Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interpretations, Ideas, and Inspiration

Today's post is guest hosted by Talia Hurwich - a middle school teacher who has wonderfully insightful and creative ideas.  We hope you enjoy it.

Interpretations, Ideas, and Inspiration

When we observe the world around us, we don't simply observe, we interpret it in our own way. 
  • Historians interpret events with the hope of gaining greater insight into a culture's past, present and future.  
  • Writers are constantly interpreting and reinterpreting stories and histories. Shakespeare did this with many of his plays (whose plots were largely taken from other sources). 
  • We constantly interpret social situations (particularly awkward ones!) to decide what our best response or course of action should be (or should have been).  
  • We interpret speeches, movies, books, songs, and poetry.  
  • We interpret a person's facial expressions, their posture, their hair and clothing.  
  • We interpret what others say and don't say - all to gain insights into relationships, events, and the world around us.
  • We can call it "spin" or "bias" when we talk about news stories or opinions that do not necessarily represent all 'parties' or 'sides' - but these too are reflections or interpretations.
Children similarly are always interpreting the world around them.  In fact, the act of interpretation is the first step to learning. 

This is especially true for language acquisition.  Babies will interpret and imitate the sounds they hear until they begin producing those sounds in closer and closer approximations of recognizable speech. They use these approximations to express needs.  As these approximations become more intelligible, they are reinforced.

When faced with a question about the world, children often try to come up with their own answers - which are often quite creative, and quite entertaining.  Art Linkletter and later Bill Cosby had television shows "Kids Say the Darndest Things" based on kids' interpretations of the world around them.  James Thurber wrote a wonderful children's book  Many Moons which illustrates this (and I highly recommend it).

Here is a clip form The Lion King  which also clearly imitates and interprets kids' views of the world as Pumba, Simba, and Timon contemplate what the stars are made of:

Interpretations are made by incorporating various existing ideas in 'original' ways and combinations, or by taking new information or questions and attempting to explain or answer them by 'brainstorming' and combining various existing ideas that may not have originally been associated one with the other.

  •  Feed creativity.  Many works of art including Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet (to name two), Michelangelo's Moses and the Sistine Chapel, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and A Muppet Christmas Carol are all interpretations of others works.  And while inspirational on their own, they lead us to think of and create other stories and versions. 
  • Inspire. Exposing kids (or oneself) to interpretive works inspire us to read more about them, or inspire us to create our own versions or similar versions, to think of multiple perspectives, and allow us to look at the world somewhat differently.  
  • Entertain.
  • Teach us to think.  First, they show us how 'tweaking' or rearranging stories, facts, or ideas can inspire, entertain, and help us generate rules and greater knowledge about the world around us.  Often, when these interpretations or 'rules' proof false this creates what Jean Piaget termed 'cognitive dissonance' which forces us to rethink and reinterpret that question or issue to form a more lasting schema, rule, or response (which is hopefully closer to the 'truth').
How to help inspire our kids to interpret:
  • Shows like Sesame Street are FULL of interpretations of classic works.  Super Grover is pretending to be a super hero; many of the songs are interpretations or 'takes' on existing classic songs. After watching these 'interpretations' show your kids the 'originals'. Ask young kids what was 'different' and what was "the same.'
  • Do the same with books. Compare The Wizard of Oz and Wicked;  nursery rhymes and modern interpretations for younger kids (Jon Scieszka has some wonderful versions of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" and "The Frog Prince Continued"). Make up your own versions. Talk about what you like and don't like; what is same and different. With older kids talk about what worked and what didn't.
  • Ask kids to take stories further; ask them how they might tell that same story today, in 100 years, or how they might have told it a few centuries ago. 
  • After reading a book or story ask your child, "if you could retell this story any way you choose, would you make it a video, a book, a comic, a song, or something else? Why?"
  • Greek myths and fairy tales are great sources of 'interpretation' told across a variety of mediums.  If your child liked the Disney movie Hercules, show your child the episode Hercules and Cerberus from the television show The Storyteller:  Greek Myths; have them read the graphic novel Zeus, Hera, or Athena (all beautifully done graphic novels by First Second Books). Here too ask questions of comparison and inference.
  • Create challenges for them!  Ask your child to summarize a story in under two minutes. There's a series of videos called "The 90-second Newbery" where kids and adults make videos summarizing plots of Newbery Award winning books in 90 seconds.  You may want to try this too.
The point is to have fun with interpretations.  They are entertaining, they make us think, and manipulate ideas and perspectives. 

In closing, here are two more (related) clips illustrating how interpretations can be entertaining, humorous, educational, and inspirational.  They are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged.  (It is a must see show for fans of all ages). 

In this clip, Shakespeare's histories are reinterpreted in a football game.

Here we have "The Othello Rap"

Thanks for your visit -  please, leave your own interpretations and ideas in the comments - and have a great week.


  1. Wow. This is informative. I've never thought about this before to be honest. Thanks so much for educating ME!

  2. Wow! Indeed a wonderful post - as we have grown to expect from you my dear.
    Make sure you leave a comment over on the ABC Blog - it's a giveaway this week!
    Denise ABC Team

  3. As usual, an inspiring post!

    abcw team

  4. A great post, Meryl. So much depends upon our Interpretations of events, - and there are so many different ones which I guess is what makes life Interesting and Intriguing.

  5. Shakespeare is often reinterpreted in modern garb. Sesame Street is great for that thing, you're right.
    When I debate the rules with my daughter, she'll say, "It's different in Lydialand."

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  6. What a great trio of I-words for the day! We right-brainers spend most of our waking moments trying to figure out how to reinterpret things with a new twist. I loved watching the "Kids Say..." show, and your ideas on how to get kids to become inspired are awesome.

  7. Great words for i and a very interesting post. Carver, ABC Wednesday Team

  8. Great post, it's all relative isn't it!! Really enjoyed all your example. Thanks for stopping by my ABC post, YES this was last year, so my girls have matured a lot since last year.

  9. "We constantly interpret social situations (particularly awkward ones!) to decide what our best response or course of action should be (or should have been)." - How is interpretation related with reaction?

    I'd love to make a little experiment of the question you suggested ("if you could retell this story any way you choose, would you make it a video, a book, a comic, a song, or something else? Why?") on my son who is diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.

  10. I enjoyed reading this - thanks! Very inspirational and thought-provoking too.

  11. I got caught up in your thoughts and insights...

  12. The interpret a story from one medium to another is such an interesting project. Thinking of all those stories that have been transformed into something different many times makes an interesting, and expanding list the more one thinks about it.

  13. I enjoy watching a child's mind at work when they have that creative cap on. it is important that we let our kids express themselves in language or sounds. As I now have grandchildren I am reminded of this when I repeat the sounds or babbles they are working so hard to say back to them. they get so excited I tfeel with the thought that "gee I am communicating!!"

  14. Very interesting article. It all comes down to how we each see--and interpret--the world around us. That is our reality. Teaching our children (and ourselves) to take the time to fully interpret a situation (rather than reactive instinctively) is an important goal.

  15. Hi Meryl(and Talia), this is a wonderful, informative and thought provoking post. Wonderful take on the letter I. I also enjoyed watching all three videos. I agree that it is so important that children learn the joy and skill of interpreting things around them. It will help them in adulthood.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. I'm your newest follower! http://trendymomreviews.blogspot.com

  17. Thanks for stopping by Welcome Wednesday!!

    Kristin & Jaime
    Take It From Me

  18. Great post! New follower thru BHE! To follow me, here's my link http://acostaeveli.blogspot.com/ :)

  19. Newest follower - Pick one of my blogs and follow, I'd appreciate it. Thanks so much and Erin go Brah!

  20. Stopping by from Sunday Social. Love the template of your blog! Just became your newest follower. ~ Jen http://richfaithrising.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-king-kong-god-have-in-common.html

  21. great article! She is absolutely correct about interpretation. Visiting from Love It.

  22. Fabulous ideas! I think I'm going to use the one to have the kids act it out! (new follower on Google Friends)