Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two rules and three goals of string learning

After many years of using "Never Around the Neck" as a Rule, my #1, I've changed that to

  • Always play safe with the string

so that the whole range of things not to do, of which around the neck and various horse associations strings always seem to bring up in kids are at the top of my list, becomes open-ended and complex.

Rule #2 has also morphed as a result of my full-time experience with 250 kids a day:

  • Strings are only for String Time, which you mostly only get in my class
One of the teachers asked me to have the students keep their string in my classroom, so they wouldn't have to deal with kids bringing the strings back into their classroom. I've compromised so that on their last day of the week with me they get to take their strings home with them. Their out-of-class practice time is so important, it's where they connect with friends and family and perhaps spark some deeper interest. At first I thought the request somewhat silly and annoying, but it's actually been very helpful. I have envelopes I use in class for the students to keep their strings until the end of the week, so I have them put their strings away early if we're going into activities, like singing, where I want their total attention to something quite different from string. 

When they need to have the string ready for a practice, but I need to make a correction or addition to the instructions, I use "No strings on fingers!" as a way to rein in a lot of very involved children. It's much easier when the students have desks, and I use the command to show me a triangle or a rectangle on top of their desks with the string as a way to get them to stop. 

My Ah-Ha of the evening, which came as I was watering the garden, was what I realized as I said them were the Three Goals of String Learning:

  • Respect the String
  • Inspect the Loom
  • Thank the Source

The idea of respecting the string came to me as I imagined how the students will deal with the new classroom arrangement they'll have next week: instead of the circle of chairs which we've been in for the last three weeks, we'll have four large rectangular tables arranged in the center of the room as one big table, with all the chairs around the table, and art supplies and string and yarn of all kinds in the center. So if I'm going to put out my personal collection of mostly natural fibers of all kinds and types for the students to be able to inspect and use, I'll need to set up guidelines about how to treat these threads and strands with respect--literally, to look again at something you think you saw, and try to go to another level with the same thing.

Inspecting the loom is basically what we are doing all day--using our fingers as a kind of loom, and learning the basics of weaving--how the threads catch each other to form loops and twirls and arcs and knots. We practice a lot with finger games, and it's a marvel to see these first and second graders, many of whom have never imagined themselves as dextrous in any way at all approaching the level of skill they now show with less than three weeks of a few repetitions per week. I can feel the genuine interest in setting a personal challenge and asserting the need for help to achieve it – "I want to learn the Magic Carpet" – which many third graders have expressed now that they have strings long enough to attempt it. The drop spindle I brought it has attracted some interest, and next week I hope to have an example of some weaving in progress. By November I'm hoping that even the first graders will be able to grasp more of the meaning of fiber in their lives.

Which brings me to the third goal: Thank the Source. I hope to have students come away with the knowledge that the things we use for our games, clothes, and often our shelter, are woven materials that come ultimately from our earth, perhaps as petroleum, the source for the synthetic fiber the students mostly use for their string games, almost as much of it from plants, like cotton and flax and sisal, and a preciously small portion from animals, now that wools and furs are almost exclusively high end goods. In each source area, there are processes to acknowledge and appreciate, and workers whose skill and care deserve our thanks.