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Educational Expression: Creating Connections Through Stories

| Elena Aguilar

There is the possibility of profound transformation in telling our stories and listening to the stories of other people. This belief is at the core of why I read and write, and why I'm passionate about developing a love for reading and writing in students. Stories reach across and through our racial, ethnic, economic, linguistic, gender, and religious constructs to connect us. With each story we spin, the web of interconnectedness grows, and perhaps, if that web gets strong enough, we -- as a species -- might just make it.

I am in the business of asking for, telling, and creating stories. This is what I do with my students. I ask for their stories. I give them tools to be more effective at this job. I offer them many ways to tell their stories: visually, photographically, musically, poetically, and so on. I ask and ask.

I share stories by other people and tug students' awareness to their own transformations after reading something such as Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise." And then I ask for their stories again.

I also guide students in creating new stories about who they are. I have always worked with low-income, urban students of color. The dominant and official "story" (and history) of these people is not always accurate or respectful. I help students deconstruct American and world history. I help them see the stories that don't get told or that -- on the few occasions that they are presented -- are distorted and inaccurate.

And then I ask my students again to tell their stories. I compel and command them to tell their stories. I give them more tools to do so. I help them refine their tools.

I create safe spaces in the classroom where they can share their stories with one another, and then I look for venues outside of our room, school, and city. When my students begin to learn that their lives and experiences are interesting to others, when they hear strangers say, "I have never seen seventh graders do such amazing work; I never knew middle school students were capable of this," then they produce more and the quality of their work soars.

Sometimes it feels so simple, this business of teaching. Everyone wants to be heard. Just ask for stories.

I also tell my own stories, selectively and thoughtfully, but honestly. I listen and then share the ones I know they'll connect with. Especially at the beginning of the year, I need to make connections with my students.

Making these connections is one reason I teach. In my next post, I'll tell you others and ask you to share your reasons.

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Comments (47)

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Mary Paulson (not verified)

Story-telling

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As a high school Spanish teacher in Rockaway, New Jersey, I struggle with the concept of story-telling each year. How do we keep story-telling relevant in a technologically advancing world? Blogging is a wonderful way for students to share their stories...their life experiences. Is it not important, however, to impart our love for books, for theater, for the communicative aspects of storytelling? I cannot authentically embrace the process of reading a book,or a story on a computer screen. The visceral experience of picking up a book, or listening to a person tell a story is so important to the essence of storytelling. We must share our love for this experience as well. The personal aspects of storytelling, in my opinion, are lost if we use computers as our only venue. We must embrace the advances of technology in order to keep our classrooms relevant and to engage our students. We must enrich our students' experience as well by sharing our love for the rich tapestry of communication that is at the root of our stories.

Susan Harden (not verified)

Storytellers

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We all know how much children like to tell stories. It's often hard to get them to pay attention when they've got a story to tell! Your article made me think about how effective it could be to combine their inherent love of story telling with writing, asking them to write down what they want to share, and giving them the opportunity to do so at some point during the day. Of course, verbal story-telling has incredible value and shouldn't be discarded, but the motivation to write will be increased if the writing is about a "story" they want to tell. Thanks for the great article.

Beth (not verified)

Great idea

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I agree with the importance of stories and reading each day to my students. I loved you idea of an author's chair for the students to share their writing. This is something I could do each week and not just once a year. When we share now, I do not have a special chair. I want to do this!

I do an author's tea in May. Every student writes a "book". We divide the class over 3 Mondays and they can invite their family to come and listen. The "authors" are available for autographs after reading and refreshements. When the students are not the famous "authors", they help usher, hand out programs or clean up. They all love doing this. Students do love sharing their work.

claudia bradford (not verified)

story telling through music

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Story telling through music is another great way to get students excited about reading and music. Last year in my music room, with my fourth graders, we spent a few weeks are cummulative story telling by learning the song " The Green Grass Grew All Around". The lesson plan was designed to foster reading skills, music skills and the connection of story telling through music. I drew it the story on the white board as they were singing it as a visual, by adding more "story" : green, grass, nest, bird, wing, feather, etc., till the song/story was complete. Then, I passed out huge bulletin board paper on the floor and had them work in groups to come up with their own story, drawn and told in sequence of events. All of your thoughts confirms for me how important this process is in further developing a love for language, reading , singing and story telling.

Whit ney (not verified)

I agree that stories can be

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I agree that stories can be very powerful. I often use stories in my classroom to engage and hook students into a specific standard or topic. We refer back to the story often during units to help make connections. Every story we read, the students enjoy making connections. I promote the use of text connections and self connections. At the end of first grade, we work towards making world connections.

Students LOVE listening to stories whether it is from a published book or from one of their own stories. Even if students do not actually own many experiences, they can gain more experiences by reading books. I work in a school where students do not travel outside of the town much and they do not embark on culturally diverse activities. Stories provide ways for my students to get out of town and experience the world. It is always excited for me when students begin to make connections with other books we have read. These stories are giving them opportunities to explore life outside of what they have always known.

I also love using stories to help students make math connections. Students actually enjoy and understand how to use mathematics in real life situations when I use stories. This makes them more eager to learn the concepts because they are seeing ways in which the material can actually be applied in life.

We also do a lot of narrative writing that focuses on actual experiences the students have had. I receive focused writing that reflects the sense of story when the students are able to write about actual things that have happened to them. They love sitting in the author chair and reading their piece before the class. Students make connections to their stories and often go back to write about their experience with a similar topic. I am always amazed when their story writing begins to take shape and begins to have a strong sense of story because they are connecting to stories we have previously read or heard.

I am amazed how I feel and how the students feel after hearing or reading new stories that we can connect to our own experiences. It really gives us a sense that we have gone out into life and experienced new things.

Patricia Perez (not verified)

Story Telling

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I am an Education student and really enjoyed reading your blog. I think it is great and wonderful that you love to teach kids through story telling. I feel it is a great way to have someone express themselves, since as students some of us have a hard time verbalizing our feelings or what we want to express. It also lets everyone else know who the student is and where they come from. It gives us a look into their world that we may otherwise not have. It helps us to connect better with that individual as well. Are the stories based on their life and experiences?, or do they also write about other things related to education?

Nathan Karlas (not verified)

stories with math

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I began using stories to teach specific math skills about three years ago. I found that most students were doing better on the test than the previous years. My students started creating their own stories related to the current math skill that we were working on. The area that was impacted the most was, successfully, completing
real world story problems. I had a math teacher share, this idea, with me so I thought I would pass it on since we, usually, do not relate story telling to math.

Amy B (not verified)

Story Telling

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Story telling is a great way for children to get excited about reading. This is one way to relate a piece of literature to their own life experiences and it allows them to interact with the story. I feel that it is important to read to children every day in the classroom to instill the joy of reading as well parents can help develop this by reading at bedtime. Many times young children will pick the same story every night. They love to hear it over and over because of the predictability and the feeling that they are truly reading. Through storytelling, many reading skills are being developed such as noting details, sequencing of events, and oral language. Role playing is another form of storytelling where children love to make literature come alive and become the characters. The skill of storytelling has been passed down from generation to generation and is how many of our classic stories have been preserved like the Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Bears.

Debbie Echternach (not verified)

Another View

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Storytelling is extremely important.
It has extreme value, but I have also been lucky to have lived with someone who has taught me the power of facts. The integration of personal story with the hard business of acquiring skills that the world will value. Skills that will allow a person to make a living in our complex world. Schools are where we begin to learn to interact with our society as a whole. Helping children acquire the skills they will need to survive and how to tell the stories of their journey, to love learning and acquire the desire to keep pushing themselves to learn more throughout their lives is what we are called to do.

Lori (not verified)

Storytelling

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I love this whole idea! I have a freshed sense of teaching. I teach 4th grade in central NY. We all need to remember that as teachers we need to give our students time to be children and not just be little test takers. I love the idea of writng their stories in comfortable positions in the room. Thank you. I will try this on Monday! I will also share a personal story of my own.

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Elena Aguilar Transformational Leadership Coach from Oakland, California