SPARK Storytelling Artist in Residency Reflection

Last Tuesday I finished my SPARK artist in residency at Washington Middle School. I was there to teach approximately 190 students the art of storytelling. These 8th graders taught me a lot, and I hope I taught them a little bit about storytelling and how it’s done.

The first day, I was nervous. I’m trained 6-12 as an English teacher. I have taught in the best classroom in the world as a Park Ranger/Naturalist in Yellowstone National Park. I ran a storytelling summer workshop for a week with 5 kids at Zootown Arts Community Center last summer. But I hadn’t been in a formal classroom since 1996. I was confident in my grasp of the material, I was not sure how I was going to win over 7 sections of around 26 kids in each section.

I knew what I WANTED to see happen. I wanted to have engaging, excited class discussions. I wanted kids to begin sharing their stories the first week. I wanted them to be excited about telling stories. I detailed many of those goals in an earlier blog post here.

I wrote that post with 2 weeks remaining in the residency, which were to be focused on workshopping stories. I talked about this in the above-linked post as well.

I was overly optimistic and ambitious.

The kids were awesome. They were full of energy and very attentive. The stories they were telling in small groups were well formed good stories. I needed to do a better job of drawing those out of those small groups, of more effectively engaging the students.

And that is the challenge all teachers face every day, isn’t it?

Tuesday of this week I finished reading the evaluations I had the students complete. These evaluations were not prescribed by SPARK, nor were they required. I wanted to hear what they had to say, and I gave them the opportunity to anonymously tell me what they really thought. I did this to get a feel for how I did and, more importantly, to show me where I need to improve for next year.

The questions were on a scale using radio buttons:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

The questions were:

  • As a student, I am usually well-prepared for class.
  • I understand what is expected of me in class participation.
  • I feel encouraged to participate in class and respond to others.
  • I received clear responses to what I said in class and/or I find out how to improve.
  • Marc treats students with respect.
  • Marc effectively directs and stimulates discussion.
  • Marc effectively encourages students to ask questions and give answers.
  • I am a better storyteller because of this experience.

Students tended towards “Agree” and “Strongly Agree” overall on most questions. I am not a fan of graphs and charts and won’t include the hard numbers here (If you want to see them, shoot me an email, and I’ll send them to you). What interested me more was the short answer section.

I know where I think I did well and where I was lacking and why, for myself, already.

I did well in modeling storytelling for the students. I showed them examples of other people telling stories and we workshopped those stories to practice giving constructive criticism without any risk of anyone’s feelings getting hurt because THEY were being critiqued.  

I needed to be better at getting them telling stories faster, at learning their names (I was with each section once a week), and at a more lively pace for the material.

I wanted to see what the students thought. So there was a short answer section.

  • What would you like to change about this course?
  • What do you think Marc’s greatest strengths are?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve Marc’s teaching?

I am most interested in the answers to the first and last questions.

Students corroborated some of what I knew:

“We need more student storytelling time.”
”The pacing of the residency needs to be better.”
”More interaction.
”I think maybe tell more stories.”
”I would make it less about just talking.”

— –Student’s evaluation of my performance

They also said some things that one would expect from students:

“I would change how many days we did this. We did a lot of extra work in my opinion.”

”Not to have to share stories.”

— –Student’s evaluation of my performance

They also surprised me in some ways:

What would you like to change about this course?

“Make sure everyone has to tell a story in front of the class.”

”More group work.”

”Make sure everyone gets to share their story.”

”Make it longer.”

”I did not like choosing my story. I think you need to be more specific in what types of stories we should tell.”

”More explanation and history about storytelling.”

— –More student evaluations


What suggestions do you have to improve Marc’s teaching?

“More 1 on 1 evaluation/help.”

”Give more examples of his own ways of overcoming fears.”

”Have maybe one assignment to turn in.”

”Let us do more of figuring it out on our own.”

”Don’t take storytelling always seriously.”

— –Students’ evaluation of my performance

I’m proud of the work I did with Washington. I am grateful for the students’ honesty. I look forward to building a new, more engaging curriculum for next year and hearing more stories from our future — our kids!

Your story matters,