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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More About Community and Imagination

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship (postcard illustration)
"Over all what I learned from this experience is that a community is a very powerful and that imagination is very big." This comment is from a 6th grade student I (Paula) taught in the storytelling project described by Julie in the previous post. 
For this project, tellers and 6th grade ELA teachers were paired to collaboratively plan and teach a three-day storytelling program that would reinforce the teachers’ literacy goals in their English Language Arts classes and give all participants an opportunity to reflect upon the role of community in various aspects of our lives, and on the responsibility of the individual to his or her community. Although we had guidelines in the form of a general residency plan for each day, storytellers were given the freedom to choose own own material and plan specific workshop activities. Each day of the residency focused on an aspect of working with story: discussion, movement, and writing, respectively.
I collaborated with Ashley Daly, an experienced English language arts teacher whose enthusiasm for teaching and learning is obvious in everything she does in the classroom. She made me, a guest teacher, feel welcome and comfortable, and it was clear that, even at this early stage of their first year in a new, much larger school, sixth graders feel safe in her classroom. Although we began the residency with a detailed lesson plan for each day, we continued to tweak the plan from day to day and, even, from class to class, as we worked through it.

The first day, the discussion day, was also an introduction to storytelling for most of the students and for Ashley. For this reason, I choose to tell three stories during the eighty minute workshop. I began the workshop with Stone Soup because the story provides an example of how collaboration enhances everyone’s experience, but it also reminds us that successful collaborations may require creative persuasion to get the ball rolling. My second story, Sungara Muddies the Water Hole (, also provides an example of how successful communities put aside differences when working towards a common goal. However, because the main character is Trickster, the story raises the question of how the community deals with an uncooperative and, possibly, destructive presence.
Students recognized themselves and each other in the Sungara character when they talked about the kid who refuses to do his or her part in a class project, or whose behavior diminishes everyone else’s experience of a special event. Most of them had come up with or been given strategies for dealing with the character. They also recognized that Trickster has strengths that could enrich the community.
The third story I told this day was Tatterhood. I chose it after discussing plans with my colleague. Jack McKeon, who paired the tale with Jack and the Beanstalk as examples how a non conventional individual struggles to integrate into a community. I thought Tatterhood would provide students with an interesting contrast to Sungara.
Students really enjoyed Tatterhood, but it was the most difficult story for them to discuss. In all of our discussions, it was hard for students to admit their connection to the outcast character. I don’t think they weren’t empathetic, but that the fear of being ostracized is so integral to the sixth grade psyche that public discussion of it is taboo. I imagine, judging from the comfort level she has already established, that this will change in Ashley’s classes as the year progresses.

Day two of the residency was creative drama day. For this workshop I told The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese from Howard Norman’s collection and used a series of creative drama exercises that gave students the opportunity to ‘live’ in the tale. I could write pages about this story, but I will only say that was perfect for our theme. Ashley and I adjusted the creative drama activities throughout the day based on the impact we thought they made on previous classes. We had a very strong workshop by the end of the day and I was lucky to have a second chance to teach it in Sarah Satkowski’s classroom. Here is what we ended up doing: After hearing the story, each student was assigned a character. (We began by letting students choose a character, but after the first session, we felt that imposing the character would better suit our goal which was to help students empathize with story characters and understand how characters change as the narrative progresses.) A visualization exercise allowed students to become their character. After walking and talking in their new persona, students told, in first person as their character, a part of the character’s story that wasn’t revealed in the story narrative. These narratives were often insightful and, sometimes, quite moving.

Day Three was writing day. I told The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship and asked students to compare it with the first story of the residency, Stone Soup. Students wrote about how their experience with the stories and with storytelling changed their ideas about community. Here are some of the things they wrote:

Story telling really changed the way I thought community was because I thought that community was just a town... Now I learned that community is a very important thing in our lives.

At first all I knew about community was that it’s a group of people who help each other to make a better place. After the stories I learned that in a community everyone depends on each other. It’s somewhat like an ecosystem.

I’ve learned that you should always be cautious about what you say about other people because they might not be what they appear to you.

From Tatterhood, I learned… it’s okay to be you. Also I have learned from the Fool that not all intelligence starts off as clever.

Sometimes 1 person can ruin all the hard work you had worked on.

The stories taught me to give people a chance to prove themselves.

I learned that a community can turn a weak and small person into a big and strong person. What I’m trying to say is that a community is stronger than just one person because everyone has a useful talent and with a group of talents, you can do anything.

Overall I learned that if you build a better community or help out with things in your community you may meet people you never really would have or try new things you didn’t know you could do and maybe even make friends by what you are doing in the community with the people you meet.

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