During June and July I was travelling. My last trip was to the US to work with Dr Ingram at the University of Minnesota, advising her on possible methodology changes in the implementation and assessment of the Neighborhood Bridges Program used to analyse critical literacy in storytelling and drama. Here is a bit of fan fiction to illustrate the fantastic binomial at work in one classroom I visited during the trip.
Tegan was called up for the fantastic binomial. ‘Yes!’ she said, jumping out of her seat and seizing the white board marker. She usually never got picked for anything.
Maria, the Bridges storyteller, bent towards her. Tegan was instantly aware of being the smallest in the class. ‘Choose a place where you could get lost,’ said Maria, ‘and write it on the board.’
There was already a list of prepositions that the class had generated on the white board. Tegan thought of a word and began to write it carefully in capital letters to the left of the prepositions list. Dalen had the other marker. He was writing down an object that could be found in a classroom. He was hiding his word from the class with both hands. Once the words were written Maria would make up a story on the spot linking Tegan’s word to Dalen’s via the magic of a preposition word like above, behind, between or under.
Tegan thought that it was fun. You never knew what the story was going to be. Last week the words were ‘Clay inside mum.’ Maria had repeated the title carefully, then said, ‘My mum is a trickster. A trickster who is always playing tricks on me. You might think she looks a little odd, because my mum is green from head to toe with large eyes so she sort of looks like a….’
‘Troll!’ the classroom called out, ‘Ogre!’
‘Yes,’ Maria said, ‘we’re both ogres. I’ve lived under dark smelly bridges my whole life. Life under a bridge is kind of boring so mum would play a lot of tricks on me. This one morning, while I was sleeping, she had a great idea for a trick. She got some clay and pulled, and pulled, and moulded, and pulled it, until it was a giant circle full of holes. And then chuckling she painted this big holey ball of clay. Can you guess what colour?’
‘Green!’ a group of boys decided.
‘Yes, green. How did you know? Because my favourite thing to eat for breakfast in the whole world is green cheese. How I love green cheese!’ Maria rubbed her hands together. ‘So she painted the clay green and arranged it nicely on the breakfast table, on a plate, on a checked table cloth. While this was going on I was peacefully sleeping, unaware of what was going on. Breakfast! My mum called. I got out of bed and went into the kitchen and there was the largest green cheese I had ever seen. Boy was I excited!’ Maria did a little dance of joy. ‘Oh man, this was going to be a delicious breakfast. I took a big bite! Urgh! It’s clay! I spat out the green painted clay and it flew across the room into my mum’s mouth. Her mouth was open wide, she was laughing so hard, and gulp!, she swallowed it whole. And that’s how the clay got inside my mum. And it hasn’t been seen since.’
After last week’s story Tegan was excited to see what would happen as she added the final letter onto her word.
She was still smiling as she fell through the whiteboard and found herself in a forest.
This wasn’t a dream. Often in stories like this it’s all made up but Tegan had a class room of witnesses. One moment she was writing on the board in Mrs Hennepin’s class, the next moment she had vanished. Obviously she found a way back if I can tell you this story. At the time she didn’t know this. Tegan was all alone in a dark forest, behind her in the air was the word FOREST in large red capitals. The trees were taller than any Tegan had ever seen before. They clustered together hiding the sky, and the sun, so that little vegetation grew on the ground. A dark shape in the dark made her jump, and the back of her sweater rubbed out part of the T in FOREST. Tegan blinked as part of the forest became transparent. Was that part of someone’s foot and a desk? She quickly turned around and wiped all the letters away and found herself in Mrs Hennepin’s classroom once more where Maria was telling the story about how Tegan wrote a word on the board and vanished and then returned to the class room.
Tegan didn’t imagine it though. Did she?
[For more information about The Fantastic Binomial check out the book Speaking Out by Jack Zipes]