Exploring the Relationship between Materials and Ideas

Topic Progress:

Earlier in this course, I introduced the role of the arts in Story Workshop.  One of the things I want children to explore as we begin to develop a culture of Story Workshop at the beginning of the year is the relationship between materials and ideas. My intention for Story Workshop is that children come to know the materials available to them as tools for thinking. I hope they’ll see the studio materials as resources that nurture their work as authors. Although there are a wide variety of studio materials available to children during Story Workshop, my goal is not to develop highly skilled painters (or builders or sculptors). My goal during Story Workshop is to develop highly skilled writers. Because of this intention, I’m constantly working to support students to explore the relationship between materials and ideas; to help them see the materials as resources that support their writing.

One way I try and support this is by asking children to reflect on the role of materials by asking questions such as:

  • Where will you go during Story Workshop today? Why?
  • How do you think that material will support your ideas?
  • Why (or how) might that material help you tell your story?
  • What happened when you painted (or built, or drew, etc.) your story?
  • What did playing in blocks help you discover? How did your idea change or grow?
  • How will you capture what you discovered in that material today?
  • How do you know if a material is supporting you or distracting you? How will you find out?

On the first day of Story Workshop, I invited children to either find or capture an idea. There were a variety of materials available to them, including watercolors, blocks, loose parts collage, small world, and small blank books with pens and markers. I noticed that about half of the children went to write ideas they already had and the other half chose to go to materials to either find or grow an idea.
I wanted to be sure to set the expectation that we do both of those things in Story Workshop, so the next day I invited anyone who captured an idea the day before to take that same idea to a material to see what happened. Likewise, anyone who had used materials to explore their idea earlier was invited to use paper and pen to capture the ideas they had found the day before. This balance between the materials and writing will be something that I’m paying attention to and the children are considering and articulating all year.

I want to share three small clips that show children talking and thinking about the relationship between materials and ideas at this early point in the school year.

This first clip is of Nolan as he explains his plan for Story Workshop before he gets started.

Video: How sand will help me write my story

This second clip is of Kavi as he reflects on what he discovered about his idea through using blocks after Story Workshop.

Video: Reflection on Blocks

I believe the role of reflection is key in developing a culture of Story Workshop where materials are viewed and used as resources to support the children as authors. By inviting them to make decisions and share their intentions behind those decisions I’m working to support them to become more metacognitive of their own processes.

The same day that this was happening in the “Dogwood” classroom of first- and second-graders, fourth and fifth graders in the “Willow” classroom were reflecting on why they use materials as tools for thinking.  You might reflect on what you value in their ideas – and how you see a culture of Story Workshop contributing to those ideas.

Video: How materials help you think

For reflection – in your journal:

  • How are you supporting children to construct a meaningful relationship between their work with materials and their writing?
  • What conditions are you creating that support them to reflect on that relationship?
  • What do you value in children’s ideas about that relationship – either the ideas expressed by students at Opal School or those in your classroom?
  • What does this post inspire you to try in your practice?

Course Discussion