|TRACKING ALLIGATOR ON THE GEORGIA COAST. A nice surprise greeted my husband, Tony, and me along the beach in the back dune area on Sapleo island--juvenile alligator tracks! What was this little guy doing out by himself wandering near the shore? That's me looking at the tracks. I'm in the photo for scale! (photo by Tony Martin)|
Being curious and wondering out loud is part of storytelling skills, according to Jon Young in the book, "Animal Tracking Basics," that Tony is using for his freshman seminar class at Emory. Titled "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See," this course has 18 university freshmen choose designated "sit spots" in natural green spaces around the Emory campus, keep tracking journals in which they have "mapped" their "sit spots," and learn how to recognize, name, and understand the animal behavior they discover.
Another aspect of the course is storytelling! That is where my life, the wife of the scientist, enters the Emory classroom of animal tracking students! Ta da! I'm an educator with 25 years plus experience, artist, and, yes--animal tracker. I have been tracking with my "ichnologist" husband for the past 13 years. In addition to these skills, I have been adding a new one to my belt--improvisational ones via the methodology called InterPlay. But I get ahead of myself...first what is "ichnology"?
Ichnology is the study of traces of animals behaving--making their tracks, trails, burrows, feces, gnawings, and more. You can study animal behavior occurring today or that which occurred in the past, even millions of years ago. Tony has done both in two very different books: the modern in Life Traces of the Georgia Coast, and the ancient in Dinosaurs Without Bones.
My husband is both expert at interpreting behavior he did not see the animal make and at writing stories about that behavior. This spousal storytelling behavior has been ongoing in our household without my "interpreting" it as STORYTELLING! I thought of his book writing endeavors as something academic, something distant from every day life, something scientific and meant for a specialized group of readers.
A light bulb went off for me this past week after volunteering to teach two of his 50-minute freshman tracking classes this week while he is in Berlin for a Society of Verterbrate Paleontologists conference. Reading the "Storytelling" chapter in Animal Tracking Basics, caused fireworks in my artist's brain. Kaboom! Ohhhh! Ahhh!
perceive more deeply,
discern what we are seeing,
link disparate concepts (synthesize),
know our place, and
He even goes on to add juicier motivations for telling stories about the animal tracks we see. In doing so, we develop a passion for living and learning. We laugh and live more fully in the moment! Hurray education for life!
But how to move students from the artifacts? The notes and sketches in their tracking journals into experiencing this enlivened state of being? One must have a methodology! Jon Young suggests researching folk tales and information about the animals and listening to elders' stories. And to wonder. To ask questions.
How wonder full! But then how to get students to "enact" and "embody" this gathered content? InterPlay has forms and tools for expressing content such as scientific facts in an enlivened and full way. Here's how I did it with a little help from my InterPlay community (Thank you Phil Porter, Jennifer Denning and Lynn Hesse)!
First, after warming the students up with physical activity and learning their names, I used one of the most fundamental forms of InterPlay--babbling! Babbling is an improvisational form that builds from one sentence statements about possibilities for telling stories to 30-second stories, to 1-minute and longer stories incorporating variations in the way a person communicates those stories.
In this class, students had an opportunity to tell stories about a variety of topics in pairs, taking turns performing and listening:
- a meaningful time in nature
- an experience of using one of more of the five senses when observing out in nature
- weather observation
- bird language
- talking about something mundane
- telling a story about a "sit spot"
- speaking from a different point of view of animate or inanimate object in their "sit spot"
Then I had them experiment with telling a story about a mundane topic such as walking to class or washing clothes with great enthusiasm. This activity engaged them in playing around with volume, pitch, and speed. They also noticed that they began using their faces and gestures.
Finally, in this short 50-minute class, I had the individual storytellers stand up to tell a story from the perspective of an animal or something else that they had observed in their "sit spot." They were invited to integrate pausing, stopping, speeding up, and enthusiasm in their presentations. Some students definitely grew more animated and invested in how they were telling their stories.
|BIG BODY STORY. Here you can see how one animal tracking student began to embody her story, playing around with pausing, stopping, speeding up, and showing enthusiasm. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)|
That's Coffee With Hallelujah. SOUL BLOG with me and tell me about your STORYTELLING SKILLS!
For a poem written about tracking an alligator by my husband, visit this blog on Tony Martin's website:
When You Write about Traces, Does It Make a Sound?
For more about stories about alligators and their traces, see this Tony Martin blog:
Into the Dragon's Lair--Alligator Burrows...