About three weeks ago, Julie and I were finally able to schedule the final workshop with the teachers we have been mentoring since December. This workshop was postponed for over a month because of weather and other scheduling problems in the school. When we came together, teachers were clearly enjoying their down time, talking about personal issues, illnesses, car trouble, etc. It reminded me of the very first workshop we taught at the school, except with no teacher nerves. Everyone seemed relaxed. We began by asking teachers if there had been any connection to the storytelling lessons since our last student workshops. SM, the fifth grade social studies teacher, said that she is currently teaching about slavery and the Underground Railroad and her students continuously refer to The People Could Fly. DM, the 5th grade ELA teacher, said that she thinks her students are more aware of descriptive language in everything the read and write. Other teachers commented on positive changes in their students that they attribute to the Storytelling Program. Many of them also mentioned that they believed they had changed as a result of their storytelling experiences.
After the discussion, Julie and I did some storytelling. I told The Three Languages and Julie told Juan Bobo and the Pig. These stories, as we hoped they would, invoked a discussion about learning styles and the fact that students who don’t excel academically are usually capable of learning and, even, excelling in other areas.
Next, we asked teachers to write a detailed assessment of the program. What follows are some excerpts from my teachers’ assessments.
SP (Special Ed, push-in support in Grade 6 ELA)
Storytelling Arts – or how I learned to get over myself and bring whimsy and critical thinking to my classroom. I wasn’t sure what to make of a workshop called “Storytelling Arts” and I wasn’t sure if it would really apply to the older grades. I was sure that I would never be able to do it, myself. I have avoided the stage since I bombed that drama audition my freshman year in high school…
The biggest surprise – no, relief – was how these two great storytellers managed to create a safe space and encouraging environment that allayed my stage fright and made me feel comfortable in taking on the storyteller role myself… I appreciated the careful progression of support, how the steps of the workshop unfolded slowly and with a great deal of encouragement and support with helpful feedback. I did not think I could do this, but I’m now actually excited to try it in other classes.
The students in my class were challenging listeners and have difficulty focusing, even for Storytelling Arts, but they really seemed to enjoy having the stories and responding to them. They could hardly wait to talk about the various story elements and to make connections to their lives and stories and movies they know. When there was a comprehension issue in storytelling, questions could be addressed immediately. There is no flipping back to page 82 or rewinding a video or audio, and the story action could be rephrased immediately. The story is dynamic, no static.
A surprising and exciting development was how, unprompted, some of the students became storytellers, themselves. They wanted to share narratives or anecdotes, even students who are shy and/or reluctant writers wanted to share something. It also provides an outlet for outgoing, “look at me” students.
MW (Grade 6 ELA)
The Storytelling Arts program has brought joy to my LAL classroom in several ways. My students have voiced individual feelings in a warm and caring environment, enjoyed mesmerizing stories told by Paula and myself, and showed pride in making connections with their new found knowledge. The ability to “hear” each child’s voice and to address everyone’s needs in an accountable talk wrap-up was a valuable time to learn about each other, as well as hone communication skills. The stories we told were a part of a larger thematic unit and students’ knowledge was apparent as the unit progressed.
Students were constantly writing and speaking about the universal themes in our Dream/Sleep unit. I found it interesting that words and phrases which were only used during oral time, later appeared in students’ writing.
I now tell stories with ease, almost daily. I feel comfortable telling a short, symbolic tale to start off a lesson and my students love to hear me tell them.
SM (Grade 5 Social Studies)
I was pleasantly surprised by how much the students learned through storytelling… Through storytelling, we were able to connect it to what we were learning in Social Studies. It is a way for the students to be able to visualize examples of what was going on during the times of slavery. For example, the story, The People Could Fly, helped students get an idea of how slaves were treated. It also helped them to hear figurative language, use context clues, and determine the meaning of phrases. I thought it was wonderful how one story could cover many aspects of learning.
Not only is storytelling a great way to connect content, but it also helped with teaching the students about being good and doing good for others. This is so important with students at this age and teaching them through storytelling helps them to remember and apply it into their everyday lives.
DM (Grade 5 ELA)
The Storytelling Arts program opens a door to learning that benefit the students in several ways. It helps them improve their listening skills, it allows them to build visualization skills, and it encourages creative thinking. All of these aspects of learning are extremely important in the development of well-rounded children.
As the storytelling program began, I admit I was skeptical as to the success of its implementation. Many of the children find it difficult to listen for any length of time, so how would they react when asked to sit still and absorb a story? I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that the kid who usually have the worst time with these activities paid the most attention to the stories, and easily remembered the details and concepts from the narrative! I will definitely use storytelling in my curriculum to improve listening skills.
Also I found that the students had an easier time visualizing aspects of the stories they heard when compared to just reading text. They remembered details and important content without much reinforcement. Finally, I was most encouraged by how much my children’s’ creativity was enhanced by the stories. They were eager to include similar elements and details in their own writing and they were more confident in their own storytelling.
EZ (resource, special education in grades 4 and 5 ELA)
Storytelling was a magical experience for me, both as a listener and a teller. It has touched my inner spirit and has led me on a path toward something I may want to do in the future as I venture towards retirement from thirty-four years of teaching. As a listener, I was impressed by how engaging the stories were… I was skeptical that students would relate to stories or find them “hokey.” Their receptive engagement, however, was heart warming. It seems they were even better engaged when the stories were told to them rather than read aloud. (As a support teacher, I do a lot of reading of the passages aloud.
The lessons that correlated with the stories were amazing. Writing a “stop action” description piece really helped the students with writing descriptively, with rich details that gave a clearer picture of the tale.
Teachers also made suggestions for improving the program
SP: In retrospect, if I could ask for anything more, I think I would, perhaps, have only requested a packet. Perhaps it is ironic that I am asking for print … but I sometimes regretted the quality of my own notes and could no find the title of the story, book, or resource I remembered mentioned.
SM: The only criticism I have is the way it ended. I felt there was not an exact closure for the students… a small project, or if they could create or learn a story to tell to the class groups.
DM: There is one aspect of the program I would change and that is having the (teacher) workshop sessions scheduled during class time. Although I thoroughly enjoyed those meetings, the disruption to the classes I teach was a major challenge to address. Overall, I would recommend this program because I believe the benefits far outweigh the scheduling issues. When my most reluctant learners are excited about language arts, then I know my time is invested well.
We ended the workshop with stories about storytelling. Although this was our last teacher workshop of the year, it was not the program’s culminating event. That will take place in June when these focus teachers present ‘fishbowl’ sessions in which their peers will observe as they model storytelling lessons with their students. We are also in the process of planning a follow-up program for next year.