Friday, April 22, 2011

Thank you, Fund For Teachers!

When we first received our letter in the mail from Fund For Teachers, it did not seem real, but there it was: Congratulations! After all the months and months of research, writing, and hard work, we got the grant. THANK YOU, FUND FOR TEACHERS for "granting" us the opportunity to reignite the fire and passion in our teaching that will ultimately ignite our students' passion for reading and stories. Many have asked us what we are doing and why, and I think the best way to explain it is to publish a small portion of our grant that sums it up best. (see below) We hope you enjoy following along with us as we travel to Europe and experience fairy tales and folktales come to life. :)

“the power to bring a hush to a room, a catch to the breath, a leap to the curious heart, with the simple words “Once upon a time”.

From “On Stories,” by Richard Kearney, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College

Every great story needs a great beginning, and ever since we can remember, those four words were magic. They made your ears perk up, in great expectation of the story that was to follow. As Pre-Kindergarten teachers, we read stories to our students every day, but sometimes feel as though the magic is not quite there. One of the most important goals of teaching four and five-year-olds is to create a love for books and stories. Therefore, when they go on to Kindergarten to begin reading, they have already learned what fortune lies within the pages. Our student population is mostly English Language Learners and many live below the poverty level, resulting in most of our students not even having books in their home. We struggle to keep their attention and build language and story comprehension. We strive to develop an interest in books and reading, but for many of our students, our classroom can be the first time they are read to on a daily basis or even hold a book in their hands. Reading aloud to children on a frequent basis is one of the most effective ways to promote early literacy development among young children, yet only 58% of children ages 3 to 5 are read to daily by a family member (Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2004). As early childhood educators, we need to bridge the gap, but feel we are lacking the skills and expertise as dynamic storytellers to do so. Children are captivated by the fast paced action and excitement of TV, video games, and computers. How can teachers compete as they read books and tell stories to today’s children? We want to show them the benefit of opening a book or listening to a story and that it can be just as entertaining.

How can we change our daily story time from ho-hum to an interactive, engaging, passion-filled, edge-of-your-seat adventure that leaves our students asking for more? The stories we remember from even our earliest days are fairy tales and folktales. They combine whimsy and wonder, enchanted settings, and unforgettable characters. How can we use fairy tales and folktales to spark students’ imagination, develop vocabulary and reading comprehension, and most of all--foster a love for reading? Germany and Ireland are two places that are well-known for their fairy tales and folktales. We want to explore these countries 1) to be inspired and gather artifacts and tales to bring back to our classroom to make story time more interactive 2) gain and implement new storytelling skills to engage all students and use throughout the curriculum and 3) learn new technology for digital storytelling which allows us to create class stories where the students can use their imagination and creativity to become the storytellers themselves.

Two hundred years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm, traveled around Germany listening to different storytellers and collecting the stories to create a book of fairy tales that would captivate millions of people all over the world for generations to come. With such stories as Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, they became fairytale royalty. The Brothers Grimm collection, Children and Household Tales, is one of the most published books world-wide and its stories are among the most well-known. Located in Germany is a 370 mile long stretch called Fairy Tale Road that connects the towns and landscapes that were the inspiration for the most well known fairy tales. We want to travel along this officially designated route over eight days, collecting fairy tales old and new as the Brothers Grimm did.

As the Teachers Grimm, we will gather costumes, fairy tale artifacts, video clips, photographs, books, puppets, etc. to create an invaluable fairy tale resource to make the stories more hands-on and interactive. Along the way we will wander through the forest that inspired Little Red Riding Hood, visit Sleeping Beauty’s castle being careful not to prick our fingers on the rose bushes, marvel at medieval villages, and visit the home where Brothers Grimm grew up, which is now a museum dedicated to them. We will stand below the tower where Rapunzel let down her golden hair, visit the town of Bremen where we will find the Bremen Town Musicians, and travel to Cinderella’s castle in search of Prince Charming. We will visit the town of Hamelin, the picturesque setting for the folktale, The Pied Piper, where we will follow the Pied Piper through the town as he tells his story. We will travel to Fairytale House, where we will get to view fairy tale artifacts and learn about the origins and history of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. We will also attend the Fairy Tale Festival at Castle Philippsruhe in Hanau where we will get to watch Brothers Grimm fairy tales come to life in an outdoor theatre. These are just a few of the many sites where we will experience fairy tales in real-time, unlocking our imagination and inspiring us to bring these same fairy tales to life with our own students. Traveling Fairy Tale Road will allow us to see fairy tales more clearly through the eyes of the students and allow us the opportunity to be enchanted ourselves. We will get to travel to a place where fairy tales are not just stories, but part of the culture and heritage.

We will then spend nine days in Ireland, a country that is rich in folktales and storytellers where we have received a personal invitation to stay with and learn from storyteller and author, Liz Weir. Liz Weir is a renowned international storyteller who travels the world telling Celtic folktales and teaching others her craft. She has even appeared on NBC’s The Today Show to explain the importance and history of storytelling in Ireland and give Meredith Vieira a few lessons! She owns Ballyeamon Barn located in the countryside of Northern Ireland, where we can stay with her, learn Irish folktales, attend workshops, and even participate in a storytelling and traditional Irish music night at the barn with the locals. She has also invited us to attend the 3 Rivers Storytelling Festival in central Ireland where she is one of the featured storytellers. One of the most valuable experiences of the 3 Rivers Storytelling Festival will be workshops with the storytellers themselves where we will gain skills in storytelling to improve our voice, pacing, animation, preparation, and dramatics. Lastly, we plan to attend a digital storytelling workshop at Dublin West Education Centre, where we will learn how to use various digital storytelling programs such as Photo Story and Movie Maker to teach us how to incorporate technology into fairy tales and folktales.