by Julie Della Torre
As those of you who follow the blog know, SAI received a grant to work in a school in inner city Paterson. We have written about the project before, but I thought I’d go into a bit more detail about my work with a remarkable Kindergarten teacher, Diane Rudd. We have worked together for the past two years and this year SAI will offer follow-up support. The following will illustrate how we developed our relationship and our lesson plans.
First, we had a year of getting to know each other. Diane needed to see what a storytelling session entailed. What would happen? How were students supposed to respond? How could storytelling fit into the curriculum? I needed to get a feel for her classroom environment. How much flexibility would be allowed? How rambunctious could we be?
The following year was more intense. Diane was going to become a storyteller and incorporate storytelling into her curriculum. We spent quite a bit of time planning before we started this two-pronged project. First, she looked at her reading curriculum and assessed her class. She decided she wanted to address, setting, emotions and feelings of characters, and ‘beginning, middle, end’. These were concepts she would be working on for the entire school year. The schedule allowed us to focus on one of these aspects each week. We fell into a routine in which I would tell a story and model a lesson one day and the following day she would tell a story and present the same lesson. The story repertoire for the class grew. Diane kept a record of every story told on big sheets of paper. Drawings, maps, story language hung on chart paper all around the room.
As we went along I was modeling storytelling techniques as well, which is how I learned to tell stories. We also met during the day for mini-workshops on specific issues. She kept a journal of her process for learning stories. A big part of the process was finding appropriate stories for her class. As she searched for stories w3e had good discussions about what story might be a good one to tell as opposed to read with the illustrations. The lesson plans we developed for her class were simply exercises I do myself to learn a story. As she watched and then practiced the exercises in her journal and finally presented them to her students she was learning the story.
The lessons included much acting out, usually parts of the story told, not the whole story. After working with the story orally, dramatically and demonstrating on the board the students went back to their seats and worked on paper. This routine of listening, speaking and then writing was a key component of the storytelling experience.
The exercises we developed could be used during the rest of the year no matter what story was read or told. Some of the exercises included:
Setting- storymapping. We actually made a masking tape map on the floor and walked the story, stopping to visualize the setting. After looking at real maps the students drew maps of the story.
Emotions/feelings of the characters: Working from photos we gave the students vocabulary for different emotions. We practiced embodying these emotions. When we acted out parts of the story we encouraged the students to physically show us how the characters felt. Students drew their favorite character.
Beginning/middle/end: after telling the story we figured out what was the beginning, middle and end and we made tableaus. These were then drawn on paper in the proper order.
Working together with another professional is always stimulating and enlightening. I’m looking forward to a year of working collaboratively with colleagues, teachers and other professional artists.