FOLKTALES-THE MIRROR OF HUMANITY is a six week unit, designed to be covered in thirty hour-long sessions. Because of the scheduling in the school where I teach, I will use this unit for the duration of the academic year with my sixth grade drama/theatre students. This unit is directed towards a middle school population; however, with some adjustments it could be made suitable for older or younger children. Many folktales are intergenerational and listeners of all ages take what they want and need from them.
The spirit with which you approach this unit will, to a large extent, determine its success. I look at it as a journey or voyage on which both teacher and student are about to embark. It is important to prepare oneself in order to get the full value and enjoyment out of the experience. During the introduction of this unit, time should be spent establishing the following goals and objectives.
1. The development of a community within the classroom
We, as teachers, must do all that we can to make our classroom environment child and learner friendly. Doing this sometimes requires that we shift our thinking and emphases to some extent. We may have to consider ideas from our students’ point of view more often. Like educators and authors Bob Barton and David Booth, I have developed the activities in this unit to show:
*how children’s own personal stories can add to the fabric of the classroom, thus helping each individual to recognize the value of his/her life experiences, and building in the class a sense of each person’s story worth;
*how informal explorations by individuals and small groups can be carried out within the context of the larger community;
*how peer talk can be maximized, rather than funneling all talk through the teacher;
*how children can be encouraged to listen to each other, respond to each other, and build up their responses as a group;
*how the role of the teacher can change from that of “all-knowing sage” to “participant in the exploration”.
(Bob Barton and David Booth,
Stories in the Classroom
, (Markham, Ontario: Pembroke Publishers Limited), 1990, p. 8)
Consider the mirror discussed earlier in the introductory discussion. In a more conventional mode, a teacher might ‘suggest’ to students the ideas and images that they should consider relevant. They would expect the students to accept their opinion and judgments as correct. Within such a scenario the mirror becomes ‘teacher’ centered. My aim is to acknowledge with the students that through folktales we encounter a mirror where we can see who we are, who we have been, who we hope to become. Peering into this mirror is a unique experience for each of us. Our expectations, fears, beliefs and culture, color what we see and how we see it. In our classroom, this alone will guarantee some interesting and lively discussion.
The following are games and activities that have been helpful to me in my efforts to create an atmosphere of community and trust within my classroom:
A. PASS THE HANDSHAKE
B. PART OF A WHOLE
C. NAME GAMES, NERVOUS NELLIE, NAMES PLUS TWO
E. LEAN AND LEAVE
F. MIRROR GAMES
NOTE: Detailed descriptions of these activities, as well as those mentioned throughout this unit can be found in APPENDIX A.
2. Understanding the nature of the Oral Tradition
The desire and need to understand our world through story comes naturally to all of us. Throughout the ages humankind has found folktales to be a meaningful way to express and explain themselves creatively.
You may find these exercises helpful as you explore these ideas:
H. SCAR-RY STORIES
J. LUNCHBAG STORIES or TALES FROM THE WILD SIDE
3. Appreciating the power of words
This goes hand in hand with the power of story. Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember some painful moments when I found myself to be the object of some thoughtless or teasing comment made by a ‘not so nice’ peer. Being a ‘sensitive’ child, I would oftentimes cry in these situations, retorting in a trembling voice, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. This means of coping seemed to please the grown-ups in my life and it surely helped me avoid some fist fights. Still, despite all the bravado that I was occasionally able to muster, many of those words stung. And badly. Some I am still able to recall. Fortunately words used in a positive manner retain their power as well. Yet, so often it is the harsh words, those that leave us injured and in pain, that we most vividly remember. Such is the power of words. They evoke images and symbols that we, as humans, have always responded to in profound ways; spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically.
The following activities will help young people become more aware of the significance that words have in the shaping of our perceptions and feelings and will also stress the potential and power in the skillful and accurate use of words.
K. POETRY PLAY
L. GROUP STATUES
M. CREATIVE VISUALIZATION
N. SPONTANEOUS RESPONSE
4. Understanding the role of the teller and the listener
There must be a mutual respect between teller and listener if ‘story’ is to take place. This, of course, demands that a person be able to express themselves well and that they are skilled at listening. But let’s face it. For many of our students the principal ‘teller’ has been the television. It speaks the words. It provides the images. Viewers sit along the sidelines, passive participants (for the most part) in the entire experience. Producers, aware of this profitable phenomenon, have done all that they can to ‘hook’ their audience. They are well aware of the stimulating effects the fast-paced images and vibrant colors have on us all, children in particular. It is no surprise that the image of a teacher standing before a class pales in comparison. This is the unfortunate reality we all face. How can we as teachers, hope to compete? How do we show our students the spontaneity, the excitement, the unique sense of immediacy that we feel when we communicate person to person? We’ve come to take ourselves for granted, thinking that machines and advanced technology can replace our heart and soul nature. Yet, even in the midst of this, more and more people are acknowledging that we must maintain a balance if we hope to retain our human essence. Folktales, storytellers, the oral tradition, all provide an essential bridge between who we have been, and who we are becoming. This is the nature of our challenge. Sharing folktales is a way of meeting our students on common ground. The more we tell folktales in our classrooms the more skilled the young people will become as listeners and image makers. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect”! For this reason I strongly encourage you to tell stories frequently during the introduction to this unit. At this point, sharing a short story that you feel comfortable and familiar with is a fine place to start. Consider giving an account of something from your personal experience, for example, how you got a particular scar, taking the drivers license exam, your first pet, a trip abroad, etc. Perhaps you might tell a joke or funny anecdote. Below are suggestions of short stories that may interest you, as well as communication exercises for your students.
2. The Talking Skull
3. The Great Cantini
P. CIRCLE STORY:
1. Word At A Time
2. Phrase At A Time
R. PASS THE PHRASE
S. PASS THE GESTURE
5. Developing a flexible attitude towards the lesson plan
The lesson plan is not sacred. It only gives us a place to begin, a frame of reference. The real lesson depends, to a large extent on the interests and needs of the students. They will tell you what they need and want from a story. Their questions, comments, or silences tell us where the lesson needs to go. The activities in this unit work best if they are used to complement and enhance discussion and ideas the tales inspire in our students. After the telling of a folktale, I envision a classroom buzzing with activity, very much like the scenario that Barton and Booth describe.
Safeguards lie in seeking the many modes of responding as a repertoire of choices, and in letting the children select and direct their own learning as much as possible. We may begin with an idea—set out art supplies, divide the class into discussion groups, organize an interview-but the children will make the meaning, and we as teachers will have to be sensitive to their wants and needs. Because we story together, the group of young people will have to cooperate in carrying out activities. Not all children will be working on identical projects. some may be in groups, others may be partners, and others may work on their own for the moment
(Bob Barton and David Booth, pp. 112-113)