The W.I.N.D. Story Project is “all about the power of sound and listening.” – CBC
Few of us have to wonder or ponder about very much these days. The answer to most big and small questions is a mere click or tap away. It’s like we all have our own personal fast forward button … which is marvelous, and also a little troubling, because wonder is the mother of discovery, and discovery is the fuel that takes us to new frontiers. What would happen if our kids lost the wonder gene? The W.I.N.D. (Words Igniting Notional Drawings) Story Project is more like a “pause” and “rewind” button, and was conceived in the Fall of 2014 and piloted with over 1,600 primary students in early 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the project has hopped continents and is pairing four grade one classes in Melbourne, Australia with primary students from two Canadian schools (one in Ontario and one in Newfoundland.)
A unique literacy experiment, this project had students from JK-Grade 6 listening to a story in a format akin to an old, serialized radio show. Each week, for 8 weeks, an audio portion of a story was uploaded to their class webpage and they were asked to illustrate what they imagined. The book they drew pictures of is not yet on the shelves, so the students had a clean, uninfluenced slate to start from. Fuelled by a desktop computer in Newmarket, Ontario, this project brought students (from every province and territory of Canada) back in time to when things were un-googleable, and wonder and wait weren’t foreign words.
An important outcome of this experience is that it represents a previously untapped way of learning, giving students the opportunity to exercise their powers of creativity, imagination and visualization. One teacher remarked that she was surprised at the detail in the pencil drawing of one Kindergarten student as it, “showed a huge understanding in her that I didn’t realize was happening as she doesn’t verbalize a great deal.” Nearly 13,000 student drawings were generated, revealing both regional diversity and a compelling emotional unity. In our lightning fast world, even those as young as four waited (not so) patiently for the next installment of the story. (Binge listening was not accessible to them.)
A cool aspect of this project is that we’re using technology to bring kids back to a time when technology didn’t do so much thinking for them. In an age when the google button is making it easy to not imagine, the W.I.N.D. Story Project connected diverse classrooms (as far as 7,800 km apart) through the spoken words of a story, igniting the wonder gene in over 1,600 students from every province/territory of our country.
By investigating the various tiles below, you’ll get a sense of the power of this program: see the schools that participated, the newspaper and radio media that followed the project (including CBC radio coverage in six provinces/territories), hear voicemail messages from the students and endorsement from the teachers, flip through the “trading cards” that connected a nation, and see snapshots and shorts of the vast body of work created that enables you “see” what the students were “hearing” and how they interpreted it. Enabling our children to imagine in this way, we give them the confidence to draw on and trust their own intellectual resources – to invent new solutions and imagine a better future for when they inherit the earth.
Some Background About this Story Project
This project initially began as a way to keep the conversation going with students I’d recently presented to from B. C. to Labrador. Outside of my “day job” in Newmarket, Ontario, I’m an award winning children’s author. I had been lucky enough to tour communities along the northeast coast of Labrador for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week in May 2014, and to meet with hundreds of school children a few months later in Surrey, B.C. I’d talked to both of these groups about my upcoming book, The Christmas Wind (Red Deer Press) and conceived the “radio show” delivery as a fun way to give them a tease about the book before its release, originally slated for Fall 2015.
About 1,000 students from B.C. to Labrador (JK-6) participated in the pilot project in Spring 2015. When the book’s launch was pushed back a year, I saw the opportunity to re-run the program in Spring 2016, but to make it truly national this time since some really fascinating sharing had begun to occur between the schools I was working with on both of Canada’s coasts and in between (I was working with 52 classes – over 1,000 students – between B.C., Labrador and Ontario). Somewhere in the middle of all this, the project stopped being about the book, and started being about the process.
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre helped me find one classroom in each province and territory of Canada who wanted to participate in the program, so for several months at the beginning of 2016, I worked closely with over 300 primary students from JK to Grade 3. In a way, we were time-travelling together. Harnessing desktop digital capabilities, we created a little portal from my computer to theirs that jumped us back three quarters of a century. Children in classrooms in places as diverse as Tuktoyaktuk (NWT), Lennoxville (QC) and Centreville-Wareham (Nfld) huddled around an old “virtual” radio to listen to stories together. Well, “a” story, called The Christmas Wind.
As of yet, The Christmas Wind is a picture book with no pictures except the ones these 300 students have imagined and then drawn themselves (I’ve recently learned that the book’s launch has been delayed again to Fall 2017). They join over 1,000 students who participated in the seat-of-the-pants pilot portal last year, and another 300 students from Timmins, Ontario who piggy-backed the national program in Spring 2016 as I did a week of school presentations there in April 2016. In total, then, over 1,600 students have engaged with the program and the story. Each week, for 8 weeks, I delivered a 1-2 minute audio installment of this story to their school computer — just my voice speaking the words. Individually, the students were challenged to visualize the action and capture the emotion; to draw it and send it to me. Between this year and last, almost 13,000 illustrations of this story were scanned and sent back through the digital portal which I then transformed into little movies (set to an enhanced audio of the story with sound effects) so the classes could easily share their imaginings with each other.
Between this year and last, I’ve worked with dozens of insightful teachers and librarians who found a way to wedge this project into their already tight and regimented curriculum. Together, we’ve brought these kids back to a time when things were ungoogleable and wonder and wait weren’t foreign words.
And more than that, we’ve brought them to “each other”. Mobilized by a deck of school/province “trading cards” created for the project (See the Trading Cards HERE), pen pal letters criss-crossed the country in early 2016 as the students on Campobello Island (NB) and in Ajax (ON) connected with fellow students in Cape Dorset (Nunavut), Prince George (BC), Whitehorse (Yukon), and so on.
These K-3 students, from vastly different backgrounds and regions, were connected through the spoken words of a story, and the impact on them was galvanizing. Despite the distractions of our lightning fast world, these young students became emotionally invested in the “old fashioned” process, charged to wait days between story segments with no way to “binge listen”, coming back to school if they missed a segment so they could catch up, memorizing lines, creating “what happens next” scenarios, in one case even producing their own recording of the story, and the only visual reference they had to forge this connection were spoken words and the drawings they created themselves.
CBC interviewed Christmas Wind classes in Newfoundland, Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, B.C. and the Yukon, and newspapers across the country picked up the story.
Teachers across the country have shared my own sense that there’s something important going on here. One teacher remarked that she was surprised at the detail in the pencil drawing of one Kindergarten student as it, “showed a huge understanding in her that I didn’t realize was happening as she doesn’t verbalize a great deal.” While continuing this on my own is beyond my personal scope, The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) has indicated that they’d take the project on if we could find funding for it (which we almost did through the CST Inspired Learning Project contest in which we placed Top 10). Whether or not the project goes forward, the story of what did happen over the last two years is worth sharing, not only because all these kids were connected by a shared literacy experience, but also because it points to such an important learning process that may be evaporating in the digital universe. While I began by calling this program The Christmas Wind Story Project (since it began with The Christmas Wind story), the project itself has evolved more broadly to become The W.I.N.D. Project (Words Igniting Notional Drawings). The notion of “wind” seemed an apt acronym for the project because the words of the story invisibly traversed the country, impacting everyone they touched.
Part of the intrigue for the students involved was that they were getting secret, advanced access to a book before anyone else (The Christmas Wind won’t hit the book store shelves until Fall 2017, and these students were given sneak peeks of the actual illustrations by Brooke Kerrigan before anyone else). One vision, pending funding, is to set this up as a new Children’s Literature Book Award. Each fall, publishers would submit books slated for release the following year. The winning book would be featured in the spring program in schools. Everybody wins. The winning author would get a unique opportunity to pre-promote their book in the national spotlight and to engage with a diverse group of students. The students benefit by tapping into visualization skills that many teachers feel are waning in our digital age. No one is unchanged in this kind of exchange.
Each participating school will get a free signed copy of the book once it’s released.
A cool aspect of this project is that we’re using technology to bring kids back to a time when technology didn’t do so much thinking for them. Another teacher remarked that, “the program gave me a further insight into my students. It made me realize that our world is becoming so technology-based that the kids’ imaginations skills are becoming blunt. I had to play the separate parts numerous times in order for the students to visualize a picture to illustrate.” New brain mapping research identifies twelve regions of the brain that have to come together to enable the complex task of imagining (SOURCE: http://www.kurzweilai.net/where-is-imagination-located-in-the-human-brain), and teachers across the country fed back how important this project is as it helps kids exercise visualization skills that appear to be waning in our digital age.
I came across an article in a local paper several months ago that talked about how important art is in child development (this article is not about The WIND project, but it highlights why visualization/art is so important for children). I believe The WIND Story Project taps an important part of their brains in a way that is not necessarily typical in today’s world. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“The creativity, innovation and imagination used while creating or participating in the arts is essential to a child’s development, according to St. Michael’s Hospital developmental pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Young. ‘Art is a great way to learn about yourself and to learn about who you are,’ she told students. ‘It is a great way to test out new ideas.’ Participating in the creation of art, in any form, is a way for children to explore the world around them and their own ideas while still feeling a sense of safety, Young said. Physically, art participation actually rewires the brain and allows children to see things from a different perspective, develop creative problem-solving skills and improve motor function.” — SOURCE: http://m.yorkregion.com/community-story/5673047-art-grows-brains-at-hartman-public-school-in-aurora
– For more information about The WIND Story Project, contact Stephanie Simpson McLellan at 905-853-9530 or firstname.lastname@example.org –