Educational Expression: Creating Connections Through Stories | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

Comments (47)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Natasha Derico's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It amazed me how storytelling is a powerful instructional tool in primary and secondary classrooms. It was refreshing to read the other postings and be able to connect with educators as far as Alaska. I am a high school English teacher in Florida.

Elena, thanks for posting your views on storytelling and if you know anything about digital storytelling please post soon.

Julie from Colorado's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I read this blog last night and really enjoyed it. Somehow, my posting did not get posted. What I think it is important to say is I believe this can be a really beautiful thing. Not only can it help give students "buy in" to the activity at hand, but it helps develop, through getting to know each other, strong relationships not only between students and teachers, but between the students themselves. It would help to develop a level of trust between the members of the classroom. When students trust each other and the teacher, they are more willing to take risks in their learning. I think incorporating these stories can encourage students to be more, do more, and achieve more.

I think in the sense of teaching students to write, it is fantastic! When I talk to my students in their writer's workshop, I often talk to them about what writers write about. Writers write about what they know and what they experience. That comes from our personal stories. Great posts!

Lauren's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach kindergarten and I love the process of introducing writing to students. The span of growth over the year is remarkable. I hold a soft spot for English Language Arts. I begin in junior high developing a love for literature. The exposure that my teachers provided at that time opened a life long love for reading and writing. I know that the recording of my personal thoughts and experiences in various forms aided in my confidence for attending college. Even at the age of five, I want my students to recognize themselves as readers and writers, and carry that self concept throughout their academic careers.

Sean Wilcox's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Every night when I get home from coaching football, my five year old wants to story tell. She recounts every important event that she can remember. This is her way of expressing that her life is important also. She acts out events, and even has learned to dramatize certain points that she feels strongly about. If my five year old has learned this important tool, then it is easy to see why high school students would want to do this as well. Everyone wants to be heard, and everyone wants to feel important.

Monique Knibb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Story telling is what has captivated humans since the development of language. Being that mankind has been telling stories since the dawn of their evolution, there is no reason to believe that humans will stop story telling now. Julie Colorado's blog is living testament of this idea. I too have read captivating student work that was produced from real life story telling. In fact, my students started "to love English" while studying and writing fiction. The strict and rigorous rules of English conventions are washed over by the magical world of story telling. Students, simply, love it.

More importantly, story telling allows students to safely utilize their voices. When telling a story, a student cannot be wrong: the sky is the limit in the world of fiction! In reaching for the sky, students are comforted by their own creations, which serve as a safety net for fictional writing. These posts remind me of how much I love teaching the English language!

Tammie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have really enjoyed reading all the comments about allowing storytelling into the classrooms. With all the tests and other state and nationwide expectations of the students and teachers, sometimes this important student-teacher relationship is easily left out. I too, enjoy listening to all the stories my students love to tell. I agree, just by listening to their stories you are allowed a peek into their world. I am always amazed at what a child is so willing to tell. I always start my year off with a storytelling activity. It really makes a wonderful difference in the connections we make.

Carla Liming's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In the course I am taking for my master's degree, one of the books talked of building relationships with the students. Your use of storytelling to open yourself to them is wonderful. You make a connection when you are able to share your story as well as listen to theirs. You express that you care for their thoughts and their life. I love the way you use this to teach them to communicate more effectively also. I noticed that you have also created a safe environment for them to express themselves which many students truly need. I have recently started using storytelling to introduce students to a new language.

Jackie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Too often I feel that we simply are not allowing our students to be children. Many times we encourage them to shed their identities by becoming what the state dictates is needed for the student to become successful. Being able to allow the students to enjoy their time as children and students by captivating their imaginations and asking them to make their own inferences based off of examples and questions is storytelling. Many of the state tests now encourage the students to explain, or justify their answer to a problem. This is something that I feel can be enforced through the use of storytelling within the classroom. By allowing students to create and stand by a viewpoint, we are helping to teach them the necessities to express or defend their positions as an author. Less time practicing for the tests, by completing old versions, and enhancing more opportunities for students to explore their boundaries is something that I would like to incorporate in my classroom this year.

Kecia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also teach kindergarten and I agree that it is very important to foster a love and appreciation for reading and stories at early age. Storytelling and writing go hand in hand in my classroom. When I mentioned writing to my brand new kindergarten students, their eyes nearly bulged out of their heads and rightfully so. Most of the students were just barely at the point of identifying all letters. I told them that writing doesn't always mean words. I showed them how we can use pictures to tell stories. They took off with it and soared. The only problem that came up was students trying to include too much detail in their story picture and losing the original idea. We then began reading simple Disney stories and taking small moments from those to show how it's ok to take a small moment from a story and write about it. One example of this strategy occurred when we read The Little Mermaid. We read the whole story but focused simply on when Ursula the sea witch grew to be a giant figure. They were able to take that small moment and develop the idea thoroughly. As time passed they became able to do that with their own personal experiences and began creating stories of their own. That lesson allowed them to pace themselves while focusing on quality work and not quantity. I like to call it a two for one because they are learning to be great writers and storytellers.

Heidi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really liked your blog, and how creative to have the students tell their story. You are correct when you say, "Everyone wants to be heard. Just ask for stories." I have found that when students are asked to write about a particular event, memory, family gathering, vacation, pet, etc., they generally let their guard down and are able to express themselves as they are tell their story. I also enjoyed reading the way that you inspire and motivate your students using different modalities.

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