Projecting First Engagements with Story Workshop

Topic Progress:

Preparing for Story Workshop includes making decisions about what experiences to offer at the beginning of the year. Because we often don’t know the children before the year begins, our intentions are often focused on learning more about who they are and what they care about. Other times, our own teacher-research questions guide decisions. Our intentions may come from inspiring books we’ve read, ideas we’re thinking about, or other outside resources we’re aware of in the communities in which we work.

Whatever our intentions may be, they guide what we pay attention to and support us as we plan for what provocations we’ll bring to the children in the beginning of the year. As I make these beginning of the year decisions, I consider:

  • What (provocations, materials, books, resources) will support my intentions for Story Workshop?
  • What kinds of experiences will set the tone for the culture I’m trying to create in Story Workshop?
  • What will I pay attention to so I know where to go/what to plan next?

To spark your imagination, I’d like to share three possible ways I might think about starting Story Workshop. I’ll do my best to identify the questions, intentions, and lenses guiding me.

A focus on materials:

My intentions: I might begin by exploring the affordances of one material. I know the children I’m going to be working with have limited experiences working with clay, so I’ll invite all of the children to have an experience exploring clay in search of their stories as a way to gain more familiarity with that specific material. If I know I’m beginning the year with a group of children who have had little experience with using any studio materials, my intentions might be to introduce materials slowly – even one at a time. I would hope to support the children to become familiar and comfortable with the affordances and care of those materials before diving more deeply into their work as authors.  I know that we’re going to be investigating the relationship between these studio arts materials and writing – but they need some experience with the materials themselves first.

How I might set up the space: I would have as many individual spaces to work with clay as I have students, but those individual spaces would be at a larger table in order for me to observe both how they are using the materials, what language and stories are coming up naturally for them, and the ways in which they are connecting with their peers. Each child would begin with one large chunk of clay, with other pieces of clay available after they spend at least some time exploring what they can do with the initial piece. I would not introduce any additional clay tools on that first day but watch for the needs that arise as they work with this material.

Questions I might ask the children: What can this material do? How will we care for this material? Where does this material live in our classroom? What stories can you find as you work with clay? What surprises come up for you as you work with clay? What new connections might you find?

What I’ll pay attention to: How do the children approach the materials? What stories naturally come to life as they play? In what ways are they making connections with peers? What are children paying attention to as they play?

Day 1 projected experience: On Day 1, I might say to children, “One of the things that we’re going to do together this year is explore and play with lots of different materials. I want to introduce you to a new friend that we’ll all get some time playing together with today: clay. What do you know about clay? What do you notice? What do you wonder?“

A focus on finding and sharing summer stories:

My intentions: As I’m preparing for any school year I always wonder about the children. Who are they? What do they love and care about? How will I find out more? How will we come together as a community? Whether I’m working with a group of students who I know and want to hear about their experiences during our time away or a group of students I don’t know well and want to get to know better, I might begin by inviting them to think about, find, and share the stories from their summer. I want to find out more about who they are, what they love, and experiences they may have had. I believe I can support children as authors by encouraging them to recognize all the stories they already have. I can encourage them by supporting them to know that the real life experiences they’ve had often become the best stories. I can also begin to nurture connections and develop a culture of a community of authors by inviting them to hear one another’s stories.

How I might set up the space: I would want to provide materials that I thought might wake up memories of summer experiences I expect students may have had. For example, small trays or a sensory table with sand, shells, and pieces of driftwood may be one experience for students to explore. Another may be a “small world” set up like a camping scene, with grass, large pieces of bark or sticks, and rocks along with small people characters. Another may be a space with tempera paint and sunflowers to observe and inspire as they paint. I would also want to provide some materials that are open-ended. I might choose to have loose parts collage, watercolor painting, and blank small books also available.

Questions I might ask the children: What summer stories can you find or share as you explore the materials in the classroom? What was something you did this summer? Where did you go? What did you see? How can you use the materials to remember or tell a story from your summer? How might a material like sand wake up a story in your mind?

What I’ll pay attention to: Who are these children? What do they love and care about? What experiences have they had? How do they approach this invitation? What evidence can I find that they already view themselves as authors? When and where are they seeking opportunities to share their stories with peers?

Day 1 projected experiences: I might say to children, “One of the things you might not know about me yet is that I love stories! I have found that stories live everywhere! I want to read you a short story that reminded me of a trip I took to the beach with my son this summer. The book is called The Big, Big Sea and it’s by Martin Waddell.” After reading I might say, “Have any of you ever been to the beach before? Is anyone willing to share a sneak peek of something else you did this summer?” Then, after a short time to share, “Look around the room and notice all the materials available to you. Today you’re going to get a chance to use those materials in the classroom to find or remember a story from your summer.  What summer stories can you find or share as you explore the materials in the classroom?”

A focus on exploring what it means to be an author

My intentions: If my intention is to develop a culture of children who view themselves as authors from the very beginning – and to support children to get in the habit of writing every day from the very first day of school – I might begin by asking students: What does it mean to be an author? What does that look like, sound like, and feel like? My intention would be to pay attention to children’s preconceived ideas of what it means to be a writer and author. How might I challenge or grow their images? What is their comfort level in putting pen to paper? How might they approach an invitation to write at the very beginning of the year?

How I might set up the space: I would have small blank books (two pieces of computer paper stapled together) with interesting writing and drawing materials (pens, pencils, markers, crayons) at tables for each student. Although I would want each student to begin with their own small book, I would also want students to explore these materials and write their stories at tables where they can share and observe their peers rather than in spaces for working individually.

Questions I might ask the children: What does it mean to be an author? What does being an author look like, sound like, and feel like? How can you use this blank book to share a story? What are you interested in or what do you love that you might tell us about in your story? What connections are you making to the stories you hear in this community?

What I’ll pay attention to: How do children approach this invitation? Who dives eagerly in? Is there anyone that seems uncomfortable with this invitation? Why? What evidence can I find of their views of themselves as authors? Are they sharing their books with their peers? Where are the places where I can support their images of what it means to be an author or who they are as an author to grow?

Day 1 projected experiences: I might say, “One of the things that I believe and care a lot about is the idea that we’re all authors with stories to tell. We’ll get to spend a lot of time this year exploring what it means to be an author. I want to read you a story about that idea. It’s Bear Has A Story to Tell and it’s by Philip C. Stead.” After reading, I might say, “I have been so curious and can’t wait to hear: What stories do you have to tell? Today you get a chance to use one tool or material that authors use to tell their stories: a blank book and something to write with. How can you use these materials to tell a story?”

REFLECTION QUESTIONS (for your notebook):

How do these possibilities inspire your thinking about how you’ll start Story Workshop with the students you’re working with this year?

Course Discussion