Last week, educators gathered at Opal School to consider a question dear to all of us: What conditions support the the young writers we work with in their efforts to develop as authors, meaning-makers, and communicators? We pursued that question through presentations by our guest speaker, Matt Glover, as well as an inquiry into the roles of materials, environments, and the structures of Story Workshop at Opal School.
Matt Glover kicked off the workshop by examining the value of using mentor text collections. Use of these “stacks”, he said, provide children with a clear vision of what they will make – which leads to richer and deeper thinking. These collections support the children’s identification as authors and give purpose to reading like a writer. Matt drew a strong link between the actions of the teacher and the resulting writing. He emphasized the importance of accepting approximations to support development.
Friday, Susan described the Story Workshop approach developed by Opal School teachers and children, making ample use of videos from The Geography of Story Workshop. Participants then travelled to Opal School to engage with materials and experience their power in awakening story. Participants then toured Opal School classrooms to consider the role of environments in supporting writers.
Matt Glover then deepened our thinking about conditions that support intellectual development with a presentation on the beliefs that guide schools. Matt’s presentation was built around a statement of beliefs constructed by a 2012 literacy-interested study group to Reggio Emilia. Matt shared excerpts from authors who are contributing to an anthology of essays inspired by that statement (including Sir Ken Robinson, Ellin Keene, and Peter Johnston.) Here, Matt drove home a point that we keep returning to: That all schools’ actions are driven by beliefs. Some schools don’t articulate those beliefs; others have stated beliefs that seem inconsistent with their actions. Matt shared that he hadn’t read Opal School’s stated beliefs, values, and guiding principles before observing in classes Thursday – but when he read them, their relationship to what he saw was clearly evident. It’s an honor for Opal School staff to hear this assessment. I believe that it results from the iterative practice of discussing daily experience in light of those beliefs in an effort to collaboratively make sense of the very complicated process of teaching and learning and creating.
Beyond having Matt Glover at Opal School, we were deeply honored by the contributions of all of the participants. We had early childhood and elementary teachers, coordinators, principals, and district-heads from far and wide – Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, California, Alberta, Tennessee, New York, Massachusetts, Quito, Bucharest – all invested in seeking out greater opportunity for the children and adults they work with. If you attended, I hope you’ll share some of your reflections in the comments section.
If you weren’t there, we hope you’ll take advantage of other opportunities to connect with us:
Come to Symposium, June 18-20.
Join us in New York or Cambridge.
Save the date to attend one of next year’s workshops. Visitation Days will be held January 27-29, 2016; Symposium June 16-18, 2016.
Schedule a customized workshop with Opal School and the Museum Center for Learning next year, for your group to come to Portland or for us to come to you.
Apply to join the 2015-16 Opal School Mentor Program