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“They Yearned to Tell Their Stories”

connectedness (2)The following post is an excerpt from Homer to Hip-Hop: Teaching Writing through Painting, Performance, and Poetry, a wonderful article by Jane Gilrain in the May 2015 Language Arts journal. In this article Gilrain, a 4th grade language arts teacher at Freemansburg Elementary School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania describes her experiences teaching alongside Mark McKenna, a theater artist, and William Christine, a visual artist. She uses student artifacts, scripts from discussions, and her own poetry and journal entries to explore the impact this collaborative and interdisciplinary approach had on her students’ literacy learning.

THE TROUBLED KINGDOM, AN ALLEGORY

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom in which all the children were smart. In fact, they were brilliant, overflowing with ideas and questions. They loved to pretend, draw, and build things. They longed to run and play. Most of all, they yearned to tell their stories. However, the kingdom had fallen under an evil spell. All day, the children were trapped in rooms and forced to sit on hard plastic chairs, to hold small wooden sticks and to make scratch marks on blank white paper.

Often, the children rebelled by jumping, dancing, or shouting. But they were quickly punished and forced back into quiet stillness. The evil spell was so powerful that even the most generous and well-meaning adults were convinced that this was good for the children.

It soon became clear that the children were not thriving. The King hired experts to solve the problem. These scientists and research specialists found evidence to suggest that the children might blossom if they were allowed to move, dance, play, and make things. But the evil spell was too powerful. The adults were helpless to make such radical change. They were afraid. They did not dare. They had forgotten how.

One day, a strange and mysterious character approached the King carrying a large bag of tools. He called himself an artist and claimed to know how to break the evil spell and unlock the children’s gifts. Though skeptical, the King was desperate and decided to allow the artist to work with a single group of children under one condition: The adult in charge of the children must remain in the room and partner with the artist.

The King consented and the artist began at once. Immediately upon entering the room filled with children, he cleared the desks and made space for the children to move. He read ancient stories with heroes and monsters and allowed the children to draw these adventures on paper and act them out in the open space. He described ancient architecture and allowed the children to build it with blocks. After one week, the children cheered when the artist entered the classroom. They were excited to learn.

The children spent hours drawing and acting, retelling, recreating, and reinventing the ancient stories. They began to identify with the heroes and understand the monsters. Finally, the artist asked the children to tell their own stories. They spoke of adventure and monsters. Then the most amazing thing happened. The scratch marks transformed into richly textured symbols bursting with color and rhythm, dancing with images. Eager to communicate their stories, the children began to write.