How Can Materials Help You Tell How a Story Changed You?
by Levia Friedman, Opal School Teacher Researcher
The day after these 5th grade students re-enacted the historic Snake River Crossing on the Oregon Trail, we asked them to use materials to reflect on how that experience with the "river" changed the characters they had the chance to imagine and play. Before we moved to begin our work with materials, students offered their thinking:
Ella: You might cherish life a little more. It changed your perception of life.
Materials provide children with the opportunity to find themselves in a state of relaxed alertness and to express their thinking, feelings and emotions. Danny sat down with the watercolors. He had played the part of the river, and he knew so clearly who he was in the drama:
Danny: We’re this tributary. We come out of the mountains as snow melt. Red is the Oregon Trail. We come from snow melt on a high peak and enter the Snake River at the crossing. We create a channel.
But when it came to describing how the river crossing changed him, he felt a little lost and called me over to support him.
Danny: It depends on when it was, because I’d have gotten used to it [people walking through me]. At first it might have felt weird.
Levia: Can you show that weird feeling?
Danny: If I paint it.
Abigail and Kaia were Nez Perce Indians who guided covered wagon families across the river.
Abigail: It was scary, but we felt stronger. People put their lives into our hands. We were the first Native people to do it. We were raised up. They thought we were dirt, but they paid us for the crossing. That is not what would happen in most lives. The black staircase shows level after level but not being at the top.
Riley to Kaia: That looks like it could be on the cover of Time magazine! Like that image of President Obama that is made up of lots of smaller images. Kaia, I think that it’s the other way around. When you are respected you become different.
Kaia: Like that one popular girl in middle school. It’s like a brick wall with a big spot of pink on it. (Which she then painted:)
Riley: This dividing line is the river of calm. How will I show calm? There is the calm side and the stress side. When me and Bella first got there, we were stressed from our long journey. When we started making a living we weren’t worried about finding food for the next week.
Naomi: They are butterflies. It’s how I felt before I crossed the river. The different colors are different emotions. This is wonder: Will I make it? Will my family make it? Will our stuff make it? And this is nerve: I’m nervous to be actually doing this.
Bella: I was a ferry operator and I had no idea how to do it (operate the ferry). [describing image] If you put yourself up high, claim to know things, there is a big chance to slip. If you put yourself lower there is less chance to fall, the rocks are sturdier.
Hailey: [explaining image] This was before we went: I felt shy. This is on the way: it’s outdoorsy. This is when we reached [the destination]: I feel upbeat. This is the shock when my father dies; this is me keeping my family. The rainbow string is me grateful for my family.
Malakai: It makes me wonder if there was an easier way to cross.
Teacher Carole: Can you think of how you have changed?
Carole: Right before you died, did you have any regrets?
Senan: No, my life was good. He was rich — he liked his life.
Abigail: Can we publish these? The whole story of crossing the river? I mean, this was a life changing experience!
In what ways do you notice the materials have supported the students to deepen their understanding of their experience? Of history?