muse: n. a source of inspiration

We are all storytellers

When my children were young, they always asked for stories. Tell us a story, mom.

Can’t I read one? After all, their bedrooms were filled with books… And I was dying to share The Borrowers and Betsy, Tacy and Tib with my children.

No, we want you to tell us one!

And I did. I invented Princess Lori and Princess Allie and they went on adventures all over the world. The girls still talk about them.

We are all storytellers. We tell stories. We like stories.

Like many – dare I say all – good teachers, I tell my students stories. When I teach about WWII and the Holocaust, I relate my parents’ stories of surviving in war-ravaged Europe. I tell them how my parents were enamored with Jesse Owens, the African American man whose hand Hitler wouldn’t shake. I tell them about how, in seventh grade, I was assigned to do a research paper on a famous Black American. I didn’t know whom to choose. My father convinced me to write about Jesse Owens who lived on the South side of Chicago at the time. In those pre-Google (very pre-Google, I might add), my father grabbed a phone book, looked up the former Olympian’s telephone number and called him. And Jesse Owens invited my father and me to come to his home and I interviewed him. And heard his stories.

See – this caught your attention, didn’t it?

When Facebook came out, I was intrigued, as I am by all new technology, but I didn’t quite understand why Facebook would be appealing. I registered for an account as soon as it was available for non-college students and jumped in. Of course, at that time there weren’t a lot of people, ahem, my age with whom to be friends, so I stalked looked at my daughter’s photos and her friends’ photos and the snippets of their lives they were sharing. Today, I don’t go a day without a Facebook fix. It’s on my phone and my computer, and often, it’s the last thing I look at before going to bed. And, often, people share stories. The narrative style is different; it consists of status updates, wall posts and digital photos, but it’s storytelling nonetheless.

Even in Twitter, you can tell a story in 140 characters. In fact there are those who specialize in storytelling via Twitter.

And then there are those who tell stories using different media altogether: quilters, sculptors, photographers. I have deep respect, admiration and not a little envy of those who can use art to tell a story. For an astounding example of an interdisciplinary project that combines art, history and interviews, see Barbara Rosenblit’s adDRESSING Women’s Lives. I was fortunate enough to hear Barbara talk about this project at last summer’s Jewish Women’s Archive Institute for Educators. It doesn’t need to be this involved, though.

We need to encourage our students to tell stories more often. Not the why I didn’t do my homework and why I was walking down the hall without a pass stories, although they can be fairly inventive. But to take their lives, the things they’re learning, the ideas to which they’re exposed, and to weave stories.

I suggest we’re not telling enough stories, and we’re not encouraging our students to tell stories often enough. Here’s what we need to do:

1. encourage children to document the process. Are we creating a project in the classroom? Baking challah? Painting tallitot? Take digital photos, record the audio of what’s going on (do you have an iPhone? You have some amazing classroom tools there), shoot some video. Have the kids write blog posts about the process of what they did, record a podcast or create a Voicethread about it.

2. find someone to share their stories with your students. Do you know any old people? People who just came to this country? People who traveled to an interesting place? Went on a mitzvah travel experience? Went on birthright? Interview them. The JWA has some great oral history tools on their website. Bring them in. It’s not a waste of class time.

3. use digital tools to connect with other storytellers. Skype with an author or someone studying in another country (see this post for our experience Skyping with my daughter Allie last year when she was studying in Israel). Check out Youtube for great stories. When I was teaching my students about the lunch counter sit-ins, I found a lovely 6-minute piece that told the story better than I could.

4. find some professional storytellers. There are storytellers in our communities. If you really can’t find an actual storyteller, find something online to play for your students. I’m a huge fan of NPR’s This American Life. You can subscribe to the podcast free via Apple’s iTunes. If you have an iPhone, spring to download the app (it’s a whopping $2.99) and you can stream any episode dating back to 1995 when the show launched. It’s totally worth the 2.99 and then it justifies having an iPhone and bringing it out in class. Like you need to justify the iPhone, but, well, y’know.

5. Incorporate storytelling as a culminating activity. Record a 3-minute podcast each week. Pick a child at the beginning of the week to be the narrator. It’s his or her job to keep track of what you do and record the podcast at the end of the week. Have your kids journal, asking them to review what they’ve learned, using prompts like How do you feel about… Is there a time that you… Incorporate skit-making, story-writing, teaching to younger kids and listening to younger kids.

I never got to read Betsy, Tacy and Tib to my kids. I don’t think they’ve ever read the books. But I did tell them all about why I loved the series so much. And, in the end, that’s what matters.


January 16, 2011 - Posted by | Storytelling | , ,

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