"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Teller & Teacher Heroes: Stories to Save the Day in the Classroom

Two-time Grammy winner and storyteller Bill Harley said, "Everybody worries about things being 'educational' with kids. I believe everything is educational, in that it says something about how one looks at the world--it imparts a knowledge, or world-view."

Still, there will always be the people--including administrators, principals, and educators--who would rather have the facts and scientific proof that storytelling is necessary during the every day moments in the classroom.

These people should not be thought as "villains" for our teller and teacher heroes who support storytelling, but they do need to be welcomed as friends. With time, you may have some loyal "sidekicks" in the pursuit of imagination.

In the meantime, there are books and position statements that can provide super powers in vanquishing disbelief (see list at end of post). Storytelling can be embraced in any school.

Before you arm yourself with the stack of books or print the position statements, consider going back to the basics.

If I were to condense the skills of storytelling to four steps, they would be:
  1. Love Your Story/Subject
  2. Know Your Story/Subject
  3. Know Your Audience/Students
  4. Love Your Audience/Students
These steps are easily adapted for educators and professional storytellers alike.

Love Your Story/Subject

Stories are known to tap us tellers on the shoulder to be told much like how certain subjects like social studies or math or language arts are drawn for teachers to teach.

Sometimes the relationships we have with our stories or with our studies extend beyond love. There must be some emotional charge to move us to share something.

This passion reflects in our aura, which emulates in pitch, tone, facial expressions, and body language.

One of my World Literature teachers was so dedicated that she dressed up as a cockroach when we studied The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Or there was the Social Studies teacher who entered the classroom as a Russian soldier during the Joseph Stalin era. Both teachers shared the stories connected with those characters.

Costumes are not required to form an impression. But the energy they had? I remember their love for what they taught.

Usually when we share how we started on a certain path, we are energized. As teachers tend to be mysterious people to students, then teachers are encouraged to share how they became teachers and why the subject called to them.

Besides, to this day, there are students who think their teachers live in the school. Remind the students who you are and your connections to the curriculum. Students discover real-world yet their own personal connections to the subjects if you are willing to share your personal stories.

Beyond your personal tales, there are the moments within the lives of inventors, authors, scientists, and other great minds in history that would be interesting for students to understand.

When you find the stories fascinating, then it is likely that your students will feel the same way. Even teenagers, who tend to hide their feelings or disguise them in looks of disgust to look "cool", could sense the excitement.

Know Your Story/Subject

What we care about most is what we spend the most time. If you truly love a story or a subject, then hours and perhaps years are set-aside for it.

There is not one way to learn a story.

If you are visual person, then drawing storyboards of the different scenes in the story may work best.

If you are a literary person, then creating an outline of the plot points may trigger your memory.

You could be kinetic and prefer a hands-on experience. Then you may want to "play" with story by getting a partner in order to have pretend dialogues between characters. The dialogue may not make it to the final version of telling the story, but it may be enough to inspire the development of the piece.

You could decide that you like all of these techniques. . .or you create your own techniques.

When a teacher develops a lesson plan, much of the same brainstorming and organization skills are needed.

You do not have to consider yourself a storyteller to tell a story in the classroom.

Know Your Audience/Students

A teacher has an advantage over a professional storyteller as a teacher often sees the students daily over the course of ten months while a storyteller usually travels from venue to venue.

Due to this advantage, a teacher experiences the individual student personalities such as strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. These insights help decide what stories would be the most appropriate and of impact.

For example, the bully of the class may need to hear stories where there are consequences for such actions. Someone who is shy may feel empowered if a character who reflects their personality was able to conquer a great feat.

As a storyteller, I do my best to ask questions from the teachers as they know their students better than anyone. If I know what the students learned before I arrive (or what they are about to learn), then I take joy in connecting with the curriculum.

Rather than performing for school assemblies where all grades of the school attend, I relish in telling several times with smaller groups divided by grades so I can tell more age-appropriate stories. At a school in Salt Lake City, UT, I told stories for a day and a half because there were five sessions for the Kindergarten to 2nd grades, three sessions for the 3rd and 4th grades, and three sessions for the 5th and 6th grades.

Since early elementary grades focus on learning to read and write, my program for the Kindergarten to 2nd grades was on Literacy with stories like "Story Pox", "My Mom told me to go to the Library", and "My Brother ate my Book".

The 3rd grade were learning about several Native American tribes while the 4th grade were learning about Utah History. Can you guess the type of stories I shared with them?

Then the 5th grade focused on United States History while the 6th grade discovered World History. I began and ended with American tales, which included a tall tale with Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, and mixed the middle with folktales from around the world.

Afterward, one of the 5th grade teachers approached me and said, "We are learning about the Revolution right now, but when we get to the Frontier, then we could have a tall tale section!"

Love Your Audience/Students

It may be the first time that a storyteller sees a particular audience, but the storyteller can still love them. The audience can tell whether a storyteller is excited or nervous or dreads them.

Students have the same sensory skills with teachers.

Hopefully, after seeing the same students every day, an appreciation for the students' creativity and genius has been instilled.

You will be a genius, too, besides already being a hero, by delving into the resources listed below.

Statements on Story in Education:

"Must-Have" Books on Storytelling in Education or Studies:
"Must-Have" Books on Youth Storytelling:
Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

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