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Words, Like Feathers – For Teachers and Parents

October 16, 2020

Words, Like Feathers – A Guide for Teachers and Parents

Step 1 – Introduce the Story

Story Synopsis – ‘Storyteller’s Corner’:

Three women work together, whiling away the hours talking about others in inaccurate, often negative ways. Inevitably, their stories spread outward and eventually become known to the entire village. One such story involved a young boy, unfairly accused of being a thief. In this case, the rabbi was asked to help, and in short order he is able to effectively demonstrate to the three women how difficult it is to ‘take back’ harmful words once they are spoken.

Exploring the Premise or Big Idea: How this story relates to our world today.

This story demonstrates, in a poignant way, the power of the spoken word. The three women in the story go about their business each day, unconscious to the powerful effect they (and the words they speak) have on others in their community.

However, as the rabbi (a Jewish teacher / religious leader) so effectively demonstrates, what we choose to communicate can have a powerful effect indeed. Our words can travel far and wide, affecting everyone who hears them. Once Ida, Mira and Mae come to understand this, they consciously decide to use their powers of communication in a more positive way. (Character Education, Equity & Inclusive Education)

The story speaks to the benefit of mindful communications: We all use words to communicate to one another. This story shows, in effective and simple terms, how easily we affect our surroundings in either positive or negative ways. The story models how we have a choice in the matter. 

This story can be used as a starting point to discuss important and timely topics such as positive and negative messaging in media.

Step 2: Play the Recorded Story

Listening Suggestions:

Storyvalues recordings are designed to elicit mental pictures through the interplay of narration, music and sounds. Mindful listening can be facilitated by having the listener take a deep breath or two, becoming aware of his or her immediate surroundings and physical sensations and finding a quiet comfortable place to listen. 

Play the recorded story for your class or individual child, pausing occasionally to make predictions or to contribute problem solving ideas.  (Inference)

Step 3 – What Do You Think?

Stories provide a great foundation for children to express their own personal viewpoints about the characters, the plot and the various situations that arise in the narration. Questions such as, ‘what was your favourite part of the story’, ‘if you were one of the characters who would you be’, ‘what do you think is the main idea of this story’ are a few examples of questions that can elicit kids to express themselves.

Story Discussion Suggestions:

This story and the recording can be used to support a wide range of curriculum, including Language & Literacy, Social Studies, Arts, Geography, Character Education and Social and Emotional Learning.

Broad Concepts: Accuracy and Responsible Communications

As we can see from this story, inaccurate information about someone can be very damaging indeed. Given that words are a primary way in which we communicate, and that the effect of our words can be widespread, it is important that what we say be an accurate reflection of what we feel and think.

  • What is accuracy? (Accuracy: The state of precision and/or correctness.) Define and discuss what this word means; arrive at a shared understanding of the word.  Discuss the importance of accuracy (and inaccuracy) to the meaning of this story.  (Text-to-Self, Character Education)
  • Discuss how Ida, Mira and Mae came to believe that Joseph stole the loaves of bread. They actually had very little information on which to base their conclusion. Were they accurate in their thinking about Joseph? (Text-to-Self, Equity & Inclusive Education)
  • Leading Question: Is it important to be accurate when we communicate information about others? How might we feel if we are talked about in an inaccurate way? (Text-to-Self, Text-to-World)
  • As seen in the story, our words can be ‘broadcast’ far and wide just through being heard and repeated by others. Just as inaccurate information and gossip can have a negative effect, truth and positive information can have a favourable effect. Explore how the character traits of leadership and integrity depend upon positive, accurate communication. (Character Education, Equity & Inclusive Education)
  • Explore the lives of great humanitarians and leaders who have used their words to effect profound positive change: Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, are just a few suggestions. (Text-to-World)
  • Encourage your students to discover their own powers of positive communication using the above role models as sources of inspiration, and explore ways for them to effect their school environment through positive use of words.  (Character Education)

Mindfulness: Peer Pressure and The Value of Thinking for Oneself

Note how Ida, Mira and Mae so easily fortified each other’s viewpoints and observations. It can be easy for a group of friends (both personally and on social media) to fall into habits of thinking and communicating that can become insular and potentially destructive.

In this story, it is the rabbi who models the ability to think objectively and see for himself, free of the interplay that existed between the three women. In a way that was gentle and non-judgemental, he was able to point the way for their friendship to achieve a more positive dynamic. 

  • Introduce the idea of ‘peer pressure.‘ Everyone has had a time when they have been coerced into doing or saying something that may go against their better judgement. Discuss how easy it can be for a member of a group to adopt the views of the others, even though it may contradict one’s own beliefs and values.
  • Notice how the rabbi was able to inspire a more empathetic worldview among Ida, Mira and Mae. How might the story had turned out differently if the rabbi had not intervened? 

Literacy Connections – Discussion Suggestions:

These questions can help students reflect on the content of the story and draw parallels to their own life experience. The questions can apply to the story as a whole, or to individual characters and situations.

Text-to-Self:

  • What does ‘Words Like Feathers,’ remind you of in your life?
  • What in the story is similar to your life?
  • How is the story different from your life?

Text-to-Text:

  • Does ‘Words Like Feathers,’ remind you of other stories you have heard or read?
  • How is the story similar to other stories you’ve heard or read?
  • How is the story different from other stories you’ve heard or read?

Text-to-World:

  • What does ‘Words Like Feathers,’ remind you of in the world?
  • How is the story similar to what happens in the world? 
  • How is the story different from what happens in the world?

Text-to-Media:

  • Does ‘Words Like Feathers,’ remind you of a movie or television program?

Step 4: Fact and Fiction

In Storyvalues, we use folktales, myths and legends as a foundation to explore culture, character, creativity and communications. Studies show that information is more efficiently internalized when presented in narrative form; our goal is to first engage though storytelling, then to extend the engagement by expanding into other areas of study. In this way, stories can be used as a basis to teach virtually any subject. Here are a few suggestions and examples: 

Cultural Explorations:

Cultural Explorations:

This story and the recording can be used as a means to increase awareness and acceptance of cultural diversity. (Geography, Equity & Inclusive Education)

About Poland: Although there are many different versions of this story – in which feathers blown by the wind are analogous to spoken words – this version is based on a traditional Jewish folktale from Poland. 

Poland is located in Europe; a continent made up of about 50 independent countries.(Geography, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World)

Explore the map on the web page for this story. Show where Poland is located within Europe and its relation to your community. (Text-to-World, Geography)

Ask if anyone in the class is from, has traveled to, or has relatives in Poland. Encourage students to share any personal stories they may have about Poland. (Text-to-Self, Text-to-World)

Judaism

Judaism is the religious faith of the Jewish people. It is the tenth largest religion in the world, with over 15 million adherents. For a more in-depth study of Judaism for kids, here is an interesting website: https://facts.kiddle.co/Judaism

The story of ‘Words, Like Feathers’ is a good example of ‘The Golden Rule’; a central tenet of Jewish philosophy first appearing in the Old Testament. This ‘rule’ (‘treat others as you yourself would like to be treated’) is understood to appear in many cultures around the world in various forms.

Geography:

Explore the map on the ‘Words, Like Feathers’ story page to discover that Poland is a country within  the continent / world region of Europe.  Discover where this area is in relation to where you are located.  (Geography, Text-to-World)

Personal Stories

One of the goals of this program is to inspire children to be effective communicators – storytellers, in their own right.

To this end, ask your students to share any personal stories they may have involving Poland or Eastern European culture. Perhaps someone has relatives or friends, has travelled, or is from there. Encourage your students to share their stories with the class. 

Exploring the rich history and culture of the Jewish people can broaden one’s understanding of the world and help strengthen appreciation for diversity.

Step 5 – Matt’s Music and Art Corner

Support for Arts in Education:

This story and the recording can be used as a means to empower students to explore, interpret and express the content of each story in their own unique way. (Visit the Art/Photography/Music Gallery section of this story’s web page to learn more about the specific photographs and art images shown.)  (Visual Arts)

Creative Visualization and Art Suggestions:

Have your students listen to the recording in a quiet, peaceful setting, perhaps with the lights off and with their eyes closed. Have them pay close attention to how the music and sound effects work with the narration to establish a mood and sense of place. Ask students to express in their own way, how these stylistic elements relate to the meaning of the story. (Visualization)

Have students draw the scene of their choice, based on the imagery as depicted in the narration and the music. Encourage personal expression and originality. 

This story features vivid imagery and characters that can provide the basis for art projects: Ida, Mira and Mae making pillows, Joseph running with the bread, the rabbi ripping open the pillow, etc. (Visual Arts, Visualization.)

Music Project Suggestions: (Arts in Education – Music)

The recording of this story features Klezmer music, played on the accordion, clarinet, guitar, bass, violin and drums. Klezmer music is a form of traditional Yiddish music.  (Visit the Art/Photography/Music Gallery section of this story’s web page to see photographs and to hear the sounds created by these musical instruments.)

Have students pay close attention to the music in the recording. Discuss how the music and sound effects help to create a mental image of the story. (Visualization)

Drama Project Suggestions: (Arts in Education – Drama)

The story of, ‘Words Like Feathers,’ can be presented as a drama. Using the written version as the basis for a script, develop a performance with your students.

Alternatively, have students learn to tell the story. (Storytelling)

Book Suggestions: (Text-to-Text)

Wisdom Tales from Around the World by Heather Forest (August House Publishers, 1996.)

The Way Meat Loves Salt; A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition, by Nina Jaffe and Louise August (September 15, 1998.)

The Glass Mountain and Other Polish Fairy Tales by Elsie Byrde (December 18, 2000.)

Sources:

Wisdom Tales from Around the World by Heather Forest (August House Publishers, 1996.)

Feathers: A Jewish Tale from Eastern Europe by Heather Forest (August House Publishers, 2005.)