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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Interview with Storytelling Teacher, Diane Rudd

by Julie Della Torre

A Storytelling Chart created by Diane and her kids
Storytelling Arts began a three year residency in 2013 at Alexander Hamilton Academy in Paterson, NJ. I worked with 4 teachers the first year and then exclusively with Maureen Errity in fourth grade and Diane Rudd in Kindergarten. Diane Rudd’s goal was to learn to tell stories and integrate storytelling into her classroom. (See blog post: September 4, 2015 to see some of the work we did together) I keep in touch with Diane and she told me recently that she was busy setting up her room for storytelling. I decided to interview her to find out more. Last week we met and talked.

JDT: You told me recently, “I’m setting up the room for storytelling.” What does that mean, setting up the room for storytelling?

DR: That means to teach the students where to sit number one. Their body language number two. And the whole protocol how are they going to act when they tell or listen to a story? What’s their job, what’s my job?

JDT: And what do you tell them?

DR: I tell them to sit on the outer part of the carpet in a horseshoe. But, with 25 kids well, to sit close, but not that close. Cross-legged if possible, hands in their laps, some in chairs. It takes a while. Then we have our yellow tape border, one in front of them, one in front of me. That’s our stage area. It takes practice.

I start slow with them. We do fairy tales they are familiar with.
Maybe just two characters to start with. Grandfather Bear and Chipmunk is a good one to start with. Just two characters. I’ll have them draw one of the characters, or both. Then I bring them back to the carpet and ask them, “Now where do you think the story takes place?’ It’s all new to them so you have to go step by step with them.

JDT: Tell me about your storytelling sessions.

DR: For instance, if I want to get a lot of kids involved I’ll do characters. We did Boney Legs. I told the story, then we acted it out. That was fun because the kids really go into that and then they went back and drew a picture of what they thought Boney Legs looked like. I don’t like to show them the pictures. I like them to use their imaginations. They love Boney Legs. They want me to do it again and again.

We act out the stories, or parts of a story. You pick the kids who are really good for the parts sometimes. I model. I’m the mean, big Billy goat, I’m the little baby Billy goat, this is how I would walk. I’m the Troll. Some of the trolls are great and some of them are, uh, that’s a terrible troll. You can be meaner than that. You’re giving them permissions to be angry. You’re giving them permission to be mean. It gives them permission to act out all these feelings which are not really acceptable during the course of the day.

You’ve got to get the kids ready to tell stories.

JDT: I remember when we were there you were doing charts with them, mapping charts, character charts, problem/solution charts?

DR: I don’t have as many now because I have to hang up other things. But, I hang up the work they do with the stories.
Another chart in Diane's classroom

JDT: When do you fit storytelling into your day?

DR: I try to have storytelling either after reading or before a writing activity. It depends on what my goal is. If I want them to develop characters I’ll do a story with a lot of different characters. If I want them to do settings I’ll do a story with a good visual setting. It depends on what I’m teaching for that day and it depends on the group of kids, too. I tell stories about twice a week. Last year I made sure to tell stories on the days we didn’t have breaks for specials. I also break up a long language arts period with storytelling.

Or I’ll do it if they’re off the wall. They’re all over the place, can’t focus, then I’ll bring them to the carpet and I’ll tell them a story.

JDT: And that seems to focus them?

DR: Yeah, because they know it’s time to act out and have fun.

JDT: I know your curriculum, and I know the standards for Paterson in general. You work on finding the meaning in a story and Beginning, Middle and End and...

DR: Always Beginning, Middle and End, characters, setting, finding the problem and the solution. Storytelling ties right in with our writing program which is having them draw pictures and tell stories.

We are also teaching them to work indepently both personally and in small groups. While I’m working with one or two students the others have work to do at their tables. Storytelling fits in perfectly with this as well. I told the Gingerbread Boy and each table had to do one part for the story. One table did characters; one group did setting and so on.  They did a really good job. I put them all together and made a book of it.

Storytelling is fun. I enjoy it. I’d rather tell a story than read a book because, when you tell a story, they get much more out of it. Especially when you get to ‘what’s the problem in the story?’ How did the character solve the problem? Some of the things they say are amazing.

JDT: It’s amazing the difference in listening between read-alouds and storytelling.

DR: Yeah, when I read a story aloud they’re in la-la land. They’re not paying attention. You have to pull this one in or that one. With storytelling, they’re all engaged because they have to listen. If they want to act it out they have to listen. There is an extra layer that helps them get the most out of the story.

JDT: What are some of your favorite stories to tell?

DRL Oh my goodness. Lizard’s Song, Mabela the Clever, I did that for my observation last year. Tops and Bottoms. Goldilocks, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Oh, Frog and Toad: The Lost Button, The Lion and the Mouse, The Big, Noisy House, that’s a good one. Why Bat Flies??? (Diane was unsure of the title)  Wait; let me look at my journal. (She opened an old journal she started when we worked together in 2014.  Her goal that year was to learn how to tell stories and become a storytelling teacher. As she looked for and learned stories, she kept a journal of different exercises she did to learn stories, lists of stories and what made a particular story good to learn.)

JDT: You still have your journal?

DR: Oh yeah, I look back at it to remind me of the stories. Oh, The Little Red Hen. Oh, The Name of the Tree, that’s good. Another one is Anansi and the Yam Hill, remember that one? I love that story! Some of them better than others?

JDT: What makes some of them better?

DR: Maybe the more involved I get in telling the story.  When there is a lot of action, things they can identify with. It has to be a certain type of story. You know what the problem is with read-alouds with 25 kids? It’s always, “I didn’t see the picture.” With storytelling I tell them, “think about it. Whatever the picture is that’s the picture.” And they have to listen.

JDT: Does anyone else in the school tell stories?

DR: I think Ms. Z does. Maureen E. is now in second grade. Maybe she’ll tell stories. I’ll help her find some good ones for second grade.

I’m going to start right away. I’m going to tell the first day.

JDT: What are you going to tell?

DR: I don’t know I’ll find one. Last year I started with Grandfather Bear and Chipmunk.