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Sharing time goes awry...or does it?

Abstract. Sharing time, a classroom event when individual children are invited to take turns sharing something with the class, traditionally has been implemented with regularized routines and structures. This study documents, in a 1st-grade classroom, a sharing-time episode in which these routines and structures are abandoned in favor of a more fluid, natural conversation. Conditions resulting in this suspension of conventions included the introduction of a topic of which most of the class, including the teacher, had no knowledge, and the presence of a teacher willing to demonstrate her lack of knowledge by seeking clarification from students. Among the characteristics of this nontraditional sharing time are a lower participation rate by the teacher, more turns for a particular episode, children sharing the role of storyteller, and more complex stories. The contrast between the two types of sharing-time episodes is used as an argument that teachers need to examine the taken-for-granted rituals of their classr ooms, evaluating their underlying pedagogical value and adjusting classroom programming to best serve the pedagogical purpose.


Narratives are a fundamental way of representing experience (e.g., Chafe, 1990; Dyson & Genishi, 1994; McCabe & Peterson, 1991; Olson, 1990). Through narratives, we make sense of who we are, who others are in relation to us, and what the world means. This use of narratives by young children has been studied from a variety of perspectives. For example, the developmental profile of the child's concept of story has been traced (e.g., Applebee, 1978), genre skills have been examined (e.g., Hicks, 1991), and gender differences have been studied (e.g., Nicolopoulou, Scales, & Weintraub, 1994).

One area that has been the focus of several different studies is the narratives that emerge during sharing-time events in early childhood classrooms. The purpose of this study is to conduct a micro-analysis of an atypical narrative episode that occurs within a sharing-time event. By examining the features of that episode and contrasting it with those of a typical sharing-time event, teachers are challenged to examine what goals they have for classroom sharing-time events and consider whether other classroom experiences might more effectively accomplish those goals.

Sharing Time

During sharing time, the teacher gives students the opportunity to talk directly to the class. This talk usually involves reporting a piece of "news" about something that has happened to them. The type of narrative one might expect to emerge from such an opportunity would probably be akin to what Miller and Mehler (1994) call "conversational stories of personal experience--oral stories in which the narrator re-creates a remembered experience from his or her life" (p. 38). However, as Miller and Mehler (1994) suggest, more often than not, the personal experience as presented in the classroom is far less complex and much more of a narrative fragment than that found in non-school contexts.

Extensive research has been conducted on sharing time as an occasion for the construction of narrative (see, for example, Michaels, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985; Michae]s & Cazden, 1986; Michaels & Foster, 1985; Stenning & Michell, 1985). The example below, from the classroom in which the present study is set, contains elements typically identified with sharing time, and is remarkably consistent with the sharing-time events reported by Michaels in her research:

Teacher: Okay, what happened to you this weekend, Gabrielle?

Gabrielle: /inaudible/

Teacher: Can't hear you.

Gabrielle: On Saturday and Sunday, me and my friends and my sister, we were doing a play for my mom-in-law. We were dressing up. We put on eyeshadow and blush and on Saturday...

Teacher: Okay, we have one thing. We're going to have to work really hard to keeping it to one thing, please. Sean.

Sean: On Saturday I went to my Dad's.

Teacher: And what did you do there?

Sean: The day, no after Friday... on Saturday... on Friday, I went to my Dad's the day after that. I showered and I went to my room and I opened my presents.

Teacher: Okay, what did you do with your Dad?

Sean: Oh, we went up to the flea market and bought a Ninja set. I had to /inaudible/.

Teacher: Great. Grace, what did you do this weekend. One thing?

As the example illustrates, it is common for the teacher to control not only who gets to speak during sharing time but also what constitutes the boundaries for a personal narrative. As a result, the teacher usually uses only about half of the turns possible in the sharing-time event. Children's strategies for maintaining the floor invariably include a number of false starts, accompanied by a rising intonational pattern. As research by Michaels and her colleagues aptly demonstrates, and this example further illustrates, children's productions are often evaluated by their teacher not in terms of oral discourse, but rather in terms of an "idealized" written text model held in the mind of the teacher. The model has no specific content, but consists of the prototypical story structure elements of Western narrative. These elements are generated by the teacher's use of rules, such as the following:

* Only one speaker at a time can speak (therefore, turns are assigned by the teacher): This rule functions in part for classroom management, but it implicitly develops a concept of sole authorship of text, or the proprietariness of authorship, since it emphasizes that a single person has the floor to speak.

* Tell only one thing: This rule confines student stories to a single-story episode.

* Indicate who is involved in the event being described: This rule focuses on one of the key elements of the narrative--the characters.

* Clearly demarcate the chain of events: This rule emphasizes the importance of sequence within the story and of the logical relation between parts.

* Identify a pivotal event: This rule highlights the core of the narrative, that is, the incident/problem around which the narrative is structured; the resolution of this incident/problem signals that the turn is over (see the teacher's use of the question "What did you do with your Dad?" in the episode above).

In the research on sharing time conducted by Michaels and her colleagues, children whose oral narrative forms are not modeled on the "literate" Western model find their tales either suppressed by teachers unable to recognize the alternate narrative forms being used, or supplanted and subordinated, through teacher questioning, into a form the children neither understand nor recognize (see also Gee, 1990). This suppression and subordination occurs despite evidence presented within Michaels's work, and elsewhere, that these alternate conversational story forms have their own distinctive and regularized characteristics as texts.

For instance, Heath (1983), in an ethnographic study of the children living in the communities of Roadville, a white working-class community, and Trackton, a black working-class community, observed differences not only from community to school but also from community to community. In Roadville, for example, one child's personal experience of dropping some eggs is, through adult questioning, turned into a story form common to the adult storytelling of that community (pp. 158-159). The key elements of the form involve a description of the main character's foolishness and the ascription of a moral. The pattern of adult involvement is not unlike that of the teacher described above in the typical sharing time. In contrast, in the community of Trackton, children's stories follow a different adult form--that of 'junk" stories, in which exaggerated fictionalized elements and comparisons are intermeshed with the narrative. The children of these communities learn story forms that are distinct from those learned in scho ol, and the pragmatics of their storytelling also are unique.

One such pragmatic is prefacing of the story (Lerner, 1992), which refers to the teller's proposal of the story as a conversational topic. In Heath's (1983) study, for example, the Roadville adults invite children to tell stories; children do not take the storytelling initiative. The children in Trackton, however, compete with others, including adults, to have their topics recognized. Furthermore, the Trackton children must effectively use the conventions of 'junk" talk to maintain the role of storyteller. In addition, in Roadville, as is seen in classroom sharing times, the adult who invited children to tell stories may intervene with questions to assist in the storytelling; in Trackton, however, the children may cooperate in telling a story.

For some children, there may be overlaps between the form or the pragmatics of oral narratives at home and at school; for teachers, however, sharing-time events appear to constitute a particular set of conventions. As Michaels documented, these conventions are close to those used in written text. As with many conventions, they are at their most obvious when broken. However, the fact that conventions are broken is less interesting than the conditions under which the breakage occurs, the alternate practices that are established, and thoughts about how sharing time might be organized differently.


The setting for the study was a 1st-grade classroom of 19 students, located in an elementary school situated in a middle-class suburban community. Of the 19 students in the classroom, there were 9 males and 10 females; 12 students were Caucasian and of varied European ancestry, and 7 were Middle Eastern. The teacher in the classroom was of Caucasian Anglo-European background and had been teaching for seven years; this was her first experience teaching 1st grade. She was highly regarded in the school and served as the school's adjunct professor, through which she acted as a liaison between the school and the university for practicum placements and conducted supervision of student teachers. The teacher routinely hosted student teachers for practicum placements.

The data reported on in the present study formed a subset of the larger data set, which documented discussion in relation to storybook reading in the classroom (Author). The researcher or one of two research assistants observed and audio-recorded events in the classroom, taking the role of low-key participant-observers. Observations were conducted on 51 mornings over a six-month period. The observers sat towards the back of the group in whole-class sessions and used a small, hand-held tape recorder with an omnidirectional-microphone to gather data. They took additional notes on the children's dialogue, because the children often spoke quietly. For other classroom activities, the researchers sat with individual children or small groups.

For whole-group sessions, they spoke only when addressed by the teacher (which was rarely), but did chat with the children during small-group or individualized work. The children tended to treat the researchers like the parent volunteers in their classroom--that is, they did not assume the observers had the authority of a teacher or even of a student teacher, but knew they could seek their assistance as adults.


The Suspension of Sharing

Time Conventions

Several sharing-time conventions were routinely used in this 1st-grade, public-school classroom. Each child was eligible for a turn to tell his or her bit of news. The teacher assigned turns and, through questioning, tried to lead children towards an understanding of what constituted a story. Children rarely contributed to the stories of others. If they did so, the contribution was limited to a phrasal comment. With some exceptions, these rituals were observed daily, for up to 19 episodes per day (one episode per student) across a period of several months. This would represent nearly 100 episodes of storytelling per week, almost 400 per month, and thousands across the interval of a year! What, then, would precipitate a departure from the conventions associated with sharing time, and what would such a departure look like?

Departing From Sharing-Time Convention

For the most part, the sharing-time conventions were observed across the school year. The departures shared certain observed commonalities. For example, the episodes invariably were about similar topics (a discussion of Jewish holidays from a handful of children who were enrolled in weekend religious classes), and they sometimes involved the same children--children who had routinely (and sometimes even moments beforehand) followed the established sharing-time conventions of the classroom. One of the most elaborate of these exceptions is presented below.

1. Teacher: And Leona's our last [i.e., last to have a sharing time turn].

2. Leona: Yesterday, in the morning, I went to Hebrew school and ... me and Barbara, we went after we were in school, and we were all sitting backwards and it said like you can't have fourteen, and because it was all out of order and ... it's all about the next holiday coming up called Purim. [See Appendix.]

3. Teacher: Now that's ... it.... That's not the same as Passover, is it?

4. Leona: No.

5. Teacher: No, it's something different?

6. Leona: Yeah. You dress up in masks and stuff and people run away when {you} (1)

7. Barbara: {when you}

8. Leona: turn around /inaudible/

9. Teacher: Okay, could you tell me why you're wearing a mask.

10. Leona: 'Cause, well, the main guy, Haman, he ...

11. Barbara: No, that's /inaudible/

12. Leona: He said ... /inaudible: some coughing in the background/and so they/inaudible/ masks or something.

13. Barbara: /inaudible/

14. Leona: /inaudible/

15. Teacher: So is it a ... Hershel, stay put.

16. Barbara: It's a story about a queen, this girl, and Queen Esther, and ... her {Uncle Mordekhai and Haman}

17. Leona: {Uncle Mordekhai and Haman} Yeah, [and Mo ...]

18. Barbara: [and if you hear his name you shouldn't /inaudible/]

19. Teacher: So is it a celebration? Is it a happy celebration?

20. Leona: Sort of {like}

21. Barbara: {'Cause, like} [Like, in between]

22. Leona: [Like, in between] eh the king marries another woman and she was Jewish and she... saved the Jews from from dying [because Haman was going kill all the Jews]

23. Barbara: [cause Haman was going to kill all the Jews and] she was one of them and the king was Christian, so then her uncle she told him not to tell the king what she did, so she didn't want to die herself and so she could save all the Jews.

24. Leona: And then Haman dies and the Jews get saved.

25. Teacher: Hm. That's a story in itself! What do you want, Grace?

26. Grace: It's like the Jewish people's Halloween.

27. Leona: Yougotoschul... [said quietly]

28. Thacher: Oh! That'swhythemasks, then.

29. Leona: It's not like Jewish people's Halloween.

30. Grace: That's what my mom told me.

31. Leona: You go to schul and pray

32. Teacher: Interesting!

33. Barbara: And sometimes, after, when we go out, there's a store upstairs and they have all these cookies and sometimes hamantashes. They're sort of like these cookies that are in a triangle shape.

34. Leona: They're hamantash.

35. Barbara: And sometimes people think they kind of look like ears like a triangle

36. Leona: or a hat

37. Barbara: and there's jelly or jam inside.

38. Teacher: I'm remembering this. Okay. I know what you told about it.

39. Barbara: My buba, she bakes sometimes like them little round cookies, and sometimes she puts a different kind of jam in them.

40. Teacher: Okay, well, thank you for all those stories about what you were doing over the weekend.

What makes this episode unique? Several features make this episode unique: 1) the number of interchanges permitted for one episode, 2) who participates in the turns and the quality of that participation, 3) the number of participants engaged in the discussion, 4) the shifting of the roles, 5) the telling of a story within a story, and 6) the use of rising intonation to keep the floor. Each of these areas will be addressed in turn.

On the surface, this episode can be considered unique simply because of the number of turns taken by the participants. Forty interchanges constitute the episode, starting with the teacher's signal for Leona to have her turn and ending with the teacher's closure of the turn (and the sharing-time session). This number of interchanges for one sharing-time episode is extraordinary Who participates in the turns and the nature of that participation also is extraordinary.

The teacher's dominance of the turns is substantially reduced from about one out of every two turns (see the first example of discourse with Gabrielle and Sean) to less than one out of every three turns (i.e., from 50% of the turns to 28% of the turns). It is also important to note that the type of role that the teacher plays is somewhat different in this episode. While the teacher maintains her conventional role of signaling the opening and closing of the episode (Turns 1 and 40), she never once mentions her "say only one thing" rule or chides students for speaking out of turn.

What is also unique in this episode is the number of participants engaging in the discussion. Unlike other sharing-time episodes, in which only one child speaks, in this episode, three children participate in the discourse to greater or lesser extents. Leona, whose official turn it was, has 40% of the turns, Barbara has 28%, and Grace has 5%.

Descriptively, the discourse of the children in this episode bears some similarity to that of adults engaged in giving personal recounts during conversation. Lerner (1992) argues that "stories told in conversation have been shown to be at least in part products of systematic interactional practices involving both storyteller and story recipients" (p. 247). In this sharing-time episode, four of the story recipients are more likely to intersect the storytelling process than others--Leona, whose official turn it is; Barbara, who attended the same Hebrew school class as Leona; Grace, who shares a knowledge of Purim because she is Jewish; and the teacher, who normally has the role of controlling the discourse and assigning turns, but who lacks the background knowledge about Purim held by her three Jewish students. While the remainder of the class potentially could collaborate, their role would likely be as recipients of the discussion, since they have neither the power over the floor that the teacher has nor the b ackground knowledge of their three Jewish classmates. Even though most of the class does not have the background knowledge to participate, they do not signal their disinterest by misbehaving (resulting in sanctions from the teacher) or making comments to the storytellers.

Furthermore, the tellers of the story do not need prompting for ideas, only for clarifications. They sustain their theme across many more turns than in traditional episodes, and the result is more complex ideation and syntax. For example, in the traditional episodes presented earlier, Gabrielle spoke 32 words across a single turn and Sean spoke 54 words across three turns (all these turns were prompted by the teacher). In the Purim episode, the children's audible contributions exceeded 250 words. In the traditional episodes, relatively simple sentence structures are used and the narrative structuring is a "breakfast to bed" style in which children recount the activities of a day in sequential order. In the Purim episode, the narrators make greater use of prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses, and even some simile. The language used in the Purim episode is not only more cognitively demanding for the speakers, but also more cognitively demanding for their audience.

This episode is also unusual in that Leona and Barbara shift roles. Leona is the storyteller at the outset; at different points throughout the discourse, however, she shifts into the role of story "consociate" or a "second knowing participant" (Lerner, 1992, p. 248) when Barbara assumes the role of storyteller (see turns 16, 18, 23, 33). Grace features as another story consociate (see turn 26); however, Grace is still strongly influenced by the sharing-time rules, in that she initially makes an effort to be recognized by the teacher before making her contribution (see turn 25). Not only do the roles of storyteller and story consociate switch, but instances of co-talk, places at which two people are talking simultaneously, often mark the boundaries of the switch in roles (see turns 16, 17 and 18, or 21 and 22). This pattern is similar to that observed by Lerner (1992). In this episode, the co-talk occurs on two occasions: 1) when one participant is trying to reassume the role as storyteller (e.g., turns 6 to 8 ), and 2) when one speaker hesitates and demonstrates some uncertainty with the story (e.g., turns 16 to 17). Both the role shifts and the cotalk that sometimes accompanies them are not negotiated by the teacher, but are features of more natural conversation, such as that described by Lerner (1992) in the talk of adults.

The telling of a story within a story also marks this episode as unique. The episode begins with the broaching of the topic of Purim. In the students' efforts to clarify the meaning of Purim, they tell the story of Esther, which is key to the holiday. The children begin to introduce characters from the story as a direct result of the teacher's question (turn 9) about why the children wear masks. This request calls for the introduction of Haman, the villain of the Queen Esther tale. The teacher's subsequent question (turn 19) of whether or not the celebration is a happy one precipitates the telling of other parts of the story to indicate that the holiday does have a celebratory aspect, because the Jews were saved. Once this storytelling is over, the children resume describing the practices and customs around Purim, but the resumption is marked by generality, rather than the specificity of what occurred over the weekend. The move away from the specificity of what happened at schul to the general customs and pra ctices around Purim appears to be motivated by a genuine effort on the children's part to answer the teacher's questions. Finally, it should be noted that the rising intonation (characteristic of young children's efforts to keep the floor during whole-class conversation) becomes less exaggerated during this episode. Indeed, it may be that as the teacher has relinquished her role of assigning speakers, the children feel less of a need to revert to this strategy; and instead they engage in other devices, such as those marking co-talk incidents.

What conditions cause the suspension of sharing-time routines? Leona's turn begins not unlike the turns of other children at sharing time. She uses a time marker ("Yesterday, in the morning...") as she begins her recounting. The activity described is a little atypical from the other kinds of activities usually talked about at sharing time, since it deals with what Leona did at Hebrew school. Only three children in the class attend a weekend school of this type. The description of the school-based activity is difficult to follow, since much more context is needed for its understanding. In contrast, most other recountings deal with non-school settings and often involve family or classmates. The relatively common experiential frame for recountings about the typical weekend experiences of a middle-class family demands less contextualization for the audience. Leona demonstrates some awareness of the uniqueness of this recounting by parenthetically noting, in her prefacing remarks, that Purim is a holiday.

At this juncture, the teacher asks for clarification of the holiday. The tone of her initial request for information reveals hesitancy and uncertainty-something not present in most other queries made by the teacher in other sharing-time episodes. Instead, the teacher's requests appear to be genuine solicitations for clarification, rather than solicitations motivated by ensuring that a facsimile of the "idealized" written text form is rendered in the turn. For instance, the teacher asks the following questions:

1. Now that's ... it's.... That's not the same as Passover is it?

2. No, it's something different?

3. Okay, could you tell me why you're wearing a mask?

4. So is it a...

5. So is it a celebration? Is it a happy celebration?

The teacher asks these questions because she does not have a broad background knowledge of Judaism. In this sense, then, making the conversation sensible, to herself and perhaps to the other children in the class, becomes a stronger motivation than preservation of the sharing-time ritual itself. In fact, a common feature of other sharing-time events in which the routines for sharing time are broken is that the topic is Judaism. The teacher's drive for information allows her to bypass the "tell about one thing" rule and to give over some of the authority of the conversation to those who are knowledgeable about the topic of the conversation-Leona, Barbara, and Grace. It seems, then, that the conditions precipitating a departure from normal sharing-time routines are:

* The presentation of a topic for which the majority of the group does not have the background

* The fact that one of the people who is lacking in background is the teacher

* The presence of a teacher comfortable enough with her role in the classroom to seek clarification of the content of a topic that is culturally unfamiliar to her and to most of the children in her group.

Admittedly, much of the talk of the story within the episode fits within the idealized text motif. However, the example further extends the findings of Michaels and her colleagues by emphasizing the importance of the cultural content, rather than the cultural form, of children's personal narratives. In particular, this episode raises questions about the cultural separations that exist between the worlds of children and the world of school--separations that seem obvious for this particular episode because of its unique cultural elements, but which may point to numerous uncovered elaborations that remain unrecognized in the stories of other children who engage in sharing time. These recognitions may be left unrealized when teachers fail to let go of the routines in favor of the conversations.

A Story Retelling Within Sharing Time

The fact that a story is retold within the sharing-time event is in itself distinctive for several reasons. First of all, the retelling occurs within the natural act of conversation, rather than as part of an assessment procedure (e.g., Goodman, Watson, & Burke, 1987). The retelling is relatively consistent with adult behaviors during conversational retellings (see Lerner, 1992). More important, however, is the fact that the pragmatics of the story retelling can inform other story retelling endeavors.

The story that is being retold is that of Queen Esther (see Appendix). Up until the introduction of the character of Haman, Leona has the floor, as evidenced by her dominance in turns. Once Haman is introduced, in the segment comprising turns 10 to 25, Barbara begins to co-participate much more equally in terms of presenting information to the group. In fact, sometimes Barbara is the teller (e.g., turns 16, 18, and 23), and in other instances she wavers and becomes more of a consociate (e.g., turn 21) when she relinquishes the floor to Leona. Within the story boundaries, in fact, it is Barbara who sets out the story preface by introducing the key characters (turn 16). However, Barbara focuses next on her response to the teacher's question of why the children wear masks during Purim. Consequently, the story retelling wanes until Leona resurrects it in response to the teacher's question of whether Purim is a happy celebration. Both Barbara and Leona begin by trying to broach the introduction of the characters a nd the plot by the phrase "like in between" (turns 21 and 22). Leona tells her minimalist version of the story and Barbara bids for the floor by overlapping her talk with Leona's (turn 23) and subsequently adding more detail in her telling. Leona, however, reassumes the floor with her ending "and then Haman dies and the Jews get saved" (turn 24).

The shifts between storytellers indicate that this retelling is more of a conversational retelling. The shifts also indicate each child's efforts to use her knowledge to teach the teacher about the holiday of Purim. Their retelling is, in fact, motivated not by a request to tell the story of Esther, but rather to explain why masks are worn during Purim and whether Purim is a happy celebration. Consequently, the retelling is not a full one, but it is a distillation of the story of Purim. For instance, in Leona's story she outlines the basic plot-- 1) the king marries another woman, 2) the woman he marries is Jewish, and 3) she saved the Jews from dying because Haman was going to kill them. Leona's distillation hints at the motivation of Esther (the woman the king marries) for saving the Jews, but does not reveal why Haman was going to kill them. Barbara attempts to fill out more of the plot by making explicit the fact that if Haman were going to kill the Jews he would be killing the king's wife. She also notes that the king himself is not Jewish (so he would not be killed). Then Barbara gets a little lost in the plot, in that she indicates that Esther asked her uncle Mordekhai not to tell the king what she did; in fact, in the story, it was the other way around. Eventually, however, Barbara winds up at the same point as Leona--that the Jews get saved. This point is the most important one, because it implicitly answers the teacher's question as to whether the holiday is a happy celebration.

These retelling attempts reveal several things about the retelling process in general. As Golden and Pappas (1990) suggest in their review of the literature on retellings, retellings are probably shaped by young storytellers in relation to what they believe the listener needs to know. The amount of detail incorporated into the retelling may be diminished not only because of the knowledge of the audience, but also because of the purpose of the retellers. In this instance, the purpose was not the act of a full retelling, but to answer a teacher's questions. This means that the pragmatics of any retelling, whether done for purposes of assessment or in the confines of a conversation, will probably be mediated by what the child thinks the adult is asking rather than by what is asked. It is true that children may learn the features of this form as they experience retellings of texts read in school, which are a particular kind of school task that violates the typical pragmatics of conversational or community discour se (e.g., by an unusual explicitness of detail, given that the audience for the retelling heard/read the text being retold). However, given certain pragmatic issues--for example, some children are more familiar with the pragmatics of schools than others--researchers should be careful of how much they read into retellings.

Conclusions and Discussion

Sharing Time, Stories, and School

The few minutes of school life excerpted here and examined in some detail represent the tip of the iceberg, both in terms of the storytelling that occurs in schools and the storytelling that is possible within schools. Yet, this small episode holds out several important lessons for classroom teachers that may have broader application to other classroom discourse activities.

First of all, teachers should evaluate learning events, especially ritualized ones like sharing time, to determine the purposes such events are serving. All too often, rituals become so ingrained that their purposes are not questioned and their pedagogical value is not made explicit. If the classroom ritual of sharing time is examined, several purposes for this ritual can be imagined: building community, teaching about story parts, and teaching about how to take part in whole-classroom discussions. Yet, if critically examined, the ritual of sharing time does not quite accomplish these purposes.

If, for instance, the purpose of traditional sharing-time events is to build community through student and teacher talk, then an analysis of such discourse events indicates that the community being built is one regulated specifically by the teacher. The degree to which children's comments contribute to such community building is limited. Yet, as the sharing-time episode on Purim suggests, it is quite possible for sharing-time events to be much richer social events, in which children learn about each other in ways that are much less contrived and therefore much more meaningful opportunities for building genuine understanding of others. For teachers who might be uncomfortable with a different type of structure in whole-class discussion, one way to begin the work of creating more spontaneous opportunities for talk might be to use small-group discussions as a starting point (Cazden, 1994). Small groups not only allow for more children to have the opportunity to talk, but also reduce the demands on both the teache r and child in terms of monitoring the other participants in the group.

If the goal of sharing time is to prepare children for reading and writing by teaching them written story structure elements, teachers need to think through the relationship between oral and written language and consider whether sharing-time events are the appropriate forum. Oral language is much more of a "here and now" medium than writing; in oral discourse, children receive immediate feedback as to the success of their communication efforts, as the children in the Purim sharing-time episode did. They have a heightened sense of their audience's needs since their audience communicates directly to them. Furthermore, it seems that if the purpose in traditional sharing time events is to constrain discourse so that it resembles written form, a consequence of that restraint may be a reduction in the conceptual and syntactic complexity of the language demonstrated by children. Since oral and written language forms are not an identical match, it would seem that a more appropriate forum for teaching about story stru cture elements is in the context of composing. For young children, this activity could take the form of dictations, whole-class compositions, or individual writing sessions.

If the goal of sharing-time events is to teach children strategies for taking part in whole-group conversations, teachers using the traditional sharing-time approach need to consider the nature of their own participation: How often do they talk? Are they dominating the talk, and how many opportunities are they providing for children to engage in talk? Is the teacher serving to police the talk, or to engage in the talk? If it is a policing function, as seems to be the case in traditional sharing-time events, then teachers are missing opportunities to demonstrate or provide opportunities for a wide variety of discourse strategies (e.g., making bids for the floor in a conversation, maintaining the floor, building on the talk of others). If teachers actively engage in talk with students, as the teacher did in the Purim episode, it means that the teacher largely relinquishes the policing role in favor of one that demonstrates respect for students as discourse participants, genuine curiosity about what students hav e to say, and confidence that they will find ways to make their meanings clear, either on their own or as a result of the questions or cotellings of their listeners.

Once teachers step back to consider the implicit pedagogical purposes of traditional classroom rituals, whether those rituals are sharing-time events, morning calendar activities, or circle-time episodes, then they may be able to plan for diverse and more effective ways of accomplishing the goals of these rituals. With respect to narrative storytelling in particular, the importance of the teacher's role in building children's narrative discourse skills cannot be underestimated. Stories become sources of understanding, and it seems that the more opportunities children have for creating stories in varied contexts, the more complex children's storytelling will be, and the richer the classroom will be both socially and intellectually. As Dyson and Genishi (1994) ask, Without stories, what would we be? The "we's" that are made (and are yet to be made) await teachers who make genuine storytelling possible.


According to Chaikin (1983), the principal feature of the Purim holiday is the reading of the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Ester), which tells the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jews from the evildoings of Haman. The plot of this story is quite complex (see below). During the reading of the story, it is customary for listeners to use noisemakers whenever Haman's name is mentioned. Specially prepared foods are exchanged and gifts are given to the poor. Among the specially prepared foods are hamantashen, a type of three-cornered cake with poppy seed or other fillings.

A Synopsis of the Story of Queen Esther (2) The story begins when the Persian King Ahasweros and his wife Vashti are enjoying a banquet to mark the third year of the king's reign. Mordekhai, a Jewish scribe, who had raised his niece Hadassah from birth, went to celebrate. When the king's minister, Haman, entered the banquet, Mordekhai looked away because Haman was an Amalekite (the Amalekites had attacked Mordekhai's ancestors in the wilderness a thousand years earlier). The king, in the midst of this revelry, boasted of Queen Vashti's beauty and asked that she come to the banquet, but she refused. Because of her refusal, Vashti was removed as the queen.

After several years, Mordekhai's niece, Hadassah, was chosen for the king's harem. When this happened, her uncle warned her not to disclose she was a Jew because of a dream he had. The harem keeper changed Hadassah's name to Esther, a Persian name, and her uncle stayed away from her so that there would be no suspicion that she was a Jew. When the king saw Esther, he fell in love with her and eventually made her his queen. Esther had much richness in the palace but, because of her loneliness, she asked the king if her former servant Hatach could come to the palace. Once Hatach came, Esther was able to honor Jewish dietary laws and other traditions. She also saw her uncle in his capacity as scribe.

On one occasion her uncle heard some people plotting to poison the king. He passed this information along to Esther, who told the king. The king sent Haman, the Amalekite, to investigate, and Haman was promoted to prime minister after he foiled the plot. With this new stature, Persians bowed down to Haman when he passed, but Mordekhai did not. When this discourtesy was brought to Haman's attention, he decided to kill all of the Jews. He went to a fortuneteller, who used marked stones called "puru" to identify a lucky day and time. Haman went to the king and told him that there were people scattered throughout the land whose ways were different, and that it was in the king's best interest that they not live. Haman indicated that this would cost nothing and that he would pay for the soldiers himself. Haman sent out the order to kill the Jews.

Esther heard that the Jews were in mourning and sent her servant Hatach to her uncle to find out why this was so. Her uncle sent back a message telling her to go to the king and plead for the life of the Jews. Although Persian law forbade Esther to go to the king directly, she intended to do so any way. She and her people fasted for three days. On the third night, Esther had a dream that told her to postpone her plea for two days. Esther went to the king and told him that she had a wish that she would reveal to him.

For the next two evenings, a banquet was held at which the King, Haman, and Esther were in attendance. After the first banquet was over, when Haman was leaving, he noticed that Mordekhai did not bow down to him. He had a gallows built for Mordekhai. Meanwhile, on that same night, the king could not sleep, and he began to review the deeds of his reign. He noticed that Mordekhai had never been rewarded for foiling the plot against his life.

When Haman arrived the next morning, the King asked him what reward befitted someone whom the king wished to honor. Haman, thinking the honor was to be his, suggested that such a person should wear a king's robe and a crown, and should ride on the king's horse, which would be led by a noble. The king then told Haman that he was to be the noble and Mordekhai the man to be honored. This tribute to Mordekhai occurred in the afternoon prior to the banquet.

That night, the night of the second banquet, Esther revealed to the king that Haman had passed a law to persecute her people. She told the king that she was a Jew and that Mordekhai was her uncle. One of the guards told the king that Haman was also planning to hang Mordekhai. The king ordered Haman to be hung and made Mordekhai the new prime minister.

Because Persian laws could not be revoked, Mordekhai could not change the law ordering the killing of the Jews. Instead, he made a new law that permitted the Jews to defend themselves against their oppressors. The Jews did so and were victorious over the evildoers of Persia. Esther asked that a day be set aside to honor the day the Jews were saved. She suggested that it be celebrated by the giving of gifts to the poor and the exchanging of "portions."

(1.) Bracketing indicates overlapping talk in which two students are speaking simultaneously. If two occurrances of overlapping speech occur within the same line, different style brackets are used.

(2.) This synopsis is based on a recounting in Chaikin (1983).


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Author's Note: The data presented in this paper are part of data collected for Project 410-910855, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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Author:Murphy, Sharon
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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