Thursday, July 24, 2014

Social stories
Raise your hand, those of you who have summers "off" and spend a lot of your free time on social media.  I'm waving my hand high in the air, right along with you.

As is often the case, my morning walk spurred some thoughts, and this morning's walk in the rain got me thinking about my summertime Facebook hobby.  (Let's call it a hobby; addiction seems too strong a word for a seasonal pursuit!)  I read a lot on Facebook--my friends' updates from around the world, book reviews from my summer reading book groups, news reports, professional learning articles, funny memes.  Politics, literature, education, arts, and entertainment all contained within my daily newsfeed.

And all of these are stories.  Stories about trials, tribulations, and triumph.  Stories about the mundane routines of daily living, and the struggle to make sense of our rapidly expanding sense of global culture.  Stories about the wonders and exhaustion of parenting, the letting go of relationships and the burying of loved ones.  

These stories encapsulated in posts and comments are great seeds for writing!  Just last night, a friend who was posting in the wee hours of this morning (figure that one out, young student readers!) was lamenting over his insomnia and asking for lullabies.  The ensuing comments and links were heartfelt, hilarious, and historical, as commentators went from sleep suggestions to stories of their connections with the friend.  As I walked this morning, I thought about that thread, and what fun it would be to write a story about someone who couldn't sleep, asked for advice from his friends far and near, and then tried out their suggestions.  It would be a great interactive story for an e-reader, with links to recordings of lullabies and read-alouds, just as they were presented in the Facebook thread.

In special education, social stories are used to help students picture themselves in social situations so they can navigate them in an appropriate manner.  With story seeds from social media, we can give students yet another source of inspiration for their writing, one with which they literally connect.

Go ahead; check your Facebook feed.  Only now look at it with a writer's eye.  What stories are playing out on your screen today?  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Creativity, book choice, and makerspaces

If you are involved in educating children in any capacity--as a teacher, administrator, librarian, parent, grandparent, nanny--and you have 20 minutes, grab a cup of coffee and watch the following TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson.  I promise he'll make you laugh--and think.  I'll share my thoughts on it below.

I've been in the education biz long enough to see the pendulum of pedagogy swing from one end to the other and back again.  

Whole language to phonics, back to whole language, back to picking apart text.

Math facts to math problem solving, back to math facts.    

Whole child to standardized test score expectations, back to....well, maybe it's starting to swing back.  Pushback against standardized testing and rigid curriculum is making the news.  There's been a few articles in my Facebook feed lately about creativity and the importance of play. An article from 2011 popped up just this morning, citing information from studies at MIT and  UC-Berkeley that seem to show that direct teaching can inhibit student exploration and problem-solving, while allowing children to explore learning situations on their own terms can often lead to creative solutions.

I've just begun reading a book on the subject called Play:  How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul   by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan. I'm only one chapter in, and the author has already cited evidence that engineers "who had played with their hands were adept at the kinds of problem solving that management sought.  Those who hadn't, generally were not." (p.11).  

Play was originally published in 2009. The TED Talk above?  2006.  And while I see evidence in my surrounding schools of creativity and exploration making their way back into the classroom, I am bombarded with news reports regarding bubble-in assessments and lock-step curriculum.  Why?

And what does this have to do with book choice?  Everything, because books can be a great catalyst for creative thinking.  Books allow children to experience other lives both real and fantastic.  They allow them to explore alternate ways to problem-solve through realistic fiction, and travel through time to make connections between past and present.  Books can provide the data they need to solve problems on their own terms.  Choosing the books that speak to them helps them hone their identity by revealing what feels true to them, and discarding what doesn't through informed decision-making.  

A colleague and I were just discussing the trend of makerspaces in the library. This is evidence that librarians, the very definition of book-pushers, are aware that we need to provide opportunities to respond to learning in creative ways, to take those ideas and information from the texts we hawk to communal creation and sharing.  

The best part of all of these studies and trends?  It's F-U-N.  We shouldn't have to feel guilty about having fun in our schools and libraries.  As the evidence is bearing out, play may be just the ticket for solving our biggest problems.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Those crazy, futuristic sci-fi writers

Summertime, and the thinking is easy...

Seriously, I'm pretty sure I think deeper thoughts in the summertime, unlike the school year when my mind is full of details like filling out book orders, engaging 40 classes a week, planning lessons, washing band shorts, and making lunches for the week.

Summertime also brings a renewed effort at improving my health.  Long walks in our peaceful, birds chirping-lawnmowers running-kids playing-dog walking neighborhood give me ample opportunity to think.

And there's been a lot to think about lately, with the latest news on the Middle East, SCOTUS rulings, daily updates on the state of education in the U.S., questions about our Bill of Rights, and all kinds of op-eds, blogs, and memes highlighting our differences and how we can't get along because of them.
Photo courtesy of swamp dragon on Flickr

Which is why, naturally, my thoughts turned to The Face of Boe (don't question the randomness, not sure where it came from) which in turn led me to think about those science fiction shows and writers featuring body-less aliens.  You know, the ones that have evolved to just brains, living and communicating and transporting themselves on brainpower alone.   Do you think the writers were dreaming of a world where we are able to function through reasoning, where messy details like gender, skin color, and basic needs like food and water didn't become platforms for politics and wars?

Science fiction is known for couching messages for social change within the fantastic, surreal stories of the present on altered worlds, or our future on this one.  My favorite TV example is the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura of the original "Star Trek" series, aired in 1968 when interracial relationships were just barely accepted in the eyes of the law, much less in popular culture.  

I encountered yet another example of strong social and political messages when reading The Forgotten Door (Key, 1965) with my fifth graders this year (anti-war, anti-racism) and my re-reading of A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle, 1962), which isn't technically sci-fi but does lean toward it.  L'Engle includes messages about valuing the lessons from several different religions as well as the uniqueness of individuals and the importance of choosing our own life paths.  Both books were right in line with the civil rights and social movements of their time.

The futures both books speak to must be post-2014...because fifty years later, we're not quite there yet.  Not that I want to be a floating brain, either...after all, how would one enjoy a salted caramel milkshake without a mouth?