Exploring Education at WIS
Humans of WIS: Meet Foun Tang
This post is part of an occasional series featuring different #HumansofWIS.
With her bright pink highlights and distinctive Scottish accent, one of the most familiar figures on the third floor of the WIS Primary School is Ms. Foun Tang, who has been working at WIS for the last ten years. Before arriving at WIS, Foun taught both in Hong Kong and in Scotland, where she was raised. She explains, “in Scotland, I taught the Scottish national curriculum. Scotland has a very long, proud educational tradition, and I love their philosophy toward thinking about the world and how they should educate their children. It’s very broad and very wide.”
When asked why she wanted to become a teacher, Foun replied, “Do you want the joke answer? To brainwash children. Because I majored in history and politics, I decided that I could either go into public policy to change the world, or ‘brainwash’ the next generation to care about the earth, and change the world that way. And that’s what I love about the IB Primary Years Program: it’s all about action and responsibility. And of course the mission of WIS reflects that action and responsibility as well. You know, I LOVE that it’s not just about being bright and being smart, but it’s about being responsible, it’s about being caring. What is the value in knowing about problems in our world but not doing anything about them? That responsibility piece is big, if we are to be good citizens.”
WIS was a natural fit for Foun in other ways as well: “I really identify with the international part of WIS. I see little people just like myself, who are between cultures. I sometimes feel that I don’t fit anywhere, but, at the same time, I feel very lucky that I fit everywhere. As someone who has had my own struggles with my identity, I can see that there are children here who may feel the same way. They may not speak a certain way, or look a certain way, or their culture might be different, but at WIS, none of that matters. We celebrate that everyone is from different cultures. I think that the way forward is definitely through education. We need to teach everybody, but ESPECIALLY this next generation, that we can understand, respect, and also appreciate everyone’s unique cultures and differences. I’ve found WIS to be very accepting that way, and it is truly multicultural, which I really love. It’s very rich.”
Because WIS has a partnership with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Foun also quickly integrated HGSE’s Project Zero teaching methods into her classes. Project Zero has changed the way she teaches, because “it’s more getting to the heart of WHY we do things in life. It’s the concepts. I used to get nervous about covering the entire curriculum, and think, ‘we’ve got to cram their heads with so many things.’ But Project Zero research has caused me to think: What are we teaching for? Why should we teach children? What do we want to teach them? Education has changed so much. It’s not about knowledge getting, and how many facts can you regurgitate on the test. It’s about what do you do with that information, how do you think about it. It’s more about thinking, and that’s how it’s changed how I teach—I’m trying to get them to not only learn things but to also be able to think with those ‘things:’ to reflect, to make connections, to be able to see different perspectives. That’s deeper understanding.”
A few years ago, Foun was approached by a parent of a student in her Grade 4 class about doing a presentation to the class. Ingrid Zimmer, who trains at the Isadora Duncan International Institute in New York and serves as Associate Director of Word Dance Theater, wanted to explain the process of choreographing a dance to the students. Foun loved the idea, and as she explains, “We met at a coffee shop, and we talked about how she would set up the presentation. But the more we talked, the more we realized that the process of choreographing a dance is very much like the creative process of writing, which is what we were studying at that time. We started to think about the question: What can we learn from artists, from people who not only create visual art, but also art in other forms, such as dance, music, or drama? As we explored these connections, we also thought about how we could incorporate Project Zero thinking routines in this dance workshop. Our initial meeting was over two hours, and then we kept meeting, and the workshop became very collaborative. It was truly a partnership created out of being very passionate about the PROCESS of creating something, and looking at the connections with that movement and with the thinking behind it. Many of the PZ thinking routines are trying to get the children to think more metaphorically, which is a very high-order thinking skill, and it’s the same with visual art; there is so much metaphor there.”
Ultimately, Foun and Ingrid wanted the students to have a real experience of creating a dance from beginning to end. They wanted the students to create this dance after looking at visual art, so they picked out some paintings and images they thought would spark the imagination, such as Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and Vincent van Gough’s The Starry Night. Foun and Ingrid led the students through a thinking routine with each image, brainstorming words that would go along with them, and then Ingrid gave them “a kind of crash course in how to go about translating some of those words to movement. For example, what movement would you give to ‘sorrowful,’ or a phrase like ‘lost in your hurt, lost in your loneliness?’ “ Next the children started to come up with different movements for those phrases, and try to move their bodies, and Ingrid began to teach them the structure of how to put a dance together. Foun made a nice connection to writing, too: “In writing, we teach the the children to start off with an idea, and then we brainstorm the words, and how to put them together in a sentence. Similarly, in this workshop, the children brainstormed their movements, and thought about ‘sentence’ fluency for their dance. How would they link all these movements together?”
The students worked in small groups to create a dance based on one of the images they had discussed. For the last part of the workshop, they performed their dance in front of their classmates, set to music selected by Foun and Ingrid. None of the groups heard the music prior to performance day, however, because Ingrid and Found did not want rhythm or beat to influence the children’s interpretation of the paintings. Foun explains, “We wanted a pure idea coming from the painting.” She also noted that the more abstract pictures led to dances that were a real revelation. “It really pushed their thinking because it was less figurative. And that was the big surprise. One of the other big surprises for us: the boys LOVE to dance. They’re FEARLESS in throwing their bodies around.”
Take a look at two of the dances from the original workshop here.
Another big surprise during the workshop? The students’ responses to Ingrid’s dances. She performed two dances to teach the students how to watch and “read” a dance. Foun then asked the children to use the 3-2-1 thinking routine. They had to write down three words, two phrases, and one question expressing reactions to Ingrid’s dance. “It was incredible—their phrases were like lines of haiku. It wasn’t planned at all. But somebody said ‘salamander in my hand’ or ‘time running away’ and I got goosebumps.”
The children’s answers led to an unanticipated extension of the original project idea. Foun saved all the pieces of paper her students used for the 3-2-1 routine, and later posted them around the classroom to conduct a poetry workshop. Using either phrases or words from any of the responses, students produced dance-inspired poetry. Some samples of what the students wrote:
“A watery gift
Salamander in my hand
Slips through my fingers”
“Under a graceful willow,
calm moonlit waters are still.
A lonely girl admires her reflection.
Her salty tears drip into the watery mirror,
her image with its silent ripples”
“Lost in the flowing river,
my reflection is but a scar,
and soon my memories will vanish
like the light of the fading sky”
As Foun says, “This entire process was just such a lovely way for them to kind of also look at how art is produced, and think about the bigger ideas behind it, rather than say something like ‘oh, that’s pretty,’ or ‘that makes me sad.’ Instead, they were thinking about metaphors, and about the ideas and concepts behind art.”
Since their first presentation to Grade 4 a few years ago, Foun and Ingrid have presented “Poetry in Motion” all over the world. They’ve been to Project Zero conferences in Atlanta, Amsterdam, and DC, and have offered sessions at the WIS Summer Institute for Teachers (WISSIT) each year since its inception in 2014. They also did the workshop at the Kennedy Center for the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, and have presented it several times at the Sitar Center in DC. One of Foun’s favorite experiences was when they presented the workshop in one of the galleries of the the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM): “We presented to adults, and were looking at pieces of sculpture. We were given special permission to dance in the gallery, with the sculptures. It was really exciting.” Foun is looking forward to returning to the SAAM gallery in early 2018 to present the workshop yet again for teachers from Art Education DC, the local affiliate of the National Art Educators’ Association (NAEA).
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