I remember being eleven years old. I not only remember key moments, the teachers I had, the friends I played with, but I remember the feeling of eleven-ness. It was a feeling of glorying in your own consciousness, in the ability to make choices, of being self-directed. Perhaps for that reason I also remember with perfect clarity the moments when the opportunity to make choices was taken away from me, usually by adults, usually in situations where “you are too young”, and usually without a fair hearing. I vowed to remember forever that feeling of eleven-ness, so that I would not oppress the voices of children when I became a grown-up.
I did grow up. I chose to become a primary school teacher, mostly so I could spend my day with children who still had an open mind for learning, instead of adults, who (I still felt at the cusp of adulthood myself) were set in their ways and much more difficult to engage in changing their thinking. I started to build a listening culture in my own classroom, keeping my ears open to children’s talk and using the Storycrafting method to create participatory spaces. I have never yet had a child refuse to tell me a story of their choice, when I was prepared to listen. I hope to make my eleven-year-old self proud.
Still, I feel uncomfortable talking to other teachers about Storycrafting and listening to children’s voices. I feel I may be judged for relinquishing control over to the students. Schools are built around strong traditions where the teacher has power and authority and knowledge, and students are expected to obey and respect and listen. It’s as if there is a fear that if students get to say what’s really on their minds, chaos would ensue.
Maybe in many classrooms this is a reality. Maybe strong authority is the only way to keep chaos at bay and learning underway. In other schools, classroom conversations may be much more free, with the teacher positioning him or herself as a facilitator to learning. Either way though, typically it is the teacher who chooses the topic for discussion and directs it to meet educational purposes. There is usually no time to engage with child-initiated talk, particularly if it’s seen as nonsense or a side-conversation, secondary to the teacher-selected learning goals.
“You’re very brave!” is a comment I have had from a few teachers when I describe the Storycrafting method to them. This is what I say to the children:
“Tell me a story, any story you want.
I will write it down exactly as you tell it.
Then I will read it back to you and you may make any changes or corrections.
It is then your story.”
Do I get silly stories? Defiant stories? True stories? Fantastical stories? Yes. But that’s what they are: stories. Often I find that stories are a space where children like to be playful and humorous, and that is what they want to share with me as I scribe for them.
“But what”, you may wonder, “does this have to do with school? With learning? With curriculum?” This is a question I struggle to justify, because it really depends on the questioner’s preconceived ideas of what school should look like.
For me, school is about helping my students find that glorious feeling of eleven-ness inside them.
Primary School Teacher
Doctoral Student in Education
University of Eastern Finland