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A storytelling journey from Dinjerra Primary School.

The School

Dinjerra Primary School is located in Braybrook, a western suburb of Melbourne. The school has a vibrant mix of students from low socio-economic backgrounds and newly arrived refugee families. As a result, the school has a high English as an Additional Language population amongst its students and families.

We have taken the position that students will benefit in their literacy learning if they can develop their oral language skills. We have implemented an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning, involving students in Years Prep to One working in partnership with 100 Story Building (funded by the Maribyrnong City Council) in order to support learning needs. Raban (2001) argues that the development of oral language is an important aspect of literacy achievement, particularly in relation to reading comprehension. In Years Prep to One, we have drawn on this concept to engage students with storytelling and drama, through Dinjerra Primary School's partnership with 100 Story Building.

The program

In order to explore the development of oral language and literacy skills with the Years Prep to One students, my colleague Ivy Leach and I designed an inquiry-based approach exploring the art of storytelling. The unit of inquiry engaged the students in a variety of narrative texts, including traditional stories and fairy tales, developing their vocabulary through poetry and language experiences and enabling them to have access to different mediums of storytelling from visiting authors and artists. Lachlann Carter from 100 Story Building was able to add to the unit of inquiry by developing supportive weekly workshops with visiting artists and authors such as puppeteer Leighton Young, author and past pupil Alice Pung, Kamishibai storyteller Bernard Caleo and performance poet Tariro Mavondo. We were able to use the expertise of Cale Maclaren from Footworks Ministry to extend the program through five weekly drama workshops.

We wanted the students to experience what may be learned from narrative genres such as fairy tales and traditional stories, to develop literacy skills associated with narrative genres, and also to engage in other forms of storytelling that would help to develop students' confidence with their oral language skills and understanding.

When planning the unit of inquiry we looked at how we could create a program that was essentially student centred. Our program provided an opportunity for the students to explore narrative texts through experiencing fairy tales and traditional stories. They used these texts to explore comprehension strategies such as visualising, prediction and text structure. The students explored the texts and experimented with storytelling through role-play, puppets and iPad apps PuppetPals, Sock Puppets and PlaySchool ArtMaker. The students were able to explore storytelling further by participating in weekly workshops provided by 100 Story Building. During these workshops students were able to discuss with authors and artists the art of storytelling. The students explored various ways to tell a story using movement, gestures, facial expressions, voice and sounds as engaging devices for storytelling. It was during the workshops with Bernard Caleo that the students began to develop their own sense as storytellers. His engaging workshop focused on the traditional form of Japanese visual storytelling, kamishibai. It allowed students to draw upon their experiences and to generate their own innovate narrative texts.

Throughout the program students explored creating and telling their own innovative stories through puppetry, kamishibai, written, oral and digital forms. The students explored recording their storytelling through the use of Easyspeak microphones, voice and video recording on iPod Touches and creating digital texts using My Story on iPads.

The texts

Building on this idea, we included the texts The Biggest Baddest Wolf (2005) and The Three Horrid Pigs and the Big Friendly Wolf (Pichon, 2008) to help them to come to accurate conclusions. We also used these texts to formulate further questions for them to explore the structure of narrative text, how to innovate their own narrative text and how to best tell their story. By providing the students with texts innovated from stories already familiar to them they were able to explore further narrative texts and began to innovate their own stories. The students explored visualising through listening to traditional stories as audiobooks. Developing the comprehension skill of visualising, the students were able to build their vocabulary when describing their characters and settings. Students were able to explore the use of voice and sounds within an audiobook and discover qualities of good storytelling.

At this point of the inquiry unit, the students found themselves exploring a number of texts that would help to build their understandings of storytelling and were positioned to explore further. They had fun exploring a narrative text and understanding the characters and setting, describing these using recently learned vocabulary. The students were able to understand what the problem was, the events that took place and the solution. Drawing on this understanding of the text structure of narratives, the students were then able to devise and plan their own narrative using the known text structures themselves. To hear a Prep child say, 'My character is mean, evil and sly. He is going to trick people. My setting is a castle in the clouds,' gave an insight to the depth of thought the student had with their story. To see the student then take their story further by presenting it orally with expressive voices, gestures and movements showed the impact of the program on student learning.

The program culminated in the students recording themselves using iPads telling their chosen story in order to present their knowledge of the art of storytelling. This presentation provided us with an authentic assessment of the students' understanding of narrative texts and oral language within storytelling. The whole program concluded with a school community film premiere showcasing the storytelling skills of the students.

The texts produced

At the conclusion of the program students have produced a range of stories, all of which were on full display at school during the film premiere evening. Items the students had on display included their finger puppets and setting picture, kamishibai visual story, variety of student made puppets, written narrative stories and supporting pictures, Writers Notebooks, and QR codes with recorded oral stories and their storytelling film presented on the IWB.

Conclusion

An evaluation of the initial program by Paul Molyneux (2012) 'revealed a number of impressive language and literacy outcomes'. Students showed they understood they were communicating their stories, spoken, written or visual, to an audience. The students were able to draw upon their experiences or innovate from a mentor text to create their own story worth telling. The delivery of the students' stories showed a strong understanding of the narrative genre. Students were able to extend and develop their oral language through the evident use of complex and compound sentences. The workshops with the professional storytellers had an impact on the students' delivery of their stories through the use of their voice, gestures and facial expressions. The exploration and input of language used within narrative texts from books read and shared in the classroom provided the opportunity for the students to develop towards more literary language evident in phrases such as, 'Once upon a time in a magical flower garden world' and, 'The prince wriggled his magic chin to destroy the beast'.

As a result of this trial in 2012, a further inquiry unit in 2013 built on this learning and refined the process of delivery with an amazing outcome for students, teachers and the community.

References

Pichon, L. (2008). The Three Horrid Pigs and the Big Friendly Wolf. Little Tiger: London.

Raban, B. (2001). Talking to think, learn, and teach. In P.G. Smith (Ed.), Talking classrooms: Shaping children's learning through oral language instruction. Newark, Delaware, International Reading Association.

Molyneux, P. (2012). Program Evaluation. 'In Other Words' Evaluation of a storytelling project undertaken by 100 Story Building and Dinjerra Primary School with the support of the Maribyrnong City Council. The University of Melbourne.

Ward, N. (2005). The Biggest Baddest Wolf. Little Tiger: London

Catherine Leahy is a classroom teacher at Dinjerra Primary School. She has welcomed the opportunity to build on experiences gained in this school setting in 2012. Her appreciation of the diversity of EAL students and the challenges they face in literacy acquisition, led her to embrace this project. She has extensive teaching experience in UK where she taught for five years before returning to the Victorian DEECD. Catherine is a passionate user of technologies and social media to support and communicate with like-minded educators. Follow her on twitter @leahy_by.
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Author:Leahy, Catherine
Publication:Practically Primary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Words:1412
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