Do you remember story time on ‘the mat’ when you were a kid at school? I certainly have fond memories of the teacher telling stories, some from memory, but most often from a book. We all had our special places to sit and habitual behaviours that seemed to help with concentration as the story was being read. It was a time, usually in the afternoon before the home time bell went, when the whole class was relaxed and focussed on what the teacher was saying.
To be continued …
As a teacher, I too, continued with this tradition. At teachers college I learned about the benefits of reading to my students, but, at the time, I never really thought about the way this seemingly simple act of storytelling had such a positive effect on the students. Story time had the affect of unifying my class. Sitting together as one; quiet, listening, and with imaginations in full swing, watching the action unfold in front of the mind’s eye.
I enjoyed watching the students’ reactions out of the corner of my eye as I read crucial parts of the story. I remember the groan of disappointment as we finished a chapter that left us all hanging in suspense — to be continued the next day! And I was always impressed with what the students could recall about the story, even if we had had a break from it for a week or so. The story also created many opportunities for lively discussion that often promoted learning opportunities in several areas of the curriculum.
Several chapters later
It has been seven years now that I last taught in a school. But just recently I began to think once again about the place that storytelling has in education. And, I hope that, even by reading this post, you are encouraged to either revive, continue, or even begin to hone your own and your students’ ability to tell stories. They are, after all, ‘the oldest form of education’.
On the recent Shakeout field trip to Christchurch, I had the opportunity to interview for video some students, teachers, and parents about their experiences during the September 2010 and February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. The second of these earthquakes occurred during term one, in the middle of the day, and anyone who was in the area that day has their own story to tell. I was in the central city that day, so I have my own story, and have heard many others.
What I didn’t expect from sharing these stories via the field trip website was the amount of times these videos in particular were mentioned so positively in the field trip evaluation forms. Here are some of the comments as an example of what I mean:
Great to connect with children who have been in earthquakes.
It taught compassion and helped the students look out of themselves, appreciating the plight of others.
Students were engaged with the videos, questions background research and the interviews with those involved in the Christchurch Quake.
That pool story really made us think and research the behaviour of water in an earthquake.
In my line of work I help to create opportunities for others to tell their stories and have students learn from them. Reflecting on this recent field trip experience has helped me see in a clearer way the need to ask the right question in the first place — a question that will generate a more interesting response, which, in turn, will create a better connection with the audience (and therefore, a more powerful learning experience).
The Shakeout field trip has also helped me realise that even in the “digital age” there is still a place for this age-old form of education. In fact it is this digital age that can enhance our ability to teach with, and learn from, storytelling — yes, there is an app for it! After all, it was a web-based ‘virtual field trip’ that enabled so many classrooms around New Zealand to listen to these particular Christchurch earthquake stories in the first place.
A quick search on the Internet around this topic will inform you about all there is to know and more on storytelling and education. Here are three sites to get you started:
- Edutopia: Storytelling in the classroom matters — a blog featuring tips to help you become a storyteller.
- TKI: Digital stories — Bringing storytelling into the 21st century on TKI’s enabling e-learning site.
- The Power of Storytelling (PDF) — an excerpt from Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss.
So, I encourage you to have a browse, and find something that will help to ignite the power of storytelling in your classroom. You could also share any particularly good sites you know of, or come across, in the comments field below. As acclaimed author Philip Pullman once said: “After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”