry (from my perspective, we all use different words) is about being aware, listening, and following paths that open. Yet, we need boundaries. We need an area to explore, a map with clearly defined lines around, a few topographical features, and no streets. The streets are the thing we are trying to find.

Inquiry as exploration.

I have an upcoming Unit of Inquiry on Poetry. I am very excited, this is one of my favorite topics to teach (though I don't enjoy anything about poetry as a reader, which I find odd). On reviewing the planning for this unit I was thoroughly disappointed.

This, in my mind, is not a map of inquiry, it is a map of content. "Topics of Poetry" is not a line of inquiry. It's a list. Neither is "Forms of Poetry". Again, a list. These are just faux-lines of inquiry that are masquerading as ways of delivering content, rather than encouraging inquiry, questions, and wonder.

Luckily, I work at a school that is pretty open to change, and they gave me full permission to change it. Since I am the only teacher at the grade level, the task fell to me and me alone. I did share with others, though there weren't many suggestions. Sometimes I do wish I was in a big school environment, but another part of likes the freedom given in smaller schools. More opportunity for trying new things, in my experience.

The difference with the new set-up is we now have lines of inquiry that encourage questions and exploration. What inspires Poets is a much different question from what topics are poems about. The former is about inspiration, what is it, how does it guide the writing process, when does it strike, what does one do when it strikes. The latter is about.... topics. Poetry can be about anything, if you think about, so the scope of that line of inquiry was simply massive. Limiting the scope to the concept of inspiration is like shrinking the map, and making it easier to explore. Too much space and we get lost. Too little space and we become myopic.

Brent Davis has written about what he calls Enabling Constraints, the purposeful limiting of scope to enable a different set of concepts to emerge. To me that beautifully sums up what lines of inquiry should be. A space that is constrained, yet enables learners to explore.

I like the way it starts with inspiration, goes into form, and then ends with worldviews, (in the map metaphor, those would be the topographical features) letting us put the three together to share who we are (or How We Express Ourselves) and how we view the world.

Of course, this unit overview is not perfect, and I'm sure many people out there would have lots of input, which I would love to hear. Remember I love the attention to detail, so please get nit-picky?

What would you change in the 'new' version?

Myself, I am tossed up between the word Style or Form. What is the difference between the two? Do kids have different preconceptions of those words? Does it matter or is it taking word-smithery too far?


Book Review: Story Proof

I read the Kindle Version

I haven't always been an avid reader of fiction. When I was younger I ate books for breakfast, but around high school I kind of stepped away from fiction. I have always guessed it was because I was being told what to read, and never had enough time to read what I wanted to read. To this day, I still hate Shakespeare, and have an involuntary gut reaction to any mention of him. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that my appetite for stories was rekindled. For me, I think it was partly because of the wonderful worlds of Jasper Fforde and the opening of new horizons in Japanese fiction, as well as comic books, mythology, and folklore.

"Story Proof" was a wonderful read, and I highly recommend it (would be a great #pypchat book club book, or something to read as a staff). I reminisced about why I love fiction so much, and why stories are so important to me. Kendall Haven goes through the literature from the worlds of neurological science, evolutionary theory, educational research (among many more) to conclude that humans think and experience the world in terms of story. It is not just something we enjoy, it is built into our way of thinking and experiencing the world.

(Note: It is not a perfect book, it gets very repetitive at times, stating the same facts and quotes and repeating the same lines over and over again. I wonder if this was part of the storytellers pastiche for this book as a story. Also, for a book about stories, I felt that it itself was not as aware of the narrative architecture it was espousing. It lacked Characters. Yes, there are stories and anecdotes, but not enough. At times it feels like a list of research studies regurgitated back to you. Once I got past this, I was able to enjoy the book in much more detail, pausing and filling in my own stories into those blank holes.)

Start with the brain and the neurological predisposition to telling stories. This is more than likely as a result of the oral storytelling tradition. Ancient man needed a way to pass on its knowledge, and in a world without Wikipedia, printed books, or even literacy (when you think about it that is a pretty new idea in terms of the span of human evolution), and this was done primarily through stories, fables, parables, and folklore.

I like to imagine a group of cave dwelling humans who, instead of telling stories, told each other factual tales like we read in modern day academic journals, devoid of character and environmental details. That form of communicating may not have been adopted as natural selection chose a more robust method. Story. Haven even posits that storytelling pre-dates language, and the reason that language evolved was to tell stories.

From the brain we go to the output, the mind. There are many structures in our minds, mental tools, that help us connect with stories. Assumptions, expectations, metaphor, inference, pattern matching, prior knowledge, blending, syntax, emotions, and details (to name a few). Our mind uses these tools, and they use them by thinking in stories.

This all manifests itself in memory, which Haven argues is the goal of communication, to have your message remembered. This could be a good or a bad thing, of course, depending on what message you are spreading. Stories can be dangerous as well.

The research points to one conclusive finding; we remember and are able to apply what we remember more effectively through the medium of story. This reminds me of all the times I have used story in the classroom. I wish now that I had been paying more attention and doing some action research, because I would have surely found that this was the case. Also, I don't think it applies simply to a content based curriculum. Concepts are more easily recalled and applied when they are based on story. I recall doing Euler's law with my students, and I set it by telling them a story about Euler, basic stuff about his character, upbringing, and how his mind worked. When we set to our task to finish his story (concluding with them discovering Euler's law on their own), they kids seemed to be channelling his spirit in their work. Total engagement and focus.

Another anecdote; at the beginning of one of my school years I read the book The Librarian Who Measured the Earth as a way to look at what it meant to be an inquirer. Throughout the rest of they year, this story was revisited by students as they made connections from their inquiries to the inquiries of Eratosthenes. It lived in the ecosystem we shared.

I was also very impressed how the author used the research of brain, mind, and memory to give us a working definition of what a story is. When you think about it, anything could be a story, but Haven is very conscious of what he considers to be a story and not a story. His list of required elements of a story are:

- INTENT (motives and goals)

Haven's definition of story:

Story: n.: A detailed, character based narration of a character's struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal.

All forms of communication are derivative of story, and there is no reason why we cannot use these elements in any kind of writing, be it working with kindergarten students, teaching high school biology, writing for NASA, or publishing in an academic journal. It is just good practice, and good writing, with many benefits. These benefits include; memory (already mentioned), comprehension and application, logical thinking (across subjects (transdisciplinary), community building, engagement, and language mastery (among others).

Learning through stories help us make sense of and wade through the complexity of the world. I do not believe that they simply the world, as stories are not simplifications. They point to a more open way of being, and a more dynamic way of understanding content, concepts, and the world around us.

Ideas for Practice

This book challenged me to reconsider some ideas that education seems to occasionally take for granted. I wonder how these ideas will manifest themselves in the classroom, and I will reflect on them.

All writing is story writing
There is no such thing, argues Haven, as persuasive, comparative, informative, creative, narrative or expository writing (insert your own category if I missed it). All writing is communicating, and all communicating is storytelling. Of course, our curriculum documents are often written in the language of these categories, but Haven argues that by focusing on story, educators will improve all types of writing. This is a powerful idea, one that I am still getting my head around, and wondering how the upcoming Exhibition will be focused on stories, both of content, and of their own learning. Stories within stories.

Oral storytelling is more effective than being read to
I read my kids a lot of books, and that will never stop. However, often when I create stories to aid the lessons, or chose a myth or fable, I will read the story to the class. Perhaps, I should spend the time to learn the art of presentation and tell the story instead. Or, I can have them tell stories in oral form, rather than writing hem down. I could easily record these on my phone or tablet and have them stand in as artefacts and assessment.

For comprehension, don't focus on plot, but on characters motivation and goals
If you understand the characters motives and goals, how they feel, why they are acting the way they are, chances are you will get the plot and be immersed in the story. How many times have I instead asked questions that relate to the plot (and its neat little diagram with the rise and fall) instead of focusing on the people involved? If we focus on the people, perhaps they will make their own writing more character driven, and more engaging and detailed. This applies to both fiction and non-fiction. I recall when doing my M.Ed, I had to write a term paper that summed up a major theme of the course. Instead of writing a traditional academic essay, I wrote a conversation between two insects, talking about perspective and understanding. I got a 98% on that paper. I think academia is open to story as much as kindergarten is, we just have to focus our stories on the people involved.

Break myths about stories
Continuing that last thought, we are struck with a common myth. Non-fiction is the equal to truth. Fiction is made up. This is a common idea about stories that many people have, I have always hated this. Stories are alive and rich, and can be just as informative as non-fiction, perhaps more. When writing and reading stories we are doing so much more that just playing with stories, and we should value the form of story as much as we value the form of non-fiction writing. If I were allowed to write stories in high school instead of essays, I would have loved school. I believe the common non-fiction essay structure we all learn to be quite damaging to the thinking capacities of the students who are forced to learn it, and have written about it here, but will revisit this thought later, as I don't want to go on for too much longer (my tea is almost empty).

 "Too often we are told that essays are about ideas. They are discussed in terms of logic, argument, theory, and delivery. Yes, essays are about ideas, but the writer is telling the story of that idea and stories are told through characters."

The best non-fiction books I have ever read are heavily invested in the stories of the people and the ideas. I think of "Kon-tiki", and learning so much about the ocean and human migration. I think of "The Edge of Order and Chaos" and the truly fascinating people who were involved in that scientific movement, and how their stories led them to where they ended up. And, it goes both ways. In "fictional" tales, like Neal Stephenson's "Quicksilver" (or anything else by him), I learned so much about European history and the formation of Calculus. It was in "A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines" that I finally understood Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. In "Touching Spirit Bear", I was moved and inspired by First Nations practices of restorative justice. Yukio Mishima taught me so much about the beauty of Japanese aesthetics in "Spring Snow" and "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion".

So many more.

I carry these stories with me, and I think that is the point that Haven is trying to make. Stories stay with us, and we remember them. More than that, they impact our lives. Read "The Book Thief" and tell me it won't stay with you forever, or that it didn't effect you on some level.

He convinced me of something that on some level, I already knew. Now, I need to try and figure out how to organize the conditions for story to flourish in my classroom.

Or, is it already?

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for a story, I'm off to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.