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

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Work We Do

by Julie Della Torre

Karen and I attended an Early Literacy Seminar in May. The seminar was hosted by the Turrell Fund and, as they fund one of our preschool programs in Paterson, we were invited. All attendees were working in programs funded in part by the Turrell Fund.

The seminar was given by Dr. Blanche Podhajski, President of the Stern Center for Language and Learning in Vermont.

The lecture was centered on a program she calls THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF LEARNING. Using the alphabet as an outline Dr. Podhajski highlighted aspects of learning, particularly learning to read.  She emphasized over and over the ideas that reading can be taught, that any ‘program’ should be based in scientific research and that there is much more to reading than figuring out the phonemic awareness and connection. Underlying all of what she said was the concept that oral language is the underpinning of ALL reading. As storytellers, oral language is our tool.

Here are some highlights of Dr. Podhajski's presentation:

What do children need to learn to read? Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension and Motivation. Babies are working on all of these auditorily and orally. When we sing to babies, bounce nursery rhymes and tell beginning stories to them we are preparing them for future reading. As storytellers we are always aware of how we build vocabulary, comprehension and motivation with our songs, poems and stories. Everyone wants to hear a story. Motivation is the heart of the matter.

Dr. Podhajski provided a checklist of ‘Skills for Thinking (cognition) and
Skills for Doing (behavior)’from Dawson and Guare, 2009. Storytelling and story listening are natural modes of building and strengthening these skills. Think of how much our listeners need as they listen: working memory, metacognition, response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, flexibility. All of these (and more) just to hear a story and then to comprehend a story.

Listening comprehension is still the biggest predictor for success in reading. (A Nation at Risk, 1983 and Podhajski 2000). Oral language is the basis of all learning. The Common Core Standards list speaking and listening as anchor standards from pre-school through 8th grade. When our listeners listen to our oral stories and then participate in oral discourse and discussion they are building skills needed for all future learning. They are doing real work in a joyful non-threatening way. Our work is serious work.

Joyfulness and play are also essential for learning. Here is a quote attributed to Diane Ackerman: “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” Joyfulness goes right back to motivation. Story is the way we learn and storytelling is playing with language and stories. What joy!

These few highlights were reiterated many times during Dr. Podhajski’s talk. For each of her 26 talking points (following the alphabet) oral language, listening, speaking and motivation were the foundation of all.

My SAI work with preschools involves presenting parent workshops. The Turrell Fund is providing a follow-up seminar in the fall and I/m hoping to attend a session on Family Literacy. I’ll let you know how it goes.