As a follow-up to an after school Leanne McColl and I held for grade 5 teachers (see post HERE) on Indian Residential Schools, I visited two of the grades 5&6 teachers at Cook Elementary to further explore the power of story with their students, making connections to self and place as part of their study of Indian Residential Schools, part of the redesigned Social Studies Curriculum. The teachers have been reading both picture books such as Shi-shi-etko and the novel Fatty Legs as part of this study, emphasizing the power of stories – stories that need to be told. Both Christy Rollo and Jo Fournier are also part of the Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry series in our district and their students have been using loose parts to represent ideas and concepts.
We gathered in a circle and discussed the power and purposes of stories, along with some questions to provoke and inspire their thinking. In both classes, the students were asked to consider a story they were familiar with or to think of their own story, something that was personal to them. For both contexts, the students were asked to pay particular attention to the setting or place. I read a few pages from the book Sharing Our World, which shares the significance and meaning animals portray in Aboriginal stories. Animal figures were provided as one of the choices for the students to use in their stories. The students were presented with a “buffet” of materials to choose from, to create their stories.
The students had many choices to make – to work alone or with a partner or triad, what materials to choose, what type of story to create and tell. Some students sat with their choices and needed some time to think while others jumped to the materials and let the materials help to inspire their choices.
The following are some photographs from Christy’s class where we had a variety of stories – personal narratives, retellings of Aboriginal stories, retellings of the class novel, retellings of childhood favourites and stories created specifically around one of the northwest animals.
The students had a chance to practice telling their stories and then tell their stories to another group. The students took photographs of their story settings using the iPad camera, then importing the photos into the app 30Hands, where the students could then orally narrate their stories.
The following week in Jo’s class, we narrowed the story choices to the focus of the Social Studies topic they were studying.
The students were highly engaged with the materials, spending time developing an idea and setting for their stories. Where they needed the “nudging” was in the telling of their stories – thinking about ways to convey their message or theme. Many students drew upon familiar stories and how there was repetition of an idea throughout the story and they tried to weave this element into their own stories. Other students focused on characters’ actions and what they did and what happened to them. Some students embraced the ideas of self and place and created an interplay of these ideas in their stories.
In a few cases, students worked together to create their stories in their first language, often with much animation and expression. With support, they then practiced the main points of their story in English and recorded using the 30Hands app.
I also noticed that students at this age in general seemed more hesitant when sharing their stories with others compared to the excitement younger children show when asked to share their stories with each other. I wonder if using the iPad technology created an opportunity for students to record their stories in a such a way that seemed less “on display”? This is something I would like to ask the students about as we continue to learn about the importance of storytelling in the classroom. Christy and Jo both have the students engage in sharing circles and class discussions and have discourse structures in place to create a safe, connected community in their classrooms. I’m curious to hear how storytelling contributes to these communities and also how the existing communities provide the necessary environment for storytelling to flourish.