The Yarn Lover
a 1st/2nd grade teacher. The school in which I taught sat four and a half miles from paved road, fifteen miles from the nearest post office, and a full forty-five minute drive from the nearest grocery store. Most if not all of the students that came to the school came with limited English language skills (Navajo spoken in the home), lived without running water and electricity, and were responsible for real work in their home environments. The real work that my 6 and 7 year old students did in their homes included working with wool. Most of the families had at least a few sheep to tend if not large herds. The families used these sheep for food and for wool.
My teaching breakthrough came when a community grandmother visited my classroom to tell a traditional story while she taught the students a string game. The children were fully engaged. One child who normally was bouncing off the walls and often aggressive towards other children, sat with his string after her visit literally drooling while he concentrated on remembering the steps for “Two Brothers Running into the Woods.” This child and the grandmother showed me an alternative means of communicating which I have found to rarely fail in engaging and motivating. The art of storytelling connected with a tangible, often physical experience. This experience in company with countless others, grounded my teacher practice in the power of narrative traditions and Experiential Learning. After this short visit I brought this tangible element into my classroom by inviting community grandmothers into my class on a regular basis to spin and weave with my students and tell wonderful stories.. I also did a fair amount of learning during this time period watching the grandmothers and trying my hand at the techniques. Even then I had a fascination with yarn and had learned how to crochet as a child continuing this craft into college and beyond. In this way I not only found a connection to my students, but also a lifelong connection to myself.
In each of my professional or educational experiences not only have I sought the ‘story’, but I have solidified the experience with a tangible act. As a literacy instructor for recent refugees from Somali, this meant I pulled from a collective student experience to generate a story. For example I took my adult students to a bank to open accounts. This experience then became the vehicle for visual pantomime of the story, then story-boarding, and finally a written story of the experience created by the class. I have no doubt that versions of this story are still told today by these students. “What will your story be?” I see ‘stories’ everywhere and through these stories I believe we find motivation and the desire to engage in tangible ways.
During experience as an elementary school teacher, I discovered an alternative method of communicating with my students that felt natural to me and motivated even the most challenging personality types in my classroom to work hard and to focus.
In 1993, I began my elementary school teaching career on the Navajo Reservation in a small Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. I arrived at the school as a student teacher through the Indian American (now Native American) Immersions program with Indiana University and continued at the school once I graduated as