A storytelling curriculum in the classroom

“Vivian Gussin Paley saw the essential role that fantasy play had, not only in the development of a child, but in the evolution of the community within the classroom. This conviction enabled her to undergo an act of astonishing bravery, taking the risk of believing in the role of story sufficiently to ensure it became the central part of her curriculum.” ~ Trisha lee (p.128)

I think reading Lee’s chapter helped me better understand how story-telling and story-acting works in a classroom community. She writes that “The potential of story-telling and story-acting lies in the following qualities:”
“Immediately engaging all children regardless of ability…
Demonstrating a child’s understanding of narrative structures…
Creating a way of supporting children in exploring conflicts and emotions…
Promoting inclusivity and turn taking…
Breaking down the inequalities of narrative language…
Developing an understanding of the properties of a story.” (pp.124-127)

Lee further explains the method and its success in the classroom:

You Can't Say You Can't PlayYou Can’t Say You Can’t Play was a radical book for Paley as it changed her thinking as to how she engaged with her story-telling curriculum. Prior to this investigation, children had chosen who acted in their stories with them. But following on from this, she began inviting children to participate in stories from their place around the stage. This turn-taking activity eliminated friendship group cliques and resulted in all children having the chance to be involved in acting out the stories. An added bonus of this changed approach was that gender barriers were broken down; for example, boys became princesses and girls became ‘baddies’ and random chance dictated the story they acted in and the roles they played.
As children waited to get onto the stage, they learned to understand the process of turn taking. If they didn’t get to play the character that inspired them in someone else’s story, this motivated them to tell a story next time with this new character, adding their own ‘take’ to the plot. Paley considers it vital that children have the choice of which character to play in their own stories as they might not have this option in their own lives; but in fantasy play even the shyest child can be a superhero.” (p.126)

[I hadn’t realised about this shift and found its influence very interesting!]

Theories and Approaches to Learning in the Early YearsLee also notes: “We know there are inequalities between the personal experiences of children. Some children are read to every night, or taken on amazing holidays, or visit galleries or museums. Some children have very little in the way of these experiences; their initial stories might involve a journey on the no.47 bus. But in story-telling and story-acting, all children get to hear the stories of others. For example, if one child tells a story about a magic star that you have to touch to enter into another realm, their images and imagination are shared with the whole class. It may then be that suddenly all the children’s stories begin with a magic star that leads into another realm. The possibilities for this re-wording of ‘Once upon a time’ can be endless. As the class develops its narrative language so they learn from each other, creating similes and metaphors together as they grow through a shared narrative experience.
So story dictation is a shared experience and a creative process and Paley recognizes that in order to maximize its full potential, story-telling needs to be an activity that takes place in situations where children can drop in and out as they choose. One person’s story inspires thoughts and images in another and this opens all the children’s eyes, allowing them  to see the hidden potential for their own version of events. As each child dictates, they add on their own ‘supposings’ and ‘what ifs’. They twist and turn over the stories of each other, examining them from all sides as they strive to find their own story, their own invisible connection to the narrative that is unfolding within their classroom.” (p.126)

In Mrs. Tully's RoomNOTE: Lee points out that “In Mrs. Tully’s Room, Paley (2001: 5) describes 2-year-olds dictating and acting out their stories. She concludes that even at this young age, children demonstrate ‘an ability to bring a character to life and reveal something about themselves’.” (p.124)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Trisha Lee ‘The Wisdom of Vivian Gussin Paley’, pp.119-132 Eds. Linda Miller & Linda Pound (2011) Theories and Approaches to Learning in the Early Years. Sage: Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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