Marica's meanderings

Friday, January 28, 2005

Our stories and how we tell them

I have been an avid journaller for many years. Writing has helped me deal with many life challenges. There is something amazingly satisfying in getting thoughts down on paper. Over the past few years I have tried to move away from solely using the written word to express myself and I have been experimenting with visual journalling. As I am not what I consider a natural artist I must admit I still find comfort in adding text to my visual creations. I have come to realise that I am using all these various techniques to tell a story. I now collect things because I may want to use them in my next journal entry. I always carry a small notebook in which I can write things down, or draw. I have started taking lots of photographs. I use all of these things to create my story.

This last Christmas I received the most incredible present ever from my children - Zofia, Damian and Mira. They handmade a book for me. The opening page read Welcome to 2004. We would like to take you on a journey through your year to remind you of what you have achieved. As I read my book the tears poured down my face. They had used emails I had written to them while I have been away on my various trips. They had gone into my laptop and printed out photos I had taken. They had collected all sorts of bits and pieces to help them to tell the story they wanted me to read. I will treasure this book forever. I wish I could share it with you here. I could take photos of it but it somehow wouldn't be the same. I lingered over every page and I loved the feeling of turning each page to see what was going to happen next. I had lived the experience but they had pieced it together from their perspective.

I realise as I look back at my old journals that they are treasures as well. They tell my story - all about the ups and downs of my life. They hold a collection of all sorts of memorabilia. I hope someone will read them when I am no longer here and have a sense of who I was and what my life was like.

As I have been developing my skills in visual journalling I have spent a lot of time learning from others both online and through books, from many talented people who have been prepared to share their work and ideas. A favourite online journaller of mine is Danny Gregory. He describes his blog Everyday Matters as a series of occasional essays on creative things, journal making, drawing, etc. intended to challenge, inspire and perplex.

A fellow FLLinNZ colleague, Stephen Harlow, is investigating storytelling and its role in e-education. He writes:

Human beings are collectors, in part, because our collections tell stories about ourselves.

One of the activities Helen Barrett asks participants to undertake in her e-portfolio workshop is to reflect on their collections experiences.

Many of us are "packrats" or habitual collectors, and there are often deep roots to our collection experiences.

This has particular significance to me after I spent all of yesterday with my youngest daughter Mira (she is 17 years old) clearing out her bedroom in preparation for her move away from home. She is going to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Graphic Design at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in Auckland. As we went through all her papers there was this ever increasing pile of things that had to be kept - this was non negotiable as far as she was concerned. These things all spoke of who Mira was and her development. There were things I had kept for her and then there was her own collection. Everyone has these collections and they are priceless.

Portfolios have been with us for a very long time. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s or earlier recognize portfolios as reincarnations of the large memory boxes or drawers where our parents collected starred spelling tests, lacy valentines, science fair posters, early attempts at poetry, and (of course) the obligatory set of plaster hands. Each item was selected by our parents because it represented our acquisition of a new skill or our feelings of accomplishment. Perhaps an entry was accompanied by a special notation of praise from a teacher or maybe it was placed in the box just because we did it.

We formed part of our identity from the contents of these memory boxes. We recognized each piece and its association with a particular time or experience. We shared these collections with grandparents to reinforce feelings of pride and we reexamined them on rainy days when friends were unavailable for play. Reflecting on the collection allowed us to attribute importance to these artifacts, and by extension to ourselves, as they gave witness to the story of our early school experiences.

Our parents couldn't possibly envision that these memory boxes would be the inspiration for an innovative way of thinking about children's learning. These collections, lovingly stored away on our behalf, are the genuine exemplar for documenting children's learning over time. But now these memory boxes have a different meaning. It's not purely private or personal, although the personal is what gives power to what they can mean.
Hebert, Elizabeth (2001) The Power of Portfolios. Jossey-Bass, p.ix-x

The trend now is to talk about e-portfolios and digital storytelling. Another trend which I have been introduced to as I go on the hunt for bits and pieces to add to my own journals and handmade books is the world of scrapbooking. Last weekend I attended a class at Kiwiscraps on how to create a visual story on canvas. I cannot believe how big this business has grown in the last six months since I discovered its existence. Now you see scrapbooking supplies appearing everywhere and lots of people talking about it.

One of the Hot Trends for 2005 is Life Caching. It would seem that we in NZ are following the same trends:

As we learn to click to save every moment of our lives, data will become the stuff that memories are made of. "Life caching will become a given," says Reinier Evers, whose company coined the term. "Consumers will come to expect [that] they can relive every experience they've ever had and have instant access to any life collection they've ever built."

Memory making has been big business for a while. Scrapbooking has been one of the hottest trends in recent years-the $2.5 billion industry doubled since 2001, according to the Hobby Industry Association, and is still growing.

The terminology may be new, the technology involved may be new but the fundamental concept is far from different. As a human race we have always had a need to tell stories. Portfolios, whatever format they take, are becoming more important in both our professional and personal lives. Within education the use of portfolios as evidence of development and achievement is fast becoming normal at all levels.

The other day my youngest sister told me how she was expected to make comments in her son's portfolio. She was asked to write about what he did and achieved during the holiday break. My nephew Niko will be two in February and his portfolio is part of his records for the creche he is attending two days a week. Again this is not a new concept. Mothers are reknown for keeping records and presenting them to their children at the most opportune moments in their lives. No good deed goes unpunished.

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