Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Notes from the NJEA Convention

The SAI workshops at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City went very well indeed. I presented a workshop on Storytelling in the ELL (English Language Learners) Classroom. I also participated in fellow Storytelling Arts Storyteller Paula Davidoff’s writing workshop (Learning to Write/Writing to Learn: Strategies for Assessment) and the writing and performance workshop (Building Community through Collaborative Writing and Performance) she presented with Carolyn Hunt.

Here’s an overview of what took place during my three-hour workshop...

Storytelling in the 21st Century

21st Century Skills

The theme of the convention was based on the new standards for learning in the 21st Century. ( ) Our proposals had to show how our work fulfills these standards. What is so interesting is how the skills apply to both student performance and to professional development. The standards expect teachers to become the models for their students’ learning.

learning and innovation skills

21st century skills for learning and innovation are infused throughout the core standards and professional development standards. These learning and innovation skills speak generally to

  • Communication Skills
  • Social/Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Global Awareness Skills

Specifically, the skills focus on:

  • Creativity in thinking and devising collaborative situations
  • Critical thinking
  • Communicating clearly
  • Collaboration
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Self-direction (even in collaboration)


If you’ve ever heard a story told you notice at once that the 21st century skills are the foundation of storytelling. Listening to stories is a collaborative act between teller and listener. It is a creative act. When students and teachers learn to tell stories, they are applying and utilizing the 21st Century skills in a real way.


  • Beautiful and rich language is heard and used
  • Figurative language is heard and used
  • New vocabulary is heard and used in context
  • Questions are heard and formulated
  • Opinions are offered and supported


  • Pacing leads to fluency
  • Pitch leads to understanding
  • Volume leads to clear communication


  • Comprehension comes from gestures
  • Comprehension comes from facial expressions
  • Comprehension comes from body movement


  • Story repertoire is developed
  • Story structure is heard naturally
  • Characters are explored.
  • Dialogue is heard naturally
  • Common conflicts which will be alluded to throughout life are discussed


  • Stories illustrate respect
  • Stories illustrate perseverance
  • Stories illustrate honesty
  • Stories illustrate responsibility
  • Stories illustrate moral courage
  • Stories illustrate compassion

Discussion of the 21st century skills and the oral art of storytelling was the foundation of the workshop. Stories were told and it became very clear how a storytelling experience -- both listening to stories and learning to tell stories -- offers unique support in the ELL classroom. Storytelling helps realize skills needed in the 21st century.

Stories were then told as examples of how teachers can bring storytelling into their classroom. The skills of the 21st century and the skills of storytelling were referenced throughout the workshop.

  • Teachers can learn to tell stories themselves
  • Teachers can work collaboratively with colleagues, students, parents, and members of the community to bring storytelling into their classrooms
  • Teachers can teach students to tell stories
  • Teachers can bring in professional storytellers
  • Teachers can bring stories from all cultures into their classrooms

Stories are a unique tool for teaching global awareness and illustrating how a student fits into the culture of the world community. The oral art of storytelling can create an interdisciplinary and collaborative learning environment in the classroom by relying on the cultural dimensions and life experiences of the wider educational community. Listening to and telling stories force us to think creatively and critically and to be flexible and adaptable in order to communicate clearly with others.