Describing Vivian Gussin Paley’s approach to teaching (and her ‘unique storytelling curriculum’), Trisha Lee writes:
“Vivian Gussin Paley’s storytelling curriculum is based on two inter-connected classroom activities: Part one, story-telling; and part two, story-acting. In theory, this is a simple [-p.121] approach (Lee, 2002). In part one, the adult sits with the child, listens to their story and writes it down word for word. At the end of the story, the child decides which character they would like to play. The adult continues to take stories from other children.
Part two takes place towards the end of a session. The class gather as audience and actor ready to observe and take a role in acting out the stories of their peers. A simple taped stage is marked on the floor and immediately the classroom is transformed into a theatre. Sitting around the edges, children listen while the stories of their peers are narrated aloud, and take turns from their place in the circle to step onto the stage to act these out.
The simplicity of this approach hides many complexities. The process compels us to listen to children and to value their stories. The inter-connectedness between the two parts is also a vital ingredient. If a story is scribed on one day, it is essential to the fulfillment of the task that it is acted out on the same day, even if that means it needs to happen whilst the children are queuing for the school bus.
Story-telling and story-acting help us to question our interactions with the children we come into contact with, and have the potential to change us; this is the wisdom of Vivian Gussin Paley.” (pp.120-121)
Lee explains: “Vivian Gussin Paley labels fantasy play and story-making as the original learning tools that children use to understand and make sense of the world. In a lecture, ‘Story and play: the original learning tools‘, given on 10 March 1997 in Walferdange, Luxembourg, she observed that these tools are akin to what we do as adults when we reflect on our practice: Will this work? What will happen if I try this? How about if I look at it in a different way?
Children at play will try things out, refine them, come back to them, look at them from another angle, bring in other children to support the idea they are exploring, change roles and find reasons and solutions to problems that seem insurmountable.
Paley hypothesizes that if a medical school discovered a software package that could integrate all the teachings that were required to become a doctor, only to decide that they would revert to the old way of teaching, then surely this would be considered questionable?
[Here, Lee goes on to quote Gussin Paley:] Is this not, in effect, what happens to our children when they enter school? For five years, an intuitive program called play has worked so well that the children learn the language, mannerisms, and meaning of all the people with whom they live. They know what every look means, every tone of voice, who their family is, where they come from, what makes them happy or sad, what place they occupy in the world. Then the children enter school and find, strangely enough, that this natural theater they have been performing, this playfully deep fantasy approach to life is no longer acceptable, is no longer valid. Suddenly they begin to hear… ‘Do that playing outside, after your work’.” (p.122)
“In her books, Paley is not just the teacher but also takes on the role of student, watching as the children’s stories anchor fantasy to purpose. She investigates how her class use fantasy play to find the invisible lines of connection between themselves and the communities in which they grow.” (p.123)
“Paley notes that even at the age of 5, children can become strangers in a world that is shaped for someone else (Paley, 2000: xv).” (p.120)
Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Trisha Lee ‘The Wisdom of Vivian Gussin Paley’, pp.119-132 Eds. Linda Miller & Linda Pound (2011) Theories and Approaches to Learning in the Early Years. Sage: Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC.