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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

Janelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am very interested in learning about digital story telling. I love incorparting stories into my lessons. Can you tell me more about it?

Ashley Demmy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that story telling can help students make connections. In language arts, when students are asked to infer how a character is feeling, my 7th graders do a wonderful job. They can easily identify the prejudices or bias from the plot line, they make valuable connections Sometimes they do not make the same connections in social studies when studying the same time period as the novel we are reading. Characters give the students someone to identify with, to care for. Anytime we can get the students to "buy in" we are able to help them learn.

Michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Historically, story telling has been a means of passing along traditions and heritage. I reflect on my own experience, and think of the multiple stories that my grandparents have told me. These stories have given me a glimpse into the past during times of the Great Depression, war and times of history-making events. Story telling is an art, and a quality tradition that must be taught to younger generations. I believe that students should be encouraged to tell stories often and with passion. Story telling doesn't just let kids share about their lives, it develops a life-long skill.

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Stories when shared with anyone are wonderful. As an adult, I love to listen to stories from students and adults alike. You get two very different types of stories, but they pull on your heart-strings in serious or funny ways all the same. As children and adults, we learn from others stories and I believe that a little part of every story we tell or hear stays with us. We then access that prior knowledge when we need it to help us through certain situations. I also love to see stories unfold in front of the kids and how extremely vivid the stories get when the kids can tell that someone is really into their story. While all of this discussion is great on story telling, it will not happen or be as effective in an environment that the students do not feel safe in. I strive to make every student in my room feel safe so that all students can and will share stories with me and the other students in the class. I have noticed in my class that once the stories start coming, their writing gets incredibly detailed and the want to write increases. All around, storytelling increases verbal interaction between students and improves writing when fostered in a safe environment. I believe that the most important part is the latter of that previous statement because if the students don't feel safe, none of this will work.

Michele Cochran's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love your insights on storytelling. I'm glad to know of someone else who enjoys their student's stories as much as I enjoy mine. When I first started teaching, I didn't realize what an inside look at their lives I would be priviledge to when reading what they wrote. Years later, I still find myself excited at the beginning of each new year as I make discoveries about my students through their writing.

Rachel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elena,

Developing a love of reading and writing is essential in every classroom. Children in kindergarten love hearing stories, telling stories and writing stories. I enjoy introducing them to new stories and watching their excitement build. It's neat to hear them re-read the stories on their own afterwards during free reading time. They really get into the books by using expression and new vocabulary. It's even more intriguing when we tell our own stories. Students really tune in when I share and seem to want to do the same. We then transform their stories into their kid-writing journals. I, too, help by giving them tools to enhance their writing. By the end of the school year, their progress is amazing and they had fun throughout!

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this discussion! Too often, I think, we (as teachers) focus too much on what we need to get across to the students and we don't take the time to listen to them. I think story telling could be a fabulous way to help forge the relationships with our students that are so incredibly vital.

Not only does story telling lend itself to content areas and language development, it seems like it would be a wonderful way for students to become part of the classroom community - to have ownership of it. I know that knowing who our students are, where they come from, and what they have experienced creates a bond of trust. When they have the opportunity to hear our stories (which I think are just as important), that trust is forged even deeper. I think this creates something bigger than "buy-in" of the activity. It creates an attitude to do more, be more, and achieve more - even if it means "coloring outside the lines". There is a safety and relaxation when we are surrounded by those we trust. We open up more. We try new things. We can be more successful because we feel safe. We feel safest with those that we know. Story telling sounds like a fabulous tool to open the door to knowing students and creating a community of trust and safety.

Beautiful idea. Very simple, yet quite profound.

Virginia White, Holbrook Jr. High, AZ's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with everyone that has posted. I have been sharing stories with my 7th and 8th grade students for 15 years. Knowing your students is key to creating success for them in their own writing. Not every group of students gets the same stories. I have also learned to ask permission to keep and share the following year some of my students' exceptional stories. That gives me a wider bank to pull from. The students also like hearing stories from previous students. Their favorite story over all these years, though, is my son's story about shooting a skunk in the house. It gets them laughing and talking about their own crazy stunts!

Aelise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree that story telling is an important part of learning to write. I love to read and I try to choose books to read to my second grade class that I know the students will enjoy. By reading to my class at least once a day I hope to get my students excited about reading. Most of the stories that I read spark an idea for at least some students and they get excited to write a new story. My class loves to share their stories with each other and they also like to tell other students were they got their idea from. Another thing they like to do is to recommend books to each other. This type of sharing gets the class excited to read and share the book with a friend.

Allyson Coco's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I taught sixth grade language arts I would allow the children to sit where they felt comfortable during journal posting and creative writing. They sat under desks, in closets (with the doors open of course)and they never abused the freedom. I was amazed by the quality of their writing and the personal stories they shared with the class. I am not a great story teller but I wish I was. I think children learn more and retain more from teachers who are great story tellers. Unlike the "wh wa wa' of the teacher in the Charlie Brown's world, teachers who can grab their student's attention by putting passion in their teaching with stories are getting alot more across than "wa wa wa", kids are hearing the real words.

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