“The Surprise,” by Arnold Lobel

This month I’ve been reading Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad All Year with my advanced EFL* students in Israel. You can access a PDF of the text (with a few typos) for free here, though without images. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the original with Lobel’s sweet illustrations. PSA: The whole Storybook Treasury is available at time of this writing for under $3. I adore the Frog and Toad books for a number of reasons:

  • They deal with universal philosophical themes that are relavent and critical across cultures and age groups, such as friendship, altruism, fairness, time, reality, will-powerlonelinessbravery, and more.
  • They are collections of short stories that can generally be read within one lesson block.
  • They are told in relatively simple language with some repetition, making them accessible to many early readers and ELLs,** but they do not fall into the trap of being simplistic in order to be comprehensible.

In the story we read today, Continue reading

“What will my next family be like?”

The other day, one of my students was stuck on a poem she was writing about herself and her family, and I suggested she include some of her Wonderings. Hardly missing a beat, she said she wonders what her next family will be like. For a moment, I was perplexed. She had just written and told me about how happy she was with her family! Why was she writing something about leaving her family? Then it clicked – “Oh! Do you mean like in a next life?” Yes. Of course. This child’s writing reminded me or helped me realise that not only does community of inquiry change our beliefs, our prior beliefs influence what we’re even able to wonder about in the first place. She wrote a beautiful, unique poem with ideas it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to include, because I don’t have the schema for reincarnation that she does. I’m up in the middle of the night now wondering about what else I might wonder about if my prior beliefs were different. #lovinglearningfrommykids

Question collecting muses

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire

So I’ve let this blog idle for a while because I haven’t felt like I had anything worthwhile to say. And then I realise that is precisely what keeps people from becoming better writers. It’s been odd, having a couple of months out of university all together for the first time. After four years of undergrad and a graduate school program back to back, it starts to become part of your identity. My years at uni* have been an amazing experience that I was quite privileged to have, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However I am still learning how to write for myself, without following an assignment and someone else’s expectations.

These are my requirements for blogging:

  • for once, not focused solely or even primarily on product/productivity (in contrast to grades and consumer culture)
  • meaningful/impactful in some small way
  • sustainable and flexible over at least a year of travel, and connected, if loosely, to the globetrotting + education life
  • outlet for creativity and social justice news discussion
  • actually fun 🙂 (for both writer and reader)

Contemplating this, I realised that what I really want to do is question collecting. I collect questions in my education and travels the way other people collect plastic souvenirs. In CoI, we ask questions and are asked questions, and we learn how not to always need to find an answer. Because more often than not, there isn’t a single answer and there may be no way to answer the question in a concrete way. This is something that I’ve found frustrates a lot of children – and adults – in CoI when they’ve been taught that “progress,” particularly in school, means settling on a definite answer to the original question by the end of the day. What if we could re-imagine questions in a new way? Not blanks to fill in but open doors or portals or what have you, intrinsically valuable in their own right. Answers are plentiful, sometimes reassuring but often limiting and even destructive. They are static, closed doors, endings. They can be labels and put people and ideas in boxes. Questions are invitations, possibilities, dynamic, creation. I do tend to find that the more impactful the question, the less likely it is to have one closed answer. Still, the temptation to resolve questions, to tie loose ends, seems always to still be there. What if we could collect questions and play with them and explicitly not look for answers? What would that free us up to wonder and discover?

So in this spirit, I’ll aim to post a new question or two a week here, and I challenge my readers and myself to comment and engage without beginning “I think … [answering my question here].” No rules, really – if answers happen to present themselves in the course of conversation, no worries, but here that is not the intention and not the mark of success. This means that at the end of a discussion, the lack of an answer to the original question is not a mark of failure, but an opportunity to assess what we’ve learned.

Whether this is an idea that resonates with you or you have no idea what I’m talking about, I encourage you to check out one of my favourite web comics, “A Day at the Park,” by Kostas Kiriakakis, a very sweet illustration of the merits of question collecting. Click here or copy+paste: http://kiriakakis.net/comics/mused/a-day-at-the-park

*Uni = university. In New Zealand (and the UK), “college” is the equivalent of American middle school. So if I say I just finished college a year ago, people are a bit confused 🙂 Setting up a Kiwi <–> American phrase page is going to be a little pet project of mine over my year of teaching here. Plan to add a few new words/phrases each week at this page. Please feel free to suggest things 🙂