Playing games over recess with students who have difficulty on the playground is a fairly regular occurrence in the role of the principal. Today however, as I sat across the table from a grade 3 boy playing tic-tac-toe, it was as if the boy and I both melted away in place of the personas of the turtle puppets on each of our hands. The game became Askî versus Askî. No longer were we student and principal, we were two turtle brothers playing a game in our own pond. It did not matter that we are not master puppeteers or that we lack well defined voices for our puppets. They were real in that moment.
Aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge calls it, “the suspension of disbelief”. In other words, it’s the willingness to overlook the limitations of a medium so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of a fictional premise. In fact, Askî himself is the most real part of the assessment if you ask the kids. They very excitedly welcomed him and his story into their classroom. They willingly answered Askî‘s questions, and they genuinely love him as he listens to their story. Therefore, the whole puppet experience gives the assessment that loveable, warm and simple connection to the lives of early learners.
“Playing is learning” as supported by the Canadian Council on Learning. The puppet enters the assessment into the world of play-based learning. It allows children to practice their learning in a non-threatening environment. They involve themselves in a world of imagination that helps them learn and grow. And it opens the conversation to allow the children an opportunity to freely to share their thoughts and feelings without judgement.
After Askî had spent a couple of weeks becoming an important member of the class, he was intentionally put away for a few days making his arrival on assessment day even more exciting! Faces of children and adults lit up when he entered the room to sing the theme song we had prepared for the event. Then he simply asked the students to come and talk with him one at a time. To say they were delighted is a huge understatement. Wide-eyed and on the edge of their seats, they looked right into the eyes of Askî, barely able to wait until he finished his explanation before giving their response. Even the most reluctant of oral speakers were eager to tell Askî their story. Many assessments ended with hugs or even kisses with Askî.
In these ways I am SO pleased that the Help Me Tell My Story enabled us to begin to accomplish some huge goals. First, we entered the world of kids. Too often assessments are disconnected and deficit based. In this case we entered right at the child’s level of engagement and right in their zone of proximal development. This assessment also opened up more frequent and deeper oral language practice for our students. There wasn’t a single student who wasn’t eager to talk to Askî and engage with him. And third, it invited parents and caregivers to observe their child and participate with their child to develop skills for life.
We now describe Askî as a member of our school staff. He visits classrooms, makes appearences all over the school and attends school assemblies, always to the same reaction of joy. The power of puppets!