Habla Teacher Institute: Monday

You can read Arnie Aprill's write-up of today (with lots of photos) here.

The bats were still flying over the pool when we went outside at 6:30 to do a workout this morning. 

We spent most of today in a workshop led by Patricia Sobral, Professor of Portuguese at Brown University. 

We began by going around the circle saying our name, and "something people can't tell by looking at you." This time, I finally remembered to write down everybody's name in the location where they were sitting on my paper, which was exceptionally helpful. 

Then, Patricia took us out of the air conditioning and into the gallery, and had us get in a circle and hold hands. It was human knot time. 

For the first knot, everybody was told to go underneath somebody's arm. Once we were all entangled, we were told to ask anybody who was know near us "Where are you from?" 

Once we unravelled ourselves, she had us let go of one person's hand, then take the hand of somebody else across the circle, thereby re-knotting. Now, we asked people near us "who are you from?"

For the final knot, we held hands around the circle as we had at the start, but this time we were instructed to go under two different sets of arms in order to tangle ourselves up. This time, we asked people around us "What are you from?" 

Once we'd untangled ourselves, we quickly debriefed about what we'd noticed about the experience. This was very unstructured, and people volunteered to speak, as generally happens at Habla. I'd definitely give time to pair-share if I were doing this with students. 

After the knot, we walked through the space, initially without interacting with anybody, then "greeting people with our eyes" as we passed them. After a bit, Patricia said "You're late - you slept through your alarm and you know no matter what you're going to be late" - we sped up, hunched our shoulders, the whole atmosphere of the space changed as we charged through it. Then she said "You're walking along the beach, you don't have anywhere you need to be, it's sunny, you're taking a long stroll, life couldn't be better." People slowed, stretched, swiveled, and sighed contentedly as they walked. Then she said "It's 3 AM, you're walking home alone from a party, and you probably shouldn't have taken this route. You can hear footsteps behind you, you're willing yourself not to turn around. Then you can't help yourself, you turn around, but all you see is a silhouette." We sped up, taking tight, clenched, steps. Then she said "You're going to a party. It doesn't matter when you get there, it's a Mexican or Brazilian party, it starts when you get there, and it never ends. You're with your friends, you're so excited about tonight." 

This went straight into a game in which when she told us to freeze, two people made roof with their hands together, and one person stood between them. The people making the roof said words to the effect of "My roof is made of ______" (for example, 'compassion' - the idea is that should be what you use to shelter others), while the person "under" the roof said "I am sheltered by _____". 

After a few rounds of this, we debriefed. I found it much easier to be a roof than to seek shelter - partly this can be explained by how I tend to interact with others, and my general unwillingness to be "looked after", but it was also a question of math: more people are needed to shelter than to seek shelter. Also, choosing to seek shelter means you risk not finding any.

Patricia then handed out "viewfinders" (a piece of black construction paper with a rectangle cut out of the middle). We used these to frame a shot somewhere in the room, and then to share our shot with another person. I found it immensely satisfying to look at the space through my viewfinder, zooming in and out by moving it closer to or further away from my face. 

At this point, we went back into the air conditioned room - it was time to write. On a "fresh page" of our notebooks (Patricia was very specific about this) we made a list in response to a prompt. Then we talked to the person next to us about what we'd written, then on another fresh page we responded to another prompt, then discussed it with the OTHER person next to us, then another prompt, then found someone new to discuss it with, then the same for  a fourth prompt. Here are the four prompts:

  1. Who are the people who frame your life?
  2. What are the places that frame your life?
  3. What are the objects that frame your life?
  4. What are the memories that frame your life?

We drew a square on a new sheet of paper, writing one item from each list on the inside of each side of the square (our "frame"). 

Then we had two more prompts (again, we wrote, then shared with somebody new):

  1. How do other people frame you?
  2. What would you like to have in your frame that is not in your frame yet?

After this, we wrote down and shared "two wows and two wonders" about the morning, then went for lunch.

After lunch we added a "way other people frame us" below our square, and "something we'd like  in our frame" below our square, on the paper we'd already started. 

We shared our square with yet another new person, taking much more time for this discussion than we had for any others. 

At this point, we wrote. We were given twenty minutes to write freely about what we had put in (and out) of our frame, writing about all six items, with the goal of finding one strong line about each. 

We walked around the room sharing our "golden lines" with other people, with Patricia telling us which line we should share (based on the order of the prompts). We were told not to respond or give any feedback, in fact to give no more acknowledgement than a nod. I liked this a lot - it was fast and clean, and meant that we all got to hear lots of different takes on how to respond. 

Now it was time to devise a performance: Patricia counted us off, one through six. I ended up in group 5 (consisting of six people), which mean we were performing our lines for "How do other people frame you?" We read our own lines aloud, then wrote them down on strips of paper and went around the group with each member rearranging them and reading them all aloud together (this particular "thinking routine" was our own strategy, not something prescribed by Patricia). As we were doing this, Patricia came around and told us to keep gestures minimal for our performance, but to try to memorize our line and be ready to perform. We went out to the gallery space, and all the groups performed their pieces, then (of course) we debriefed. 

And if you're curious, here's the line I performed: "I figure out what I want to say by talking."

It was getting near the end of the day at this point, when I remembered we had a second workshop, this one led by arts educator Cynthia. She gave each of us a packet containing eight styrofoam balls of various sizes, and ten bamboo skewers. We were to create a freestanding structure, which we would then combine with another, then our pair would connect it to another pair's, then our four to another four, and then we would connect all of them together, creating a sculptural metaphor for community. Here are some photos from that process: