The Story Spinner project - Birmingham Local Authority

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Background

The Birmingham Story Spinner project aimed to use the oral tradition as a direct link between schools, homes and communities during the National Year of Reading.

The heart of the project was based on the view that in an age of multimodality and the prevalence of screens, young people may rarely hear the rhythms and cadences of language read aloud without the distractions of visual stimuli.

The idea of purely listening to and telling stories offered a chance to re-focus on the power of language to paint rich pictures in the mind that translate words into worlds of our own.

The project used The Story Spinner set of DVDs to launch the work with teachers. These DVDs are a compilation of carefully chosen stories drawn from around the world enchantingly told by the storyteller, Phil McDermott. The series is suitable for Reception to Year 6/7 and offers a model for teachers and children alike of how to tell stories in ways that can evoke emotions and captivate imaginations. Schools involved were provided with a full pack of DVDs for the duration of the work.


Aims

Although the project focused on speaking and listening it was believed that this would contribute to writing development.

The activity was a joint initiative between the School Effectiveness Division and Birmingham Library Services and aimed to:

• Provide opportunities for professional and curriculum development through innovative literacy practices and pedagogies linked to the new Literacy Framework.

• Strengthen and enhance opportunities to work with children, young people and families to promote pleasure and enthusiasm for reading, listening to, telling and writing stories.

• Raise pupils’ attainment as readers, writers and oral language users across the curriculum.

• Strengthen links between schools and library services such as Stories from the Web.

Overview

Phase One ran across the Summer term during the National Year of Reading. Phase Two will take place during the Autumn term of the NYR. In Phase One the emphasis was on listening to and telling stories in schools and, wherever possible, with families parents and local communities, drawing on the Story Spinner DVDs which were used to launch the work with teachers. The teachers were experienced teachers who worked with classes from Reception to Year 6 and each selected a focus group of children to assess the effectiveness of the resource in promoting more fluent and assured speaking and listening and writing. Six schools were involved.

There was one full day centre-based session at the beginning of Summer term to introduce the resource to teachers. The day included storytelling activities for the classroom and suggested links for families and communities. Teachers also explored some of the rich ways in which storytelling can be fully integrated into the process of teaching and learning about writing.

Teachers were given time during the day for peer collaboration to plan how they would include storytelling in their curriculum and to identify key outcomes, for example, children creating an anthology of stories from a range of cultural traditions or creating podcasts/videos of stories to share between schools. The ultimate aim is to collect a range of global stories from children across the city in many different ways.

In the middle of the term a twilight session allowed teachers to share their ideas and work in progress and at the end of Summer term another one day centre-based session gave the group a chance to consider the impact of the project so far and plan for Autumn term. During this day the teachers showed video or played recordings of their children telling stories as well as bringing samples of writing.

Phase Two of the activity links with the NYR storytelling theme for October. The Birmingham Centre for the Child will be holding events to celebrate this. Stories from the Web will record storytellers from a wide range of cultures to provide a permanent online collection for children, young people, families and adults.


Key Findings so far:

1. The achievements of all classes involved indicate that the Story Spinner DVDs are a powerful resource for inspiring and encouraging children’s own storytelling.

2. The resource provides support for more flexible and creative planning and teaching. It fits well with the revised Framework and offers a variety of assessment opportunities in reading, speaking and listening and writing.

3. The imaginative content as well as the structure of the children’s told and written narratives improved noticeably over the course of one term. Improvements were also seen in vocabulary, use of imagery and in a growing sense of the rhythms and cadences of storytelling.

4. As the DVD offers a repeatable storytelling resource, the ability to review the stories allows the teacher to focus on specific aspects of narrative.

5. The storyteller’s technique of involving the audience allowed teachers to discuss audience features of writing.

6. When the children took videos of their own storytelling this enhanced their ability to evaluate their own narrative strengths and weaknesses.

7. The stories not only provide support for telling and writing but for discussing issues that are close to the children’s own emotional experience. The immediacy of the storytelling engages children’s hearts as well as imaginations and opens up the opportunity for them to talk about personal concerns.

8. Some teachers found that including parents in classroom experiences of storytelling meant not only that they were involved and interested but that the children’s response was also enhanced.

All the teachers commented on the greater involvement and commitment of children who had previously been reticent in speaking and listening or unmotivated to write.

The teachers reported on children becoming absorbed and engaged throughout a storytelling sequence and wanting to see/hear other stories.

Increased motivation was often linked to children’s keenness to tell their stories to their families and home. Some children chose to write stories at home and bring them in to class. Without exception the teachers commented on children’s increasing confidence in oral storytelling. Several children who were known to be reticent, volunteered to be videoed or to tell their stories to the whole class.

The attention given to storytelling presentation emphasised for the children the importance of taking account of the audience: telling a story in a coherent sequence, grabbing and keeping their attention, and enchanting or thrilling listeners. All of these experiences, and the opportunities to talk about how to engage and sustain audience engagement, transferred to the children’s writing.

As a whole there was a sense of pleasure in teachers discovering – or rediscovering - the power of oral storytelling. All the teachers commented on their own increased confidence as storytellers and the effects of modelling – and then discussing – storytelling techniques.

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