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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

Natasha Derico's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe storytelling is powerful. I teach English and the literature that I teach is simply someone's story. I try to always stress to my students that Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Sandra Cisneros, and many others are all people, just like them, who believed it was important to share their stories. By reading the many commetns, I am inspired to complete an assignment in my class, called "Stories for the Future." This will be a creative writing assignment that will allow my students to view current events and write creatively about them.

Miriam Diaz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading your posts. I teach English as a Foreign Language and story telling is an activity used frequently in my classroom. Erika mentions digital storytelling. I would like to know more about this and would appreciate any links you can share.

Jenny Garcia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Michelle, I believe we all have a story to tell, even our students. As an ESOL teacher for k - 5th grade students, I let my students experience a "sharing" time on Monday mornings. They each get to tell a little bit about what they did over the weekend. The stories the students come up with sometimes are filled with passion and vigor. I always let them know that they could take these experiences that they are verbally vocalizing and put them on paper for others to read and enjoy.
Jenny Garcia

jenny Garcia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Michelle, I agree with you that storytelling is very important when it comes to improving students' creativity. As an ESOL teacher, I allow my students to have a brief sharing time where the students share what experiences they had over the weekend. I let them know that they too can become storytellers just by transferring their thoughts vocalized verbally and putting them on paper for others to read and enjoy. Children always have such a good memory about their experiences.
Jenny Garcia

Katrina Fleming's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you about story telling. I teach for a preschool the students learn so much from stories. The children love stories and stories. They are able to engage in social interaction with other children by acting out the stories with puppets or flannel board pieces. The students can also learn about real life events, I often hear the students explaining information to other students as they play. I like to incorporate stories that are related to whatever the topic may be for the day.

Joanne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really agree with you about writing and the power of storytelling. In my first grade classroom, that is how I entice my children into becoming writers. I begin by telling an interesting personal story and we come up with a title. I encourage the children to share their stories during the first weeks of school and it is a great way for us to start to get to know one another. Over the next few weeks, I begin writing about a shared experience. We talk about what is important to include and what will be interesting for the reader. When we all realize we have stories to tell, we begin writing. It takes off from there.

Lacie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also love to use story telling in my kindergarten classroom. I model for them telling my own personal stories and then writing them. Children at that age are so willing to share their lives with you that story telling is somewhat effortless for them. I have found that this eagerness to share their stories is an excellent way to teach them that spoken word can easily turn into written word, and often take the time to help them write down their stories. Then let them illustrate them. Their faces just light up as they see the story they told verbally be transformed into a book to go into the classroom library. Most would rather read those stories that the trade books that are in our library. The personal stories are just more real to them.

Kelsey Borst's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for justifying story telling! I teach middle school, which I love, but we all know that it's a challenging age group. As a language arts and history teacher, I feel fully justified in using personal stories from my own life to help students engage in learning. I teach about ancient Rome, and I show pictures of my visit there. Students always remember my story about going to the McDonald's across the street from the Pantheon. In writing, I tell aloud the stories that I consider writing about, and have students tell their stories aloud to peers in order to get the "juices flowing." They need to know that their lives are interesting enough to write about, and to hear the difference between a fully explained and detailed story, and a fleshless retelling. It gives me great pleasure when students think we have gotten off task in talking and story telling, but I'm really leading them right where I want them to be.

Jordan Richmond 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this blog. This is year, I have made it one of my goals to read a story to my students everyday. So far, I have only missed two days. I love the idea of having the students share their stories. In my class, the students do not know the difference between a question and a comment. We made a listed of question words but are still working on this skill. However, when listening to their comments I realize that they are telling their story! I will make a point to allow time for these students to share their stories with the class. Thanks for the post.

Janelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that storytelling is a powerful part in the classroom. I feel it is important to read to my students daily. When students are able to tell their stories this helps develop their own creativity. Not only does this help develop their communication it also allows you to learn about each student if you allow them to tell a story each day.

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