what stories live in clay?

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

On Monday I spent the afternoon at Steves Elementary in Ellen Reid’s grades 1&2 classroom and Kathleen Paiger’s kindergarten classroom. Both teachers are taking part in our QTL playful storytelling project and also have a proposal for an AESN (NOII) grant to support the work they are doing around the goals of our AEEA, in particular around the themes of community and place. Hmm…that’s a lot of acronyms.

QTL – Quality Teaching and Learning Project (Ministry then district based)

AESN (NOII) – Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network as part of the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

AEEA – Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement

The Steves teachers and I, along with some other Richmond colleagues, spent an inspiring day out at  the Musqueam Cultural Centre on Friday, learning about their language revitalization initiatives. We wanted to weave some of the teachings from that day into our time together. The language of the Musqueam people is not an easy one to learn. The hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language is complex but fortunately we were provided with some audio resources of elders using the language so our students could hear this language of our place. I think its important for our students to hear the language that was used on the land and in the waters for thousands of year before it was called Richmond and the Fraser River by settlers. Language and culture are intertwined and the teachers and I agreed that while we have been learning about the story of this place, the language piece was an important layer to add. We viewed the interactive Musqueam Places Names Map and played some of the place names in our area for the students. They listened so carefully to the elders speak the words and I watched many of the students try to mouth the words as they were listening. We also noted how the places were named. For example, a beach along the south arm of the river was not named “London Beach” but referred to as driftwood beach. Many of the students chimed in to say they knew that beach with all the driftwood! As we brought out the materials, one kindergarten student shared how he created a scene with trees and knocked one down, he could call it “the fallen down tree place”. Big ideas for five year olds!

After a discussion about place and language, the students were invited to create stories using various materials. Today, we also introduced the “language” of clay and asked the students to think about what stories live  within the clay and how it could help them tell stories of place. We talked about how clay came from the Earth and many students connected to digging and finding clay. There was much exploring today and I left the clay behind at the school so the students can continue to investigate the affordances of this material.

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In Ellen’s class it was interesting to note how some students had a definite affinity for certain materials and Ellen said they went back to those same materials again and again. Some students like the kinaesthetic, gross motor experience of the puppets, others like moving the little animals and loose parts around in their settings and others enjoyed using the upright felt board. Some of the students wanted to continue capturing their stories using Book Creator on the iPads.

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In Kathleen’s kindergarten class, the students created all sorts of stories about place.

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The place in the setting above was called “the muddy place near the forest and near the water where the fish are and oh, there’s snow there too” and so we shortened it to The Muddy Place to keep things simple but the group of boys clearly got the idea of naming the place by describing it and how it might have been used for fishing. Amongst a very complex story going on with four boys, one boy stopped for a few minutes to tell me one part of the story and then he was right back with the group.


Here is a link to another kindergarten student’s story HERE.

The teachers commented that the students ask for storytelling everyday. We observed such high engagement, focus and collaboration amongst the students. It is also clear that these young students are taking in some big concepts around community and place. We debriefed after school and thought about ways we can support further connections for the students, particularly around language.


One Response

  1. Liz Taylor says:

    Thank you to Janice, Ellen, & Kathleen, plus the AESN (NOII) grant project, for supporting our students in this amazing learning. Not only are the students eager to share their stories on days like these, but they love to share their stories most every day. These are the kind of foundational lessons, or guidings, that will help students to be deep thinkers, open to ideas of others, and appreciative of everyone’s experiences. It makes me wish I was a K or 1/2 student all over again.