Saturday, November 29, 2014

Every Story Must Have A Beginning


Photo by-Michael-Nguyen

We must decide how our story is going to be told and how we will be remembered.

Everything has an aftermath...even Ferguson

Friday, November 28, 2014

What You Take Into Your Heart: A Storyteller's Thanksgiving List

I am thankful for Love.  In Love, we find strength to do what we do not think we can do.  Cupid and Psyche

I am thankful for books.  In Books, our thoughts, hopes and dreams  can live for one thousand years. Mort d'arthur

I am thankful for laughter.  In Laughter, we find our way through darkness and back to self.  Where the Sidewalk Ends

I am thankful for a new day.  In New Days, we find the chance to try again and make reparations for our mistakes.  The Wicked Day

I am thankful for music.  In Music, our souls dance and join together.  Pachelbel's  Cannon - the piece my husband selected for our wedding.

I am thankful for Time.  In Time, things come to light and make more sense if we seek the answers.

I am thankful for Knowledge.  In the immortal words of Oprah, "When we know better, we do better."

I am thankful for Stories.  In Stories, we chase Love, Laughter, music,  and Knowledge.  Whether in Books, through electronic devices, or from the mouth of one who tells tales, if we listen, and keep our hearts open the stories change us over Time.

They change us for good or ill.  They change us at bedrock.

One of my favorite movie lines is from 'The Witness'.  A grandfather tells his grandson, "What you take into your hand, you take into your heart."

If that is so, then what you take into your heart, you take into your soul.

Take stories in hand.  If you do, you won't be the first world teacher who has done so.  You certainly won't be the last.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Currituck County: Traveling, Parenting, Performing, Oh My!

The Foreman House in Elizabeth City, NC

This week I am in Currituck County, NC.  It is much colder than normal due to the lovely Polar Vortex that has decided to descend on the United States.  If you are in Buffalo, NY, you have my warm thoughts and good wishes.  If I could send all of you hot chocolate, I would.

I am staying at the Foreman House Bed and Breakfast, and it is the highlight of my trip.  Mel and Andy who run the B&B are wonderful.  Breakfast is plentiful and delicious - yeah, I'm looking at you apple pancakes - and the rooms are gorgeous and spacious.  If you find yourself in Elizabeth City, NC, you could do much much worse than staying here overnight.  I highly recommend it, and am already planning to bring the mister back here for a long, romantic weekend this coming summer.

First night I was here, Mel and Andy had a cocktail party with 'light' refreshments that were a whole dinner.  I normally have one glass of wine every few months, I had four in the last two days.

My daughter was in the Diary of Anne Frank last weekend as Anne Frank.  I missed the last show since I had to drive out here.

My son was in the Diary of Anne Frank last weekend as Mr. Kraler.  Did I mention I missed the last show?

My in-laws were at my house until Wednesday this week hanging out with my family, going to dinner, museums, and wandering around Durham.  They left on Wednesday morning, I left on Sunday afternoon.  They all seemed to have had a good time.  Wish I could have been there.

Antonio Rocha, a friend of mine I always enjoy seeing, is at my house for the entire week.  Apparently, he made dinner for my family last night...good thing, since I'm not there.  I left Sunday afternoon, he arrived Sunday evening.  He's leaving on Friday morning.  I'm returning on Friday evening.  

My son is putting together his first art portfolio for a big meeting with universities who are looking for visual arts students.  It is going to be attended by universities from all over the country.  He needs to get plastic protectors, a binder, labels for his work and who knows what else.  I asked my husband, "Does he have that stuff?"  My husband's response?  "I don't know."  

I'm three and a half hours from being able to deal with this any other way than on the phone or Skype.  Have I seen any of these pics?  No.  Have I seen the way the portfolio is laid out?  No.  Do I know if he's labeled anything?  No.  Am I going to know any of this?  No.  He leaves Friday morning for Washington DC, I don't get back until Friday afternoon.  

I kind of feel like driving the three hours home to put my hands on a few things, and then driving back here tomorrow morning for an 8:45 show, which means I'd have to be on the road at about 4:45am to be certain I'd make it to the first show on time.  Yeah, not happening.

Where, you might ask, is Currituck County?  Up by the border between Virginia and North Carolina.

What, you might ask, am I doing in Currituck County when all of those things are going on at my house?  I'll tell you.  Telling stories.  What else?

I have been doing three to four sets a day.  I've worked with Kindergarten through second grade where the administrators were shocked the kids sat so well, and still had so much fun.

I told with a ninth grade group who was fascinated by the idea that I was storyteller, and was much more comfortable with the idea that I was an author.  They loved the stories.

I told with a group of eleventh graders who lamented they couldn't follow me around the rest of the time  I was in the area, and hear all of the stories.  When I asked if they had questions they asked the exact same question that the little kids perpetually ask.  "Can we hear another story?"

I told with groups of sixth graders, fifth, fourth and third and in every set I had wonderful chances to engage with kids as we laughed, played, and taught each other.  

I bought great Christmas gifts at the Jenkins Art Gallery located in the Arts Center in downtown Elizabeth City.  

The Arts Center in Elizabeth City, NC

I stopped into a small, local pharmacy right next to the Arts Center, where the two elderly ladies who run the place greeted every single person who came in by name, and discussed the 'business of the area'.

"Hello, Charles, honey.  How you been?"
"Fine, just fine."
"Did they steal very much, whoever t'was who broke into the church?"
"Well, tell you the truth, we haven't noticed there was much missing."
"Well, I spect they just broke in there to get warm."

They launched into a great conversation about the local food bank, and how they really needed to get them more turkeys for Thanksgiving.

I wanted to get a chair and sit in the back of that store all afternoon and just listen!

I am having wonderful performances!  I am exhausted at the end of each day.  I have adventures as I wander about and  listen in on people's conversations.  I still want to manage what's going on in my home. 

Oh, and in the midst of this I have several non-fiction kind of important writing activities I have to attend neglected blog is one of those!

Being a traveling storyteller is very cool.  Being a traveling storyteller is very hard.  Being a traveling storyteller is very rewarding.  Being a traveling storyteller is a privilege.  Being a traveling storyteller sucks when you can't do everything you want to do.  I'm not superwoman.

Whenever I start thinking I'm going to rip my dreads out by the roots, I try to remember that what I do is important.  

It helps when I get letters like the one I received last week from the drama teacher at Baker Demonstration School in Evanston, Il.

Balancing the traveling, exhaustion, writing, telling, parenting by phone, and maintaining a marriage is important if you are going to do this work.  Don't let anybody tell you it is either easy or completely glamorous.  

Make no mistake.  Being a professional storyteller is hard work!

Happy Surviving!

Letters That Make It Worthwhile

I visited this school the first week of November, 2014.  Sometimes, you get letters that make you promise that no matter how crazy things get, you've made the right choice.  Thank you to everyone who supports artists and the arts.

Lizanne Wilson Blogs at

Dear Ms. Washington,

I know my colleague and Co-Chair of our Storytelling Committee is going to write to express our gratitude for your recent visit to Baker Demonstration School. I must also add my deepest thanks.
As the Drama Specialist, I am presently teaching a Storytelling class to 18 middle school students. This is my first storytelling class at Baker. I have worked to craft a class that engages my young students while challenging them to utilize the storytellers tools to prepare a well-told tale.

I joined my students last week in our intimate Carlson Auditorium to listen to your stories. As I watched and listened to you spin your evocative tales, they (and I) were riveted. That's a monumental achievement with middle school students! Later in the day, in storytelling class, my students discussed your work and what a conversation unfolded. The students spoke of their delight at listening to your stories, of how they were going to "look you up" online to listen to more of yoru stories. They also spoke about your use of voice, gesture and physical posture to shape the characters and the plot of a story for telling. They discussed the musicality and variety of your vocal delivery and of the deliciously disgusting description of one of your more vivid characters. Ah, the sounds you created! My young storytellers revisited the slurp and squish of the character and of the fact that you must have worked very hard to create something so delightfully specific and grotesque.

So thank you for your work and for helping my students to make the "leap of faith" as storytellers. Your storytelling came at a perfect point in the semester and enabled them to realize that only with hard work comes such virtuosity; and that even a hardworking novice storyteller has the potential (with lots of practice) to entrance an audience with the ancient art of storytelling. We are now working on our second story for telling in public and the excitement is palpable as the students learn to inhabit the world of their stories.

Many thanks for sharing your stories at Baker.


Lizanne Wilson
Drama Specialist

Baker Demonstration School
201 Sheridan Road | Wilmette, Illinois 60091

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

30 Million Word Gap Debunked! Where to start?

Have you ever had a morning where you are reading through the news and your life gets tilted off kilter in a way that makes your heart skip?

That happened to me this morning.  As some of you may know, I am a big proponent of a study done by Betty Hart and Todd Risely back in the 1960's.  What this research showed is that in general, students who come from households where they hear a paucity of language, begin school hearing 30 million fewer uses of language.  Hart and Risely talk about how this difference has far reaching effects in formal education.

I use this study as a jumping off place, and combine these findings with the wealth of research and educational writings that can be found about language acquisition, neurological research, and ongoing research in comprehension.  I am always looking for information to help me better understand, teach and examine language in relation to storytelling.

Storytelling and the Brain

This morning I encountered an article that declared that Hart and Risely's study blames poor parents for their children's lack of academic success, and that the whole of the work was debunked by a pair of people by the name of Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas  I was stunned, especially since I'd never heard anything about this.

So, I went over to read the article that debunked Hart and Risely's work.

Needless to say, the article does not debunk the work.  You can read it here.  

Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas did not conduct any research that yielded different results.  No, what they did was  complain about the work and say that it doesn't say what Hart and Risely claim it says.

What the article mainly argues is that Hart and Risely state their language findings in terms of deficits.  

The article's main complaint is that Hart and Risely looked at the research, and spoke of the language findings in terms of deficits and deficiencies instead of talking about differences, and saying that these differences were just...different, not inherently bad.  

The onus should be taken off of the parents, because their color and or socio-economic status should not play into whether or not their children are successful at school.

They correctly pointed out that Hart and Risely connected these deficiencies with socio-economic statuses, ethnic origins, and poverty.

They take issue with the sample size in the study.  

They point out that Hart and Risely were white middle class educated people, and conclude that they had biases when dealing with black, poor and working class families.

Allowing for all of these problems, I come back to a question.  

Where is the research that shows that Hart and Risely were completely and utterly wrong in what they discovered?  

We can debate about what it means, and how it frames what we know about people.   

We can talk about the political ramifications of what we wish they would have said, and how we wish they would have presented their findings.

We can expound about our own social and contextual beliefs about race, poverty and parental involvement.

What nobody has done as of yet is conduct some kind of research that gives us a different understanding of how this whole process works.

The basic assertions made by Dudley-Marling and Lucas are these: 

We should not think about differences in language as deficits.  This suggests that there is a right or standard way, and that poor people or minorities do not live up to that standard.

The research blames the parents for the success or failure of their children.

They state that it is the role of the teacher to expose children to language and concepts, not the parents.  Teachers must teach!  That is what school is for.  

I do not disagree with the idea that our educational system should be set up to deal with the disparities of language that children have when they arrive at the first day of school.  I whole heartedly agree.    

My complaint is that we don't do it.  Period. 

I will continue to talk about Hart and Risely's work.  

I will definitely add Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas's dissent, but I will be clear about pointing out that despite taking issue with Hart and Risely's findings, they have never done any actual research into this themselves.

I will continue to urge teachers to work on bulking up vocabulary, language and visual imagery.  

So, after doing a great deal of reading and linking to things and considering the arguments, my world didn't change nearly as much as I thought it would.  

Show me the research that proves that there are different factors that go into language acquisition, and I will happily reassess all of it.  It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

Happy Educating!