Thursday, July 14, 2011

Storytelling

Not me, sadly.
(by Travel Aficiando @ Flickr)

We just finished up our Vacation Bible School, which had Joshua as a theme.  I'm the storyteller, and my thoughts were much on teaching throughout the whole process.  Dave Coffey and I often talk about teaching as story telling (EDIT: turns out he was writing about storytelling at the same time as I was - shocking), and love drawing lessons from Harry Potter as we both love the books.  (So much so that when my otherwise-entirely-admirable summer class revealed they had not read them I was at a bit of a loss when it came to examples for questioning in literacy. Stunned, I was.)

The process started with learning about the subject.  I'm not a bible scholar, but I am willing to write bible studies.  Mostly I just share the questions I wonder about as I try to make sense of the readings. I use BibleGateway.com as a tool, as it has many translations and a robust search feature.  I copied the relevant bits of scripture out, and made it into a study.  (Shared here.) I got to discuss it with three groups of people before writing the story.  In particular, with a men's group where (rather unbelievably) I'm a junior member.  Finally it was time to write the story. (Shared here.) I wrote the narrative, following the facts of the story. I went over it again, thinking about the teaching point(s) of each of the three days.  I'm not always explicit with those, but it's going to be harder for kids to notice if I don't put it in there to notice.  I went over it again, strengthening and adding connections. Things like: if the ark is going to be used on day 2, make sure it's mentioned where I can on day 1. Go over it again - does it include what's important and is what's important emphasized?  Finally, practice the telling.

My daughter performed with me to help with the illustration and comic relief, and we'd go through the story right before telling it. Originally she was going to be Joshua the first night when young, then Israelites later, but we wound up keeping her as Joshua because the kids seemed to identify her really strongly with the part. As we told the story, we responded to the kids' response. We monitored both their general engagement and asked questions about what they would do, or what thought might happen or what they knew about things in the story.  We told one version to the K-4 crowd, and another to the age 3 and 4 group (with lots more marching around). We used the props and set pieces we had and figured out how to do things with limited time and resources.

Sounds a lot like teaching, right?

I've been really interested as some teachers share on Twitter their summer planning process.  It seems some are frustrated by trying to plan without their students, and I agree that this is questionable. But I also got to thinking that it offers an opportunity to think about your objectives in another way.  As a story.  Your plans won't be able to be set until you know your students, and assess what they're bringing to the story.  But you can think about what's important and look for the narrative.  To me it's quite like what Dan Meyer's been writing about when he's considering how to set, describe and pitch the problems you find.  I also think that's the kind of work we need to find better and better ways to share with each other, as it's very portable amongst schools and students.

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