Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why are stories important (part 3)

Welcome to Part 3 of our Grade 5/6 inquiry project exploring the essential question, "Why are stories important?" 

During Part 1 and Part 2 of this inquiry, students explored the following key questions:
  • Why are stories told and retold?
  • How are stories told?
  • How do we decide what and whose stories to tell?
As our inquiry project moved into the third phase, we wanted our students to better understand historical perspective

"Taking historical perspective means understanding the social, cultural, intellectual, and emotional settings that shaped people’s lives and actions in the past. At any one point, different historical actors may have acted on the basis of conflicting beliefs and ideologies, so understanding diverse perspectives is also a key to historical perspective-taking. [...]  Indeed, taking historical perspective demands comprehension of the vast differences between us in the present and those in the past." (
Guiding this third part of the inquiry was our central question, "What would this story sound like and look like if someone else told this story?  How did the values, beliefs, and social and cultural settings of the past shape the story?"

We wanted our students to step out of their own thinking.  Rather than presenting the story from our current values,beliefs and understandings, we asked them to take on a historical perspective pertaining to the story of Ruby Bridges based on their understanding of the values of that period of history.  We asked them to think about all the 'actors' involved from protestors, marshalls, reporters, community members, other parents and students, or Ruby and her family.  Then students were asked to tell the story from that perspective.

Students created a VOKI avatar to share this historical perspective.  We were proud of the student engagement and understanding of historical perspective.  As you view, please remember that this is not representative of the values and beliefs of our students today, but those of the year 1960 in New Orleans.

Here is one example of our students' creations.

For further examples, visit our class VOKI webpage

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why are stories important? (Part 2)

It's been an exciting six weeks as our Grade 5/6 students, their teacher, and I continue our collaborative inquiry into the importance of stories.  Our essential question: "Why are stories important?" continues to lead the way. Along our journey to date, we have learned to better understand why stories are important and recognize the many ways in which stories are told.  We have been using the story of Ruby Bridges as a catalyst for our learning and conversations. If you missed Part 1 of this inquiry, you can catch up here.

Since my last post, we have contined our inquiry, extending beyond the 'why' and 'how' questions from Part 1.  Our major question this time centered on historical significance, or "How do we decide what and whose stories to tell?"  Unknown to us at first, this is the essential question outlined at and luckily for us, this question aligned perfectly to the next part of our inquiry and provided us some excellent points of converation.

Questions that helped to frame our thinking and discussions included: 
  • What makes a story worthy of being shared?
  • Why do we hear about Ruby Bridge's story and not other students who attended the school? For that matter, why is Ruby's story more important than the story of the first white student, Pam, who we learned from this video, walked through the same angry mob with her father (both unprotected) the very next day?  Or why not the story of Little Rock Nine in 1957?
  • Who decides what story is told and how do they decide? 
We began our inquiry in Part 2 with a statue walk of our city.  As we walked our beautiful riverbank and downtown, we noticed many statues.  We asked: What stories are behind these statues?  What makes this story worthy of being told through a statue in our city?   Who decided this story is worth preserving this way? 

It was a wonderful way to get our students thinking and wondering (and we worked in a bit of valuable fitness at the same time)!

When we returned to school from our walk, we continued the conversations we had started along the way.  Sometimes the stories and choices seemed rather obvious after reading accompanying plaques, our prior knowledge, and our follow-up conversations (such as the statues of Gabriel Dumont, or Chief Whitecap/John Lake).  Othertimes, the choices of statues left us uncertain--a statue of Ghandi in Saskatoon?!  However, upon returning, students completed mini-inquiries into the statues we saw and soon better understood the stories behind the statues and the rationale for their existance. 

We then asked our students to decide if Ruby Bridges would be a worthy statue in front of our school.  Students wrote to defend their position, no matter whether they supported or argued the point (see student writing (unedited)).

In the next and final part of our inquiry before creating our culminating project, we will examine the role of historical perspective and try to understand whose version of the story is being told and better understand the importance of the story at that particular moment of history.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why are stories important?

Why are stories told and retold?  How are they told? What makes a story worth sharing? Who decides what story is worth sharing (and which stories aren't)?  Who is telling the story?  How would the story look the same or different if someone else told the story?  How would I go about telling my own story (or the story of another person in history or my life)?

Appendix A: Why are stories important inquiry framework
These are just a few of the big questions our Grade 5 and 6 students are answering in what has been a wonderful and worthwhile inquiry (for the Inquiry framework, see Appendix A) supporting our Grade 5 and 6 English Language Arts teaching.  The final project will culminate with a Museum Box sharing the story of an individual in at least 3 different forms.

To help our students understand the 'why' and 'how', we have used the story of Ruby Bridges as a catalyst for discussion and understanding.  The inquiry began by introducing the Normal Rockwell painting of Ruby's walk to school entitled, The Problem We All Live With.  Following this, we watched a short 2 minute video clip of the Disney film The Story of Ruby Bridges.  Further to this, we read from her autobiography, Through My Eyes,  and a biography The Story of Ruby Bridges  We have read New York Times articles describing Ruby's Walk, listened (and sang along, of course) to a song, Ruby's Shoes, by Lori McKenna, viewed photographs of the day on Ruby Bridges website, watched a video and inteview with Ruby upon meeting with President Barack Obama, read a poem written by Ruby's mother. 

Some of the mini challenges we have given the students include: independently ranking different ways of telling the story and discussing/comparing why different media to tell stories are preferred or higher ranked for some students and not others (a good intro to learning styles); writing a journal entry about Ruby's walk; "stepping into the story" to dramatize Ruby's walk ourselves using photographs of the day.

Our early observations and ongoing, daily discussions and assessments are telling us that the students are getting it!  Last week, students identified some key understanding (and even more not included here) to our first question:  Why are stories important?
  • they teach us about history
  • they share a message
  • they help us understand what prompted a change in our life today
  • they help to preserve culture (pass on lessons, beliefs..)
  • they help us understand history, or the present

This week, we head into a new phase of the inquiry: Who decides which stories are told?  We will begin this with a statue walk tomorrow morning and try to decide what stories are behind the statues we visit, and of course, who decided that the story of this individual/s are worth preserving with a statue.   One absolutely great thing that happened last week was that a student set this up perfectly for us--asking why we don't hear the stories of any of the children who attended the school.  We have a perfect lead into this planned, of course... Stay tuned!