Cracking Open Ideas

Topic Progress:

Schema is all the stuff that’s already inside your head, like places you’ve been, things you’ve done, the books you’ve read—all the experiences you’ve had that make up who you are and what you know and believe to be true.”  Debbie Miller, Reading with Meaning

A big part of what I’m paying attention to as I develop a culture of Story Workshop with children at the beginning of the year is supporting them to develop an understanding of what schema means. Developing a culture where you know you are welcome and you belong (and where everyone else is welcome and belongs, too) begins with realizing that we all come into the space carrying different schema – different experiences, beliefs, and understandings of what things mean and the way things work. This big understanding supports us in our work as we attempt to not make assumptions that anyone else has the same thoughts or ideas as we do and to find value in those differences.

One way I hope to support children in building their own understanding of schema – and to begin to foster a sense of connection and belonging – is by cracking open ideas or words so that we begin to develop shared language and understanding together. This year, I invited the children to spend some time cracking open the word community. I wanted to know what this particular group of children had to say about what the word community means.

I wondered:

  • What pictures did these individuals hold of what community means?
  • What words, images, and stories live inside the word community for each of them? How might cracking this word open together begin to support us to develop a shared understanding?
  • What might I learn about the ways in which we might grow, as a group, our understanding of this concept?

As the children shared their understandings, I recorded their words on a large piece of paper, with the intention of referring back to it and adding on over time. I record the children’s words because I want to use their language as the source for continuing to build their definition.

Here’s just a sneak peek of the larger conversation we had as we cracked open the word community.

Video: Cracking open the word community

Part of what you don’t see in this clip is the first child to share said that community is, “a bunch of people who are all friends.” From this comment, a few more children added on to this idea of a group of people coming together as friends before Aurelia shared her metaphor that you saw in the video. I was excited to see the metaphor of the seed blooming into a flower get brought to this group as a way to understand what it feels like to be in a community. Metaphor is a powerful tool for making meaning because it provides a visible representation of a more abstract idea. Kavi went on to deepen this thinking by sharing that maybe he turns into a pumpkin, rather than just a flower, setting the stage for a conversation about members of a community not as just friends but as unique individuals with differences (in ideas, perspectives, and more).

We now have this visual image and language that will support all of us to begin to make sense of this experience of coming together as a community. One thing I’m considering inviting the children to do next is to have a go at using materials to illustrate this metaphor. As a teacher, I’m looking for ways to grow understandings and nudge children past their initial thoughts. To me, the idea of communities as places where people come together as friends is a lovely place to start, but I also know that communities are places where conflict and problems will arise. As Parker Palmer writes,

Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives… And when that person moves away, someone else arises immediately to take his or her place.

I know that Story Workshop is a time when children will be asked to take risks, solve problems, stretch beyond their comfort zones, and take on challenges. Because these ideas didn’t come up in the dialogue we had, I will continue to look for opportunities to support and grow this understanding; to build a community not where conflict doesn’t occur, but where when we encounter the inevitable problems and conflicts that arise in any community, we know we’ll find ways to navigate through them.

Reflect, in your journal:

  • How are you inviting children to understand that they all carry different schema?
  • What words are you “cracking open”?  What value do you place in doing so?
  • What does this post inspire you to try in your classroom?

Course Discussion