In Part 3, I shared proof of the powerful and positive effects of storytelling, through the story of Cuban cigars and their high quality – thanks to la lectura. I am also happy to report that the 12th grade English teacher from my “Ravioli” post has found ‘lights out’ to be successful in his classroom reading aloud. Currently he is reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut to his students. From preschool to high school, we are both doing the same thing, and it works.
I have discovered much of my storytelling happens in the bathroom at school. Perhaps it is the captive audience, much like a car ride with children. Perhaps it is the rhyming, the make-believe, and including children’s names into the stories. Perhaps it is because I’m sitting with them on the bench, not waiting in the doorway. I simply make up words and stories. If Emmett, Norah, and Alex are in the bathroom, I might say something like this:
“Once there was a girl who lived on the edge of the woods. Her name was Norah. One night she woke up and heard a sound in the distance. Her voracious appetite kept her awake. The sound was coming from the woods! She tip-toed downstairs, opened the back door, and there was Emmett. He heard the same noise. They decided to be brave together, hold hands, and walk toward the woods. Suddenly Alex came running over…”
I will include difficult vocabulary words. I will stop and ask questions, maybe make the sound of an animal or give clues for them to guess. As children come and go in the bathroom, I’ll include them into the story.
I play I Spy. I play The Animal Game, where I give clues to an animal and they guess what it is. Then, I make up a quick rhyme about the animal.
“There once was a snake who got caught on a rake on his way to a lake.”
I then ask children to add to the rhyme. Often they come up with excellent words, ones I never thought of. The whole process is open ended. So is storytelling.
So, what is really happening here in the bathroom? Much like chapter reading, children have to carefully listen and think. They are getting a huge dose of vocabulary words in an intimate setting. And, much like lunchtime at school, we are sharing conversations and stories. It’s more than the number of words a child hears; it’s humor, emotion, learning where you are with your peers – a friend, listening and learning. It’s really a long list.
This is how important it is: A study was done to determine if there was a common denominator among the National Merit Scholars. Were they all class presidents? Captains of their sport teams? President of the Drama Club or Literary Magazine? Were they all volunteers in their community? Surely there had to be one thing that they all shared in common.
There was one, and only one:
Every National Merit Scholar had dinner with their family at least four times a week.
Sounds simple? Not at all! At the dinner table they developed language skills, thinking and reasoning, empathy, humor, patience, compassion… the list is a long one and a good one.
These are life skills, the foundation for learning.
This is what I do in my classroom at lunchtime. I create the “dinner with the family” environment for children. Everyone’s opinion is valued. We are listeners, and we are storytellers. Oh, the stories we tell! Jennie Stories (from my childhood) are beloved. Why? Because through storytelling, children know that their teacher had the same fears and tears. Every day is a Jennie story, from spiders to bats to birthday cakes to The Peanut Man…
I know the difference this makes with the children I teach. What do I tell parents? Have dinner together, talk, listen, tell stories. It makes all the difference in the world.
Stay tuned for the conclusion, Part 5, and the story of a teacher who made a big difference.