The digital phenomenon and technology has an extraordinary effect on people, but little research has been done in the field of educators that gives an implicit message so that students are able to communicate and relate to other human beings and not just their gadgets. Stories lead to learning, and according to the curators of the Story Museum Storytelling Schools programme, “Storytelling is the ‘something’ I and others have all been looking for, for a long time. It’s good because it’s cross-cultural and it’s accessible; it’s about being human and it’s deep.” The tools we have acquired to enhance teaching are important, but what is even more valuable is teachers who provide literacy education in the classroom that gives each child personal power as we guide, motivate, entertain, educate, inspire and influence others through the artful use of story.
A Story Telling School is a curriculum model that is used from preschool through grade five (5). I will explain how the curriculum works, after I explain what storytelling is and why it is an important that schools adopt this method within their daily language arts curriculum.
First, What is storytelling? Students learn to tell stories from memory by listening and retelling stories through a carefully planned curriculum model that is incorporated into the language arts curriculum throughout the year. In schools where improving literacy levels are a priority, the Storytelling Schools method began in 2005 and the strategy was implemented in 19 schools in the villages of Oxford. The results were amazing and powerful amongst the students, as evidenced by the increased test scores in schools.
Why does storytelling matter? Why would it be important to become a storytelling school? Story binds us together as a culture and as a community, because everyone has a personal story and those stories are central to defining who we are as individuals. Story makes us feel good about ourselves, confident, and it is a template that we put upon our life to explain what’s happening so that we can understand life, understand ourselves, and more importantly so that we can communicate with others. For this reason, and so much more, is the foundational reason why teachers should teach the art of storytelling.
The Oxford Story Museum director, Chris Smith, has been researching and developing the storytelling schools idea, and curriculum model for over a decade. Storytelling Schools, where every child is a storyteller can be found on the following website: www.storytellingschools.com. Unfortunately, there are very few resources available in the United States that actually “teach the teacher” how to teach the art of storytelling through a language arts curriculum model that can be used across all grade levels, so in exploring how to implement this model it was necessary to research what teachers are doing in the village schools of Oxford London. This carefully planned model curriculum on how to teach the teacher and students how to actually teach the art of story telling was developed by teachers and “educationalists’” (experts in the field) research conducted in schools in Oxford.
Chris tells the story of how the first story telling school started.
Once upon a time there was a teacher. He was a good teacher, and a fine teacher. When he walked down the street, people remarked, “Look there’s the teacher! He really knows lots of stuff, Wow!” Can you tell that this is an old story? Anyway, in the class the teacher would talk and talk and talk, and the students would listen, and listen, and listen. The students who remembered did well, and the students who forgot did poorly. This is how it was. Then one day the teacher said to the class, “Tomorrow, I am going to give you a special treat. I want each of you to bring your riddles to school and if I cannot guess the riddle, then you can select what we do for the rest of the term.” The next day the children came in with their riddles: “Teacher, teacher, what’s got two hands, and a face, but no feet?” A clock, replied the teacher. “Teacher, teacher, what’s got a head, and a foot, and four legs, but no belly button?” A bed, replied the teacher. “Teacher, teacher, what runs all day, but stays in the same place?” A river, replied the teacher. The game continued, and riddle after riddle was answered correctly, until the storytellers daughter stood up holding three dolls.
“Here’s my riddle teacher, what’s the difference between these three dolls?” The teacher had a look, but he could not tell the difference, so he said, “It’s play time, off you go, off you go to play and when you come back, I will tell you the answer to this riddle.” The children went out to play, and the teacher asked the smartest student in the school to come in, and look at the dolls. “Can you tell me the difference between these three dolls?” The student looked at them, she weighed them; she measured them; she smelled them; but could not tell the difference. “No, I cannot. These dolls look the same.” Next, the teacher asked the most foolish child. “Yes, it is obvious,” exclaimed the student. These two dolls look like they are in love, ‘smooch,’ and this doll is an air plane!” “Out!” said the teacher. After break, the children came back inside and the teacher admitted defeat. “You have won! I cannot tell the difference, please tell me the answer to the riddle.”
“Come here,” said the storyteller’s daughter. The teacher bent down, and the girl reached up and plucked a long white hair from his beard. The girl took one of the dolls and poked the hair into the ear of the doll and it came right out the other side. “This is the first doll teacher, this is what you call the foolish student, because what goes in one ear comes out the other.” She picked up a second doll, and she poked the hair in the ear and it didn’t come out. “This is what you call the smart student. It goes in the ear and it stays in.” She picked up the third doll, and poked the hair in the ear and it came out of the mouth with a little twirl at the end. The girl said, “This is the storytelling student. With this doll it goes in the ear, twirls around inside the head, and comes out the mouth differently. This is the storytelling doll and that’s the answer to my riddle!”
“Right,” said the teacher, “Good riddle, and what would you like us to do for the rest of the term?” “Well, seeing as you’re asking, I would like us all to learn to be storytellers, because it’s good to listen, and it’s good to just remember, but it’s much more important to be able to speak to others and say your thing in a way that gets heard. So, I want us all to learn that. Please, teacher, will you teach us all to be storytellers?” The teacher agreed, and for the rest of the term the class learned to tell stories from memory and they liked it so much that they kept on doing it for the rest of the year. The other classrooms found out about it, and soon all of the children in the school were learning to tell stories. The children had more fun, they learned lots of stuff, and the school’s test results went up, so everyone was happy. The end.
HEAR – MAP – STEP – SPEAK A process for remembering a story.
Step One: HEAR Children learn to tell a story. Everyone can be a storyteller. This includes every teacher and every child. Learning stories from memory as a way of learning language and subject content, because the story is told without a book or pictures to look at so that each child creates their own visualization of the story. The storyteller may lead a choral story or encourage participation from their listeners or simply tell the story whilst the children listen. The storyteller must be engaging, so energy and expression are important to the art of storytelling. After children first learn to tell a story, then it is linked to the teaching of writing and teaching of topic content.
Step two: MAP Children make simple maps (story maps) to provide visual cues to aid recall of the story. Mapping is not like art, because in mapping, the drawings should be quick and simple. Mapping should only take 5-10 minutes. Every child will map differently, and as long as the child understands the map, it does not matter if nobody else can make sense of it. As soon as the map has been drawn, the child should “tell” their map to a partner to recall the meaning of each picture. If you would like the children to remember particular words to use in their re-telling, to expand their vocabulary, adding those words can be done later. To begin with, the story maps should be drawn by the children for their own re-telling and not be over complicated by words or phrases you choose for them.
Step three: STEP Next, children step the story. Stepping is a kinesthetic process and will help children that need to physically move through the story to remember the sequence. The Storytelling Method is an inclusive system and so this kinesthetic step is important to engage those who work best in this way, because children learn differently. Some prefer mapping, other prefer stepping, but both will help them retain the story. All children step the story differently. Some children can be very concise, others find this hard and need to be encourages to whittle the story down to just the most important parts. It is important to appreciate any shared stepping, as we want to encourage performance with energy and expression. As children step, they will begin to visualize the story once again in their minds. Therefor, even the children who never perform the stepping in front of others will still benefit from watching others stepping.
Step four: SPEAK In this last step, children demonstrate how to develop storytelling in narrative form, first in pairs and then to larger audiences. The children tell the story fluently in their own words. Initially, this will be in simple words and repetitive phrases, padding out the skeleton of the story sequence learned in mapping and stepping. In time, this can be developed with practice, into a narrative with elevated vocabulary and a sense of pace and mood in their expression. The children will need to play warm up games to improve their fluency. Smaller groups will lower the anxiety when learning to tell stories. Always remember to appreciate any performance.
Step One, HEAR; Step Two, MAP, Step Three, STEP, Step Four, SPEAK. This is the basic process and approach used during language arts class in a Story Telling School. In conjunction with the four steps of learning how to tell the story, after introduction of an initial story, the teacher leads the students through the a process called “Deepen.” Children explore the story using deepening activities. Throughout the deepening process children explore the story using deepening activities (drama, art, dance, music, and research) so that the story develops linguistically and imaginatively in their minds, so before they get to write anything on paper they have lots of ideas to draw from. Following the deepening activities the teacher demonstrates excellent writing in shared writing, and last children write the story.
“By telling thoughtful stories, we clarify our own thinking about what we have learned to share with others in a profound way that sticks with us over time.” Annette Simmons, The Story Factor
If you would like to know more, please refer to The Storytelling Schools Handbook For Teachers by Chris Smith and Adam Guillain.