Monday, December 7, 2009

Moving books from a master teacher

Vivian Gussin Paley is a very bright star in my constellation of teaching mentors. She has written a dozen or so books about teaching preschool and Kindergarten in Chicago. I admire her for several reasons:

- She has honed the use of children's stories in the classroom to an art.

- She takes children seriously. She sees them, in the words of my wonderful Foundations of Literacy professor, " worthy collaboraters in their classroom narrative."

- She understands children's feelings and motivations better than anyone I can think of. She notices children.

- After decades of teaching in the classroom, she now teaches teachers, so now her body of expertise is reaching more and more children.

I just read Girl with the Brown Crayon and The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter. I'm eager to read the rest of her books. I highly recommend them--both for what they gave me in new ideas for an early childhood classroom, but also in their emotional content--the children she writes about feel very real to me. They are extraordinary children, but at the same time I understand that they are the ordinary children I'd meet in every classroom, but they feel extraordinary in Paley's books because she noticed them and recorded their extraordinary qualities. She's not a literary stylist--don't read them for heightened prose. Her dialogue, especially between teachers, isn't very successful. But if you read them for insights into great teaching, I think you'll find a treasure trove.

Here she is, speaking last year at the 92Y (92nd St. YMCA, NYC) Wonderplay 2008 conference. In the last minute, she gives one piece of advice to new educators to follow if you follow nothing else. It's pure truth.

1 comment:

  1. I love Paley's books. I'm especially fond of the "Helicopter" book. My strongest memory of reading it is the way the children just accept that he was a helicopter. Every year something like this happens in our classroom, but I'm not sure I would notice it without having read this. This year, for instance, we have a boy who loves "fighter jets" (although he doesn't pretend to be one). We have one toy fighter jet in the room and all the other kids just concede it's his to play with. No fighting over it -- if Finn wants it, he gets it, no questions asked.

    You're so right about how she is able to lift things we all see everyday out of the mundane and show us the sublimity of the children.