Sunday, April 27, 2014

Biking through Stories

Biking through my suburban neighborhood is a good way to be assaulted by narrative.  The suburbanites are out in force today,  worshiping in the manner of our people everywhere.

They are mowing their lawns, working in their gardens, allowing workmen to upgrade or repair their houses, or showering love on their cars.

Pubescent boys are out playing various forms of ball or skateboarding.  My son, and most boys in his age range, are safely inside somewhere playing video games, because the sun is an anathema to all denizens of the night.  My son must trade half an hour of exercise for each hour he wishes to spend gaming.  He made arrangements yesterday so he could spend several hours today with his friends.

There are also the deeper stories.  I saw the woman who had never heard of Alzheimer's until her husband was diagnosed.  She was out for her daily constitutional.  She tried to pray his diagnosis away for awhile.  Now, she has ceased taking him to the doctor's office because they just keep telling her to consider putting him into a nursing home.  She's afraid of being alone, so, he lives in a chair in her living room, she frets about how bad he is getting, and leaves him alone twice a day so she can take a walk.

Then there is the woman who has a dog who was hit by a car.  She's been walking him slowly for a couple of months, and he is recovering nicely.

There are plenty of other stories that I wave at when I'm out biking, but I have no idea what they are.

Today, I heard an interesting ruckus at our neighborhood park.  I rode over to see what was doing, and came upon a wonderful thing.

Grown men were playing slow pitch softball on both baseball fields.  They were laughing, cheering for each other regardless of who was on which team, and nobody seemed to be keeping score.  There were no uniforms, no fancy gear, and everyone was having a good time.

A few fellows were smoking, and many of them were heavily tattooed.  I watched the game for a bit.

After the outfielders came in, a kid of about six was called to the plate.  They showed him how to hit the ball, and when he managed an infield fly the men pretended they could not field it so that he could make it to first base.  They made sure he got all the way home in the next two at bats and he was beaming as he came off the field.

As I was leaving, I asked a fellow who was missing his front teeth what was happening.

He told me that they were on an outing because each and every one of them was celebrating at least two years of being clean and sober.

I looked back at the faces on those fields.  Men laughing, throwing the ball, running - some doing well, others less successfully -  and loving every minute of it.  So many stories, and all of them had come to this moment.

I left the park and biked home.  I passed a neighbor who was cutting his small bit of lawn on a big, riding lawnmower.  I couldn't help but smile.  There had to be a story behind that.

As I turned into my cul-de-sac, two young men came skateboarding down the street.  They hailed me as the flew past.  I grinned.  At least two of the cult of darkness were out and around on this sunny day.

I leave tomorrow for Connecticut.  More telling, a conference, some workshops and then home again for more storytelling, workshops and writing.

In all of my wanderings I try to remember that everybody is in the midst of some kind of story.

May we all find moments of joy as deep as those fellows in the park.

Happy Story Hunting

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yes! SHE, Fire & Light...That kind of sounds like the lyrics to a Reggae song

So, I've been avoiding the Blog.  Why?

Traveling, telling, writing, and family.  Not to mention the fact that I have way too much percolating in my head about the 30 Million Word Gap.  I've finally decided to throw in the towel about this subject on the blog.

I have years and years of research about this subject.  There is no way to encapsulate it that gives as much energy and understanding as it deserves in this space.  None!

So, I've decided to forgo torturing myself anymore with providing just enough information in a blog format to confuse or possibly bore the reader.

If you really want to learn more about the literacy pitfalls, the language challenges or the way to use this information to inform how you craft stories for youth, I have a much better venue .

I will be presenting at the YES! Alliance Pre-conference Mesa, Az.

YES! Stands for Youth Educators and Storytelling

I think SHE stands for Storytellers in Higher Education.

If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will tell me!

Wednesday, July 23 • 9:00am-6:30pm
YES!/SHE Pre-Conference at the National Storytelling Conference
Phoenix/Mesa, Arizona

Changing the World One Story at a Time

The Yes! Folks went all out and they dragged the SHE people with them!  They have an amazing line up of Key Note speakers.

Internationally recognized storytellers Margaret Read MacDonald, Jennifer and Nathaniel Whitman, our Keynote speakers, will discuss the use of storytelling to build community and character.

Additional workshops include, Storytelling Apologetics, or How I Got to Teach Storytelling with recommendations on how to sell your storytelling courses and lessons to administrators, faculty, and students.
The popular YOUTH TRACK returns from 1:00–8:00pm, and includes the afternoon workshops, the Youth Concert from 5:30 – 6:30pm and a Celebratory Pizza and Story SWAP.

I will be doing a workshop about the 30 Million Word Gap and repertoire building.  So, if you really want to get into the weeds of this concept and yell at me about the things you find difficult to believe or stuff you just don't like about this concept...we could do it there.

Then, just in case you didn't have enough of my yammering, I am also teaching a Master Class at the conference.

I hope it will be both informative and fun!

Crafting for Your Bread and Butter:  
Rocking School Assemblies with the Perfect Stories

with Donna Washington
Performing for schools can be a very profitable endeavor in more ways than one.  Schools represent a captive audience of future performers, listeners, and organizers.  Getting students hooked on storytelling early is a good way to increase our numbers on stage and in the audience. Donna Washington spends most of her time performing for elementary, middle and high school students.  One thing she’s discovered is that schools really appreciate when you offer them age appropriate and learning-standards targeted assemblies.  She’s been told that lots of artists talk a good game about offering different shows for different age groups, but lots of them do not deliver.  In this master class, Donna will share how she weaves crafting techniques, social and emotional development, and literacy building skills into successful storytelling sets for everyone from pre-K through high school. 

Donna WashingtonDonna is an award-winning storyteller, author, and recording artist.  Her CD awards include iParenting Media Excellent Product Award and multiple Parents Choice, Storytelling World and Children’s Music Web Awards.  Donna has performed at thousands of schools, libraries, and storytelling festivals across the country, including the National Storytelling Festival.  She offers workshops in storytelling, writing, education, and creative drama for librarians and educators and will travel the country to tell stories and give workshops for anyone willing to listen.

There are going to be fabulous workshops at NSN by some Masters this year.

Connie Regan Blake is going to get your stories on their feet.  (I particularly love that Connie is going to be there since she is one of my mentors!)

Joe Hayes is going to give a master class on telling stories from other cultures (I have never met Joe Hayes, but I have heard of him and am looking forward to meeting him)

Tim Tingle, writer and storyteller extraordinaire will be giving a class on writing.  (Tim Tingle.  'Nuff said.)

Aside from all the teaching and other inspirational activities, there will be concerts, fringe performances, random happenings, new friends, old friends, and lots and lots of joy.

So, head out to Mesa this summer if you can, and we can chat about the 30 Million Word Gap in person...or anything else you might want to discuss!

Happy Learning!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sounds of the Mountains

Spent Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday at the Sounds of the Mountains Festival at Camp Bethel in Fincastle, Va.

Got to work with Andy Offut Irwin, David Novak and Ed Stivender.  Alan Hoal is the brains behind the beauty!

It was a great venue.  There was lots of telling, alternatives when you were told out, music, dancing and lots and lots of food.  If you find yourself in the area or want to make a trip out for the 2015 festival, I highly recommend it!

Happy Listening!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Head Start, Puberty, 30 Million Words and More

This is my third installment in a series about the 30 Million word Gap.  Here are links to the first two short articles.

Language Literacy and Policy, What?

What is the 30 Million Word Gap?

This post is about how the 30 Million Gap robs students of their potential, and impedes their progress when they attempt to achieve higher education goals, or synthesize complex language.

Before we begin, here is a quick and dirty explanation of the three levels of language all people develop as they go through life.

Aural - This is the language that you hear.  You won't use all of the language in your aural arsenal, but it is in there.

Oral - This is the language that you actually use from day to day.  No word that is not in your aural language store can ever be used in oral language.

Experiential - Experiential language means that you've heard a word used in context that is unfamiliar to you, and you use your experiences and contextual clues to figure out what the new meaning might be.

For a longer, more in depth look at these three types of language and how they interact, I recommend this blog piece I wrote some time ago.

The Three Levels of Language

When you introduce a 30 Million Word Gap into the aural end of a person's language system, it has huge impacts on their ability to use oral language, and it devastates experiential language.

When a baby is learning their first words and experiencing language for the first time, the brain has to figure out how to synthesize the language it hears.  If that language is varied and dynamic and made up of lots of different kinds of words, and there are lots and lots of them, the brain says,

"Wow, this language thing is complicated.  I shall allot a 'mansion sized' space for it so that as they go through life, they will have ample storage for this information."

If ever there comes a time when this space is in danger of being filled, the brain creates another mansion sized space.  There is no time where the brain is not able to synthesize new language.  As the person gets older, they have all of this language at there fingertips to play with and recombine as they choose.

If a baby hears threadbare language, the brain says,

"Language, clearly not so important.  I will allot a 'condominium sized' space for it"

As you can see, this condo is very nice and there is nothing inferior about it in the is just smaller.

Think of the mansion or condo as places you hang words like pictures on the wall.  In a mansion, you have lots of space and you can hang pictures that are related to each other fairly close together.  If you ever look like you are running out of space, you can just build a new mansion.

If your brain gives you a are going to run out of space pretty quickly, and then your brain has to build another condo.

Even if your brain suddenly realizes that language is actually pretty complicated, it seems that once it has allotted you a condo, it cannot go back and give you a mansion.  You have to stick with the condo for the rest of your life.

Your brain has to build condos as fast as it can to deal with the new barrage of language you are hearing.  While that is happening, you don't learn new language.  You might hear it and it might go into your aural storage, but it will lay dormant while your brain readjusts.  When the condo is finished, those new words go right into the condo, but if you've heard enough of them, your brain doesn't have time to even think about them before it has to start building another condo.

With a small area, your brain is busy putting words wherever it has space, but these images are not stored in a neat and tidy way, and they may be much harder to access when you move into experiential language.

It would be as if you wrote a fifty page paper and saved each and every page in a separate place without labeling them and then tried to reassemble the paper in proper order.

The 30 Million Word Gap makes it hard to synthesize language made up of smaller words because you have to search a really long time through your language database to find these small words.  Sometimes, if the Gap is not addressed at all, these words aren't even in your aural storage.

For a post about how this plays out in the real world, here is a blog I wrote about working with students in a rural community in southern North Carolina.

Hubris and Vanity and Mythology, Oh My!

Luckily for us, Pandora let Hope out of the box.

What we have discovered is that it is never too late to boost aural language in a child.  Despite their ability to synthesize it or not, you have to keep putting it in there.  You have to keep exposing them to language.

Why do we know this?  Because of Head Start!

Much is spoken about Head Start.  Some people think it is a waste of time.  They point out that the gains children make in Head Start seem to disappear by about second grade.

This is because of the condo sized space for language!  The kids seem to fill up and not be able to go further and then they start falling behind. 

What we discover if we look further than second grade, is that this language reasserts itself later in life!  If we put it in there, it is in there, and waiting to reappear.

Why does this happen?  When a person hits puberty, their brains change over.  They stop soaking up language like a sponge, and they start collating it.  This is the first moment when the brain can go back and figure out what it has stored over the first part of a person's life.

Here is an informational article about language acquisition, development and puberty.  It is interesting, digestible and not that long.

The longer you wait before you go into puberty...the better for brain development and language strength.

So, what is the upshot of all of this?  PUT THE LANGUAGE IN THERE!  

Once it is in there, it has a chance of becoming part of the experiential language later on in a child's career.  

In the next post about this...can't promise it will be the actual next post...but in the next post about the 30 Million Word Gap, I will discuss how storytelling can play a huge part in repairing this gap.

Happy Talking!