Earlier this week, I went to an engrossing presentation by Christopher Nunn. Chris is a community educator in Indianapolis, and his heart belongs to arts education. I attended at the invitation of the head of our Education Library. I have to say, if you’re a teaching librarian, making friends with the Ed Librarian or the School of Education in general is a great strategy for creating your own community of practice and accessing professional development opportunities.
The description of the workshop was very intriguing, although I have to say that the trajectory of the talk was different than I imagined based on the description. Chris primarily talked about the ideas that have inspired his teaching and learning journey, which were in themselves intriguing. A number of ideas have stuck with me, and I have a few readings to follow up on.
The first thing that strikes you about Chris is his presence in the classroom. Only one other time have I encounter a teacher who is as present in a classroom as Chris. He explained that one of his foundational ideas comes from Bill Pinar who said, “I be with my students.” I be with my students. He was certainly present to this workshop and as a result time seemed to suspend. I took the invitation to be as well, and felt more engaged in observation and excited about creating than I have in a long while.
He talked about how art is not in the completion of a piece, but in the process of making it. That in order to be present with our students as they are figuring things out, we must first explore and wrestle with materials. This is art. A number of participants brought prototypes of their work to show, and in this conversation Chris introduced his own prototypes – dorodango
A dorodango is a traditional Japanese craft of school children. They are balls of mud that have been shaped and polished until they resemble stone. The dorodango Chris brought were of variable size, somewhat lumpy, often cracked, and completely captivating in their tactile imperfections. He developed a process of making dorodango that is more consistent and reachable for the classroom. The process begins with a piece of clay which is rolled in the palms. The first thing he says he learned about dorodango is that they may be the original fidget spinners. Give a group of preschoolers balls of clay to roll and every single one will listen with full attention to whatever you have to say. I can certainly believe it, because when he pulled out a bag of clay and invited us to begin our own dorodango, the atmosphere of the room immediately changed to one of intense focus.
In Chris’s method, the dorodango is kept in a baggie and taken out a few times a day to roll between your palms. After a few days, it develops a crust, and after a week or so you can begin polishing it by rubbing it on your sweater. I immediately felt focused and at peace while rolling my dorodango between my palms – free to think and wonder but not overstimulated. It has been a great thing to grab this week when I’m feeling stuck. It is interesting that after I mentioned feeling “sloppy in the muddy process” of figuring out creative outlet for all the knowledge I’m accumulating recently, I find myself in an illuminating encounter with mud. Literally.
I’m still working on my dorodango. As you can see it is not shiny yet, but it is something – an imperfect object and a perfect representation of art, of creativity, of making. And so, I will continue to make my dorodango, just as I will continue to wrestle with the library materials, spaces, and processes in order to be with our students as they are learning.